It’s OK or nothing

There’s a book called Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands that’s directed primarily to US citizens who want to conduct business overseas while avoiding cultural mistakes. As the title suggests, it addresses differences including  greetings, negotiating methods, and business practices. There’s even advice on what gifts to bring to a social occasion or in the case of France, what to avoid, such as roses or chrysanthemums since they are generally associated with “love” and “death”, respectively. Since Bill and I are retired, in our social interactions we aren’t really bound by the strict business rules suggested in the book even though we find these comparisons fascinating. Along those lines, when an article appeared in the online newspaper The Local, I was anxious to read all about “The biggest culture shocks foreign students face in France.”

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Christmas trains

Trains have long been a part of our Christmas traditions. Even growing up there was always an electric train encircling the tree and the big event in early December was going to see the elaborate miniature display set up at my father’s workplace that could keep kids captivated for hours. Bill and I left our French, British, and American HO-gauge train sets behind when we moved overseas but we certainly have not lost contact with the rails; they are now just much bigger.

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Christmas markets

My very first trip to Europe was during the month of December on one of those “8-day, 5-city, Capital discovery” motorcoach tours that started in London, ended in Paris and delivered everything in between as promised: a reasonable price, comfortable accommodations, meals, sightseeing, and transportation. Because of the time of the year, when we arrived in Munich I spent hours wandering the miniature wooden chalet lined walkways of their Christkindlmarkt, glowing with lights, scented with cinnamon and chocolate, and made especially enchanting by the falling snow. Forty years later I’d be doing the same thing, this time with Bill, but it would be in Strasbourg, France where their tradition of the Marché de Noël got started in 1570, a bit later than 1434 in Germany.

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Halloween beets

October 31st isn’t much of a holiday in France but it does seem to be growing in popularity. At the supermarket you might spot a few bags of miniature candy bars individually wrapped or as you can see in the accompanying photos, chocolate shops decorate their windows with sometimes creepy displays as did the tourism office (featured photo above). This year the city will be hosting scary stories this afternoon at the castle inside the walls and Chateau de Pennautier, just outside of town (photo and link below), got dressed up for the occasion too. This will be our sixth Halloween here and we’re expecting the usual number of trick-or-treaters that we see every year: between zero and one. For us it’s just an excuse to buy a bunch of Snickers. That aside, I wanted to see what, if any, history All Hallows Eve had in France and if they had anything similar over the years. Thanks to the website My Parisian Kitchen I found some answers.

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Mâcon in 1 day

We used to live in the Atlanta, Georgia area not too far from the city of Macon that was named for statesman Nathaniel Macon in 1823. Now that our home is in France, we’re still fairly close to a city with that same name except this one has a circumflex accent mark (^) and its origin dates to around 50 BC when Julius Caesar referred to it in Latin as Matisco, meaning “wooded hill at the water’s edge” that gradually evolved into its present day form by the middle of the 18th century. Coinciding with that time period was when native son and author Alphonse de Lamartine was his most prolific and we followed numbered bronze plaques honoring him on a heritage trail to trace 2000 years of history.

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Boxed in

Last year during the lockdowns when we were supposed to stay home or at least not venture far away, it was easy to get that “boxed in” feeling. Luckily our house has a courtyard where we could be outdoors whenever we wanted and right in our own neighborhood there are shops of all kinds so getting in supplies wasn’t much of a problem. One of our favorite wine stores, however, is more than the 1 kilometer distance that we were asked to stay within and while we could go further for any “essential” purchases (yes, this is France so wine fell into that category) we didn’t want to push our luck. An email from that very store changed everything. While at the time they were unable to have tastings they could offer free delivery so that you could enjoy tastings at home, and that’s exactly what we did. It not only enticed us to try a variety of different wines from the 700 winegrowers in their cooperative, but also their range of everyday wines in boxes.

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There’s a geyser in France?

While it might not have the magnificence of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, those same kinds of underground boiling waters that put on a regular spectacle several times daily in Wyoming do so here as well. In the town of Vals-les-Bains, south of Lyon, La Source Intermittente erupts every 6 hours and might qualify for a must-see list, according to a survey commissioned by airline company Icelandair. They had the survey company OnePoll compile a Top 20 list of places that people wanted to visit on a vacation once it was safe to travel after Covid. While the 2000 participants had a wide range of destinations, there was definitely some agreement. Most felt that they were ready for adventure after spending more than a year doing nothing and were only now realizing the importance of getting away. They wanted to take spectacular photos, visit another country, and number 14 on the list, see a geyser. That made me curious about how many of the other 19 desires could be met in France.

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