La Belle Vie: Why holidays, baguettes and regional dishes are so important in France

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: Why holidays, baguettes and regional dishes are so important in France
A person eats mussels and French fries in Lille in 2012. (Photo by Philippe HUGUEN / AFP)

From the importance of time off work to mapping out French regional delicacies and delving into the French love affair with baguettes, our weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.


La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences or adding your email to the sign-up box in this article.

For anglophones (okay...maybe more-so Americans), the end of October is synonymous with Halloween festivities, decorations and of course, candy. For French people though, the end of October in France means the autumn school holidays – where students and teachers alike get a well-needed two-week break from the end of October to early November.


The reason for the vacation time? Toussaint – or All-Saints day, or the holiday venerating saints who were canonised by the Catholic church. This might be a bit of a surprise to those who are aware of France’s reputation as a secular state, so you might be surprised to learn that many French holidays are (originally, at least) religious ones.

Reader question: Why does secular France have Catholic holidays?

And on the subject of holidays, France is often touted as the land where no one works. When I first moved to France, I would chuckle every time I passed a shop at the start of August with a sign reading “fermé jusqu’au 26 août” (closed until August 26th) in the windowsill.

French people might get more guaranteed holiday time than their many of their English-speaking counterparts, but it is actually the Austrians who win the European competition for guaranteed annual vacation days. Nevertheless - holidays are sacred in L'Hexagone.

How much holiday time do the French really get every year?

Five weeks of paid vacation would likely improve the moods of many Americans, but what about the French who do not have a reputation for being a joyful bunch? While Parisians and French city-slickers are often stereotyped as rude and grumpy, that does not necessarily mean they are wholly unsatisfied or that they have a low quality of life.

In fact, a recent survey that studied quality of life data found that the average person in mainland France rated their quality of life at 7.4 out of 10. The Local asked readers what they think of quality of life in France - is it all it's cracked up to be? For a lot of people, the answer was yes, but that came down to a few specific benefits:

MYTHBUSTERS: Is the quality of life actually that good in France?

For many readers, access beautiful nature and a nice work-life balance were some of the ways they noticed their quality of life had improved in France. But I have a sneaking suspicion that the availability of fresh, delicious food probably played a big role too, and luckily you can find that across the country. 


Each region has a different speciality worth trying. As a moules frites and oyster fan myself, I would gladly volunteer myself for a (research-based) sabbatical out to Normandy to test the impact of "catch-of-the-day" seafood on my quality of life. 

But if you are passing through or want to plan your next visit based on food specifically, you should consult The Local's ultimate food map.

From crêpes to cassoulet: The ultimate food map of France

While on the journey to find your favourite French delicacy, you might notice a few more vegan or vegetarian catered shops and restaurants along the way.

You would not be the only one to point this out – several readers of The Local have found that France has become more friendly to the meat-free over the years, though that does not necessarily mean the country is scrapping bœuf bourguignon any time soon. However, vegans and vegetarians visiting France might have more to look forward to as the country (slowly) changes its attitudes toward la viande.

Are the French going (slightly) more vegetarian?

And if you are meat-free, or perhaps are simply looking to cut back on meat, France will always be a safe bet for one vegetarian option: bread. Boulangeries are still on many corners in French cities, towns, and villages.

It might seem like a silly stereotype to picture a French person wearing a striped shirt and beret, but the image of one walking down the street with a few baguettes in hand is pretty in-line with reality. 

Baguettiquette: Weird things the French do with bread


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