La Belle Vie: French joy, boulangeries and those notorious ‘false friends’

From why the French are so happy and where to find all of Paris' boulangeries to all the things you should do at least once in France, our new weekly newsletter La Belle Vie offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

La Belle Vie: French joy, boulangeries and those notorious 'false friends'
A picture taken on August 9, 2013 shows a bakery in Paris. (Photo by BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter will be 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.

The annual French mood survey has been released, and this year it continued to dispel stereotypes that the French are a grumpy bunch. The 2021 results for the survey, which was produced by the Elabe Institute, found that a strong majority of French people are “happy” and about a third of respondents even said they were “very happy.”

While there were some differences amongst French people, overall the results showed that the population remained content, even amid rising fears about global phenomenons like the climate crisis.

I have some theories as to why the French are happy, but perhaps that question would be better answered by readers of The Local, who have their own ideas of what makes France so great?

Readers reveal: What makes the quality of life in France so high

My theory of why many French people are happy has a lot to do with boulangeries being so accessible, and it’s not just because of easy access to warm, fresh bread. I know that it may sound a bit silly, but I believe there is something about being nearby to community spaces where you can unexpectedly run into neighbours and have a quick chat – all within walking distance.

As an American, particularly one who grew up in a suburban area, it is easy to never see your neighbours, as we spend so much time in our cars by ourselves.

One of my favourite things about France is that no matter where you are in the country – in a large city or a small town – you can almost always a take a short stroll to the local bakery.

MAPS: How many Parisians live more than 5 minutes from a boulangerie?

For those who are travelling in France, getting a small breakfast from the nearby boulangerie is almost a rite of passage. Personally, when friends and family visit, one of my favourite things to do is to surprise them with a full spread of croissants and pains au chocolat on their first morning in France. 

But bakeries are not all that France has to offer, as you likely know. From art and culture to sport and activities, there are plenty of things you should try in France in addition to the delicious food.

19 things you should do in France at least once

And you may not have realised that you can enjoy this typically American – dare I say – holiday in France, but it has indeed crossed the Atlantic and it appears here to stay. 

Black Friday does exist in France, despite attempts to get rid of it via boycotts, but it might be a bit different. Part of that has to do with France’s relationship to consumerism, but an even bigger part has to do with how the country regulates sales – in the effort of protecting small businesses.

But don’t worry – you can still expect to see some nice markdowns.

What to expect from Black Friday in France this year

A lot of people in France like to do their Black Friday shopping online, but maybe you should avoid doing so on a computer with a French keyboard.

When I first moved to France, I was told a rumour that the AZERTY keyboard was specifically developed to be difficult, so that it would take people longer to type. I cannot say whether that myth has any merit, but I would guess that any foreigner used to a QWERTY keyboard – and has tested out the notorious AZERTY keyboard – has their own, individual horror story of attempting to type a simple sentence with the seemingly illogical key placements (I mean…why press shift to end a sentence?)

The AZERTY keyboard certainly has its quirks, and if you’re brave enough to make the switch, you should know a few things about the device beforehand:

6 things to know about France’s ‘illogical’ AZERTY keyboard

And finally, you might be very emu if someone requires you to switch keyboards before you are ready – and I’m not talking about the long-legged bird. Emu is a ‘false friend’ – it actually means “emotional” or “moving” in French. 

There are many of these false friends between English and French – and some are trickier than others. It’s best to go through the list to try to remember them – or to laugh at the mistakes you have made in the past. While in the moment it was not very funny, looking back I always chuckle at the number of times I have said “exhibition” in French when I meant to say “exposition” – the correct word for a public art display.

I’ll let you enjoy googling the difference.

From rude to mince: 21 French ‘false friends’ that look English

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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?