A few steps out of the airplane, and France greets you in a most fitting fashion. A passport control, 10m out of the plane gates, conducted by two fully uniformed policemen. You observe them and, in an almost absent-minded way, a song plays in your mind. “La France est un pays de flics. A tous les coins de rue, il y en a 100.” (France is a country of cops. At every street corner, there will be 100 of them).
Welcome in France! Welcomed by policemen, what are the vibes I got? What were the symbols they conveyed? Lack of trust, need for safety barriers, a police state, and a rejection of foreigners. They are just symbols, but they were there.
A fitting welcome, indeed.
Every time I come back to France, sights jump at me. Things I had forgotten, things I had always overlooked, suddenly stand out against the background of familiarity. Why are tree leaves already brown by mid-September, when the temperatures are still warm? Why is the sunrise light taking so long to give way to the “full day” light? Why do people answer in French when I talk English to them? (I love this part!)
People strike me. My first thought was “Oh my god, French people look so French!” Obvious, you would say? It was actually just the first overlook of the crowd, when this familiar mix of French features could be found on so many faces.
And then you start taking into account this whole melting pot around you. Every time, I rediscover it. Brittany is a peninsula, isolated, with its own people and culture. We’re mainly white crepes-eating Christians. The Parisian crowd is, by contrast, so heteroclite. So many black people. So many Maghrebi. So many Middle East features. So many Asians. So many white faces with a few foreign accents. So much diversity…
I sit on my small sit as the subway rolls its way towards Montparnasse train station, and I stare. I smile at the obvious habits, at the gossips exchanged between friends, at the sleepy eyes on the way to work. French people have a special way of speaking, something so familiar and yet slightly irritating to me. I guess it’s just this stupid teenager-like rejection feeling that speaks in me. But, while I used to put a barrier between me & “the others” around me, I now look at them with compassion and a feeling of connection. Staying in Asia has made me a better person already.
Finding familiarity in the unfamiliar, finding unfamiliarity in the familiar. I don’t know what it is anymore. But I can’t help smiling at this feeling of rediscovery of what is somehow still mine. At the people that are still, somehow, my own.
Come on the journey. I’ll make you discover France through my renewed eyes.
Brittany countryside flashing by the train windows
Clear blue skies above and the church of my village
The roof is full of lichen & moss as the village office doesn’t spend much money on it anymore.
In an increasingly atheist country, villages have new priorities.
National dish in Brittany: crepes…
… and they always come with cider. Always :)
Snapshots of my “What…?” moments:
– Staring at a plug on the wall, wondering where the plug switch went. We don’t switch off/on plugs here…
– Hitting the wall 5 times before finding the light switch. They are about 30cm lower than in Malaysia.
– Wondering why the sunrise light lasts from 7 to 9am, instead of just 30min.
– “Hi, could I get a cappucino?” “Oh… Heu, oui, bien sûr, mais attendez un moment, je ne sais pas les faire, je vais demander à mon collègue.” “Errr… Ok?”
– Thinking a road in my village is now a one-way street because I saw a car driving on the “wrong” side of the road…
– Discovering that croissants bought at my local bakery are about 12x better than the ones bought anywhere in Malaysia :)
– Witnessing the constant change of light & weather in the sky. The wind is so strong up there that coton-fluffy clouds race by. Low dark gray blankets of mist give way to radiant blue skies.
– French people don’t feel comfortable with hugs… *big disappointed face* They give you a distant hug while trying to kiss you on the cheek at the same time.
– It’s 14°C (morning & evening) to 19°C (afternoon). Rainy, sunny, windy, all together.
– Banks open only 4.5 days a week (closed on Monday & Saturday afternoon), and close by 4.30pm. Lazy useless people. Yeah, I have a grudge against my bank. They steal too much of my money.
– Motorbikes are 50cc with miniature wheels, or full-sized big ones. No 100-125cc… And they always come with a baby-face teenager :p
– News on the radio in the morning are only local crime & incidents. Depressing much at 8am!
– Crepes are the best dish ever in the whole world. I withdraw any comparison I might have made with tosai :)
Acorns. Autumn is coming :)