Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I’m talking to journalist and author Samantha Brick about what France means to her.
Journalist Sam, may be controversial, but she is also a woman who has found love and happiness in rural France after some fairly dark times and has bravely told her story in her recently published book Head Over Heels in France: Falling in Love in the Lot.
Firstly, I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Sam: At first I found the work ethic beyond frustrating. The very idea that you couldn’t call an office in the public sector at 11.45 to make an appointment or query something, because then they’re winding down for their lunch and therefore will actually refuse to talk to you. It’s now 5 years since I moved to France and I actually find the French notion ‘work to live’ and adhering to the 35 hour week is in fact rather sensible. I think other countries in the western world would do well to learn from this.
2) What is your fondest memory of time spent in France?
Sam: On holiday with my husband in Collioure in October 2012. It was just after I’d participated in Celebrity Big Brother (for my sins!) and desperately needed a holiday. It’s a magical destination located on the Mediterranean Sea. For me it beats St Tropez every time. My husband is half Catalan and the restaurants here reflect their Catalan heritage – he feels right at home, and consequently so do I. Also, this area of the Pyrénées-Orientales is just stunning – snow-topped mountains, glistening sea and my favourite type of rosé (Fitou) – what more could one ask for!
3) When you moved to France what was the best thing about being immersed in French life and the scariest thing?
Sam: In some ways I was rather lucky when I arrived in France because I moved into a French household. I was immediately immersed into rural French culture. That said, I found it scary at the same time – I didn’t speak French and my difficulty with the language made my first year a real struggle. I used to dread answering the telephone.
4) Do you have any embarrassing language mishaps you are happy to share?
Sam: Oh yes – I still make mistakes today. I most recently used cul (slang for one’s derriere – locals don’t pronounce the ‘l’) instead of queue (the word has the same meaning in French and English). For me the pronunciation is perilously similar… My husband’s eyes popped out of his head as, naturally, I made the gaffe in company.
5) I have to ask you about French women, what do you think makes them different to us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?
Sam: In a word (well, two): self-confidence!
6) Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Sam: Probably un crème, however if I was on holiday I might well give way to temptation and order a cheeky glass of rosé…
7) Is there anything French you won’t eat?
Sam: I had a horrendous experience attending my first chasse répas with my husband. The meat aspect of the meal consisted of various organs of the sanglier (boar). I spent the night in the loo – never again!
8) France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you? A hard and mature Tome, a soft, fresh and lively goat cheese, the creamy and rich Camembert or maybe the salty and serious Roquefort?
Sam: I’m a hard cheese – the Brebis - from the Pyrénées. I’m best eaten with sweet and very tempting quince jam.
9) Best French tipple, and yes I know there are many to choose from?
Sam: I adore a glass of champagne – in a cup though, not a flute. That, for me, is bliss!
10) If money and commitments were no object where in France would you like to own a property and what sort of place would it be?
Sam: Somewhere down south, big enough for family and friends to come and stay whenever they fancied. (And close enough to an airport to encourage them to do so.) There would be lots of land for my dogs too.
Finally, do you have any current projects you would like to tell my readers about?
Sam: My memoir of moving to France is out now:
Head Over Heels in France: Falling in Love in the Lot (Summersdale) is available in paperback and kindle.
I love to hear from my readers and always reply. I can be contacted via my website: www.samanthabrick.com or on Twitter at: @samanthabrick
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.