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La Belle Vie: Summers in France, 'French press' coffee and wine-tasting vocab

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: Summers in France, 'French press' coffee and wine-tasting vocab
Revellers dressed in Basque traditional clothing wave bandanas in Bayonne on July 24, 2019, during the opening ceremony of The Fetes de Bayonne. (Photo by IROZ GAIZKA / AFP)

From French activities and festivals this summer and essential vocab for wine-tasting to the surprising subjects that come up in French citizenship interviews, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.

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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”.

As the weather gets warmer and summer draws nearer, there are plenty of fun activities coming up across France. One of my favourites is an un-official celebration of the summer solstice - the fête de la musique. No matter where you are in France on the longest day of the year - whether that be a small town or a large city - you ought to be in earshot of some live music, a DJ set or a random dance party in the middle of the street. 

If you are looking for more traditional, cultural festival, there are plenty to choose from. Head to the south to experience Basque culture with the Fêtes de Bayonne or go out west to celebrate Celtic culture with the Festival de Cornouaille (or 'Cornwall Festival' in English) in Brittany. 

27 festivals and events to enjoy this summer in France

One thing you can expect to be present at French festivals is wine. But if you are hoping to attend a wine-focused festival, you may have to wait until the harvest in autumn, though there are some at the end of summer, like the Marathon du Médoc in Bordeaux, taking place each year in early September, that allows you to combine an affinity for both running and le vin.

Summer is, however, a great time for a wine-tasting trip or a tour of a vineyard. If you plan to do so, you might want to brush up on your wine-related vocabulary beforehand. As always, beware of those pesky false-friends. For example, a grape is, confusingly, called un raisin in French. What's a raisin in French, you might ask? It's un raisin sec - a dried grape. Makes sense.

Vital vocabulary for French wine tasting

If you want some encouragement about language-learning, check out these Anglophone stars who have mastered French. You might have heard that George Clooney loves France (he is, after all, funding an organic fruit farm to offer schoolchildren in the south fresh food).

But you might be surprised at some of the names that made the 'accomplished French-speaker' list. The name that shocked me most was Bradley Cooper, who is apparently quite the francophile. Of the two actors in 'A Star is Born', I would have guessed Lady Gaga, after her impressive rendition of la vie en rose.

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VIDEO: Do you know which stars speak fluent French

If your French language level is intermediate (meaning B1 or above), then you might be less interested in watching the celebs try their hand at French and more ready to think about whether you have what it takes for citizenship.

As France is the land of paperwork, you may have been expecting a written examination to determine if you are French enough, but in reality, the test boils down to an interview where you might be asked about all sorts of different things (although you will also need to do a written language test).

The Local spoke with some people who have recently undergone the process. Some said they were asked philosophical questions, like 'Can one truly know a country without speaking the language', while others reported being asked to name as many French cheeses as they could - clearly an important marker of integration.

Philosophy and cheese: What you might be asked in a French citizenship interview

If you really want to show of your French language abilities (or demonstrate that you are well-integrated into the French way of speaking), you might start by tossing in a few 'cow' phrases, as cows (and the cheese, milk and butter that come from them) are quite important in French culture. 

6 of the best French ‘cow’ phrases

And finally, there are some expressions in English that use the word 'French' as an adjective. Think - French kiss, French bread, French manicure.

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But do these expressions actually have French origins? French kiss really got the writers at The Local thinking. Until fairly recently, the French language didn't have a specific verb for the act of passionate kissing with tongues and most people happily used 'le French kiss' (which is an Americanism, probably dating from the 1920s).

Recently, the French galocher (verb) or une galoche (noun) has started to take over, although it's mostly heard among young people.

How do the French talk about 'French' kisses, doors and manicures?

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