Monday, September 28, 2009

Reflections and Observations

By Claire
It’s such a mix of feelings being in a different culture. I find that I’m noticing things more and because we’re living it, feeling the differences all around us. For example:

Doors push in from outside and pull out from inside, exactly the opposite from what we’re used to. I still struggle, pushing and pushing until I remember, oh yeah, I have to pull. I wonder what happens in a fire? This is also true for other things, if it’s clockwise in the U.S., it’s counter clockwise here. C’est normal.

You must weigh your own produce and adhere a sticker with the price to the bag. No problem. Except when there isn’t a little picture of the produce you want. I gave up trying to buy an avocat (avocado). I just didn’t feel I had the language skills to explain. At the next store, everything had prices on it and came in boxes or was shrink wrapped and priced.

Strange. I guess an avocado is also a lawyer.

Trust. The French really seem to have a strong sense of trust. We are staying at this campground and have been here for 6 days and we haven’t paid them anything, nor do they have our camping carnet card with all our information. We could just drive away one day. You pay for gas after you fill up. I guess this doesn’t hold true for the shopping carts since you do have to insert a €1 coin as deposit in order to use it.

We so appreciate how helpful everyone is. When Chuck was trying to communicate at the Fiat dealership, they went to get their one and only English speaking person, one of the mechanics. He has been the spokesperson every time, on the phone and in person, each time being taken away from a job he’s working on. Every time he is asked to be translator, he smiles, puts his hand out to shake and is very reassuring. Nadine at Garage Roussel who laughingly helped us figure out the mirrors and windows on our little Peugeot was shopping at the same grocery store. Chuck went over to say hi and then later, when we got to the car to unload, we couldn’t figure out how to open the hatch. She was walking by with two six packs of beer, put them down on the ground and came over to help. Caroline, Jérome and Christóphe at Camping St. Michel are cheerful and often singing and whistling while they work. Is this beginning to sound like Disneyland? We are simply amazed at how people will go out of their way to help us.

The quiet.
If that damn dove would just shut up….Really, we just can’t get over how, as a country, these people are quiet! They murmur into their mobile phones, speak in low tones in restaurants, and the roads are so smooth Suzette is now too loud for us and we've had to adjust the volume. Even the phone in the camping reception, where we have our WiFi, rings in a soft, Vivaldi kind of tune. We wake each morning to the church bells but even those are muted and considerate. Many of the town centers are traffic free and all you hear are footsteps. We rarely hear a complaining child or a raised voice. Our rental car is diesel and we can’t even hear it. The campgrounds have all been so quiet I can hear the blood in my veins. This has been true in every one of them. It could be that it’s September and off season. We have also noticed that all we see are French tourists in this area.

The napkins in restaurants are paper but feel like cloth. Probably not very good for the environment but amazing. Speaking of the environment, recycling isn’t so great, especially for paper. However, this campground has a huge bin for plastics and another for wine bottles. They’re quite elegant looking too.

It’s clean.
The bathrooms at the campgrounds are continually being cleaned. Except for the Paris campground bathrooms that had a perpetually dank smell, everywhere else has been spotless.

I just saw two older French gentlemen dressed very nicely in black outfits, so chic, cleaning the bathrooms. We’re talking hands and knees scrubbing. I guess we’re usually gone when all this cleaning goes on. Here are a few shots around the shower/WC area:

Flowers are everywhere, even at the WC

Even the waste removal area for dumping chemical toilets and gray water is pretty. That little mini-chateau behind the hedge is where you discreetly dump your toilet cassette. You drive your camper over the waste water area and let it pour into the drains.

We've barely noticed the smoking. That metal box is a place to extinguish your cigarette. I guess Schnauzers aren't allowed in the WC.

When we were in St. Malo yesterday we both wanted to find a toilet. We followed the signs and found a pay toilet, €.30, and I managed to get in after pulling a few times until Chuck reminded me that I needed to push.....Anyway, when I got inside I saw that it had been completely hosed down. As I approached the toilet, the toilet seat began to mechanically lower itself. Everything was automatic but when I left, the toilet didn't flush. We had decided to cheat the system since we didn't have another exact change of €.30 so Chuck grabbed to door and entered. Immediately, I heard loud gushing sounds of water being sprayed and imagined him completely drenched. I stood outside with camera ready but he emerged pleased and dry.

Our lifestyle. We made a decision about how to do this one year journey. The idea of schlepping our bags from one hotel to another and then to a train just didn’t appeal. Driving and camping isn’t necessarily less expensive, it’s a lifestyle choice. No matter what, we’re always home with our things in place. We can cook every meal and the bed is always the same. We just have a different backyard every so often and have the opportunity to meet other people living in our little community of campers. The other advantage is that we can go places trains do not serve. We love staying in this remote little village, Courtils.

I hate mine. It feels like a girdle yet sticks out making me look pregnant, and cuts into my rib cage when I bend over. Luckily, most of my pants are loose; wearing this thing is like adding 10 lbs. Chuck has switched to a neck pouch that he had brought with him. I so wish I could find one. I keep looking. On the other hand, he always has a suspicious bulge under his shirt. I don’t think there is a good answer to this dilemma but I do think it’s a necessary evil.

Sensibility. Unlike the American gas station mini-mart selling super sized drinks, ribs, hamburgers, donuts, chew, beef jerky and candy bars, the French gas station store is called a “boutique” and has a patisserie. They do stoop to selling candy bars.

Binoculars. These are great to have along, especially when looking at huge medieval cities with ramparts and fortifications a distance away. I think I’ve used the word ramparts in the last 3 blogs.

Breakfast. What can I say. A daily treat.

Missing in action. We still have not found Chuck’s travel bath towel, my bike pant clips, Chuck’s notepad for which he bought extra pads, one mitten and one sock. I know they’re in here somewhere. However, the towel and bike clips have never turned up even though we KNOW we packed them.

Things we couldn’t live without:
Ikea frother for our cappuccinos:

Hanging toilet kit

"Mighty Bright" Book lights and Kindles

Suzette—TomTom Go 930

Bag. & Croissants, €2.70
Groceries and supplies, €12.41

Total: €28.11

Experience, travel - these are an education in themselves. ~ Euripedes

Update: I went on a 22 Km. bike ride this afternoon. I just couldn't let the sunny day go by without one and Chuck just couldn't leave his comfortable spot in the sun with his latest book, Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell. The most amazing thing was being stopped by a FRENCH couple asking ME directions! And I was able to give them! It was a high point for me. They thought I was a local.


Carol said...

Lovely, enjoyed your observations Claire...especially about the noise. That's what I love about traveling and especially about the way that you and Chuck are really can begin to feel, see, and appreciate the differences, both good and bad. That's what traveling is about, expanding your horizons and seeing the different ways people do things to solve the same schanuzers in the WCs. I also liked the icon of the car falling over the edge into the water. Does the trick for me!

Arianna said...

Enjoy the quiet before you head to Italy :-) I thought people were fighting all the time until I could understand what they were saying and then I realized they just are very loud and animated. If it's any consolation, I couldn't find an avocado the whole two years I was in Siena.

Anonymous said...


I loved reading your "reflections and observations" about France and I hope you write one for each of the countries you visit. Thank you for the gift.

Carina in Davis

Chuck and Claire said...

Gosh Carina, Thanks! Maybe I will. We are really intrigued and delighted by the huge differences among cultures. It's something we really don't see so much at home.

Chuck and Claire said...

Travel is definitely enlightening. We are just cracking up all the time over things we don't understand, esp. the road signs. On the other hand, we've gotten so used to things here that we're noticing less and less. I don't want to lose that.