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La Belle Vie: Blending in with the French and visiting Versailles

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: Blending in with the French and visiting Versailles
The gardens of the 'Orangerie' of Versailles Palace in Versailles in 2021. (Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)

From why Versailles is more than just a tourist attraction to the steps foreigners take to become 'more French' and important lessons about France via a septic tank installation, 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”.

One of my favourite things about working at The Local is uncovering the many shared experiences of foreigners living in France. When I struggled to open my bank account after moving, there was something cathartic about chatting with a fellow American who had also found the process challenging.

There is something else a lot of us have in common - the desire to be 'more French'.

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Personally, I speak at a lower volume in public and I avoid wearing athleisure (leggings) out of the house, unless I am going to exercise. We asked readers about how they have assimilated into French culture in order to fit in, and I found so many of the comments to be relatable...especially one reader's response about the French version of small-talk (complaining).

Complaining more: How foreigners in France become ‘more French’ to fit in

Several readers also mentioned changing their timelines in France - things do not move at the same speed as they might in the US or the UK, and that's okay.

My colleague Emma Pearson also came across this challenge.

She has spent the last two years trying to get a septic tank installed, and it taught her some valuable lessons about life in France and French culture.

6 things my septic tank taught me about France

While I have not had a septic tank installation to teach me about France, I have had a fair share of other administrative hurdles over the past 4.5 years.

When I first arrived in France, I was particularly surprised by slow admin (it took over seven months to receive my carte vitale). However, I was perhaps more surprised to hear the 'real' French spoken on the streets of Paris.

Prior to moving, I lived in Senegal for six months and I had taken a couple of French classes during my undergrad years, but I quickly noticed that no one else was saying Puis-je avoir une bière ?

6 things I wish my French teachers had told me

These days, I chuckle when I hear a fellow English-speaker order in overly-formal French. It's a step we all have to go through. 

I am sure we will hear a lot of people saying je voudrais une baguette this summer, as scores of tourists roll in to attend the 2024 Olympic Games.

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Those who have never visited the French capital before might be a bit misled by the official Olympics poster, which seems to place the city right next to the sea. You might be able to spot some other differences between the poster Paris and the real version.

5 things to spot in the Paris Olympics poster

Feel free to correct me if I missed it, but I did not notice Versailles on the poster, even though it is going to be an Olympics venue.

Tourists might think of visiting Versailles to admire its hall of mirrors or the gardens, which are particularly beautiful when in the flowers are in bloom, but the palace still has many functions outside of being a popular tourist attraction.

It has been all over the news this week, as French lawmakers met together there in a special Réunion du parliament en Congrès. The country made history as it voted to enshrine the right to abortion in the country's constitution.

Why France’s Versailles palace is more than just a tourist attraction

And finally, as soon as the sun comes out and the weather warms up, I get more and more excited about long bicycle rides in the Paris region. This spring I plan on cycling out to Versailles - it's a little over 22 kilometres.

There are also plenty of spring festivals and events to look forward to, including the Nuit des Musées (set for May 18th). There is something magical about being able to visit a museum after dark. 

Places to visit and things to do in France in Spring

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lewis 2024/03/08 12:32
versailles, the gardens are visible in front of the Eiffel Tower.

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