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LA BELLE VIE

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

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: 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)

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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LA BELLE VIE

La Belle Vie: The secret to the French love of strikes, comics and sexy accents

From the French love affair with comic books to why strikes happen on certain days and unpacking the myth of a sexy French accent, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: The secret to the French love of strikes, comics and sexy accents

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 your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

People across France – both young and old – are gearing up for the 50th edition of the Angoulême International Comics festival – the third biggest comic book festival in the world.

To honour the occasion, I got in touch with a few experts in bande dessinée (French for comic books) to understand why French people love comics so much.

Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

This year for Christmas, I was gifted three bandes dessinées, and so far I have read one – the French, graphic novel version of Brave New World. Each year, I resolve to read more books in French, but when it comes down to it I either fall asleep or end up getting about halfway through before giving up and picking up a reliable English-language read. 

Oddly enough, I have found that bandes dessinées are a great way to read in French without the pressure of having to make it through dense, complex French literature. The pictures along the way help you to understand if you miss a word or two, and it feels more relaxing.

Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The other big topic in l’Hexagone lately has been the government’s controversial pension reform plans, and the strikes to go along with them. Strikes are commonplace in France, so much so that our “Strikes” page on The Local France’s website is one of our most active tabs. (So if you find yourself in France during a strike, it might be worth bookmarking that link.)

But there is some science behind when these strikes occur. For instance, you may have noticed that they tend to fall on weekdays, and more specifically – Tuesdays and Thursdays. This is no coincidence.

Reader question: Why do French strikes always seem to be on Tuesdays and Thursdays?

If you have spent any time in France – either as a tourist or living here full-time – you have probably also found yourself in front of the Google search bar typing out the simple question “Why are the French rioting/on strike?”

The Local decided to allow Google to autofill some commonly asked questions about France, and we found that people have been pondering questions from “Why is France called France?” to “Why are the French always surrendering?” So in response, we have taken some time to dive into the FAQs about France.

Sex, strikes and surrender: The most commonly asked questions about France and the French

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a commonly Googled question – one people have been curious about for over 150 years – was “Why are the French so romantic?”

However, BBC Journalist Hélène Daouphars found herself asking a different question altogether: “Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?” Daouphars made a documentary about sexual harassment in France, taking a look back at how #MeToo played out in the land of the Gauls. 

In an article for The Local, Daouphars explained why she chose this topic:

Is France the home of romance or a place of rampant sexual harassment?

In addition to France having a reputation for being the home of romance and love, the French language is also regularly named as the ‘sexiest’ accent for men, women and even cartoon skunks.

But according to linguists, there probably is not anything intrinsically attractive about the French accent, and perhaps it’s really all in our imagination.

Mythbusters: Is French really a ‘sexy’ accent?

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