Generalisations about the French, Asterix and Obelix

Asterix and Obelix, French characters

While we on holiday in France last year we made plenty of observations about French people and French culture. I disapprove of generalising or tarring a nation with one brush but it looks like I’m going to do it anyway, and I don’t think anyone will mind just this once.

1. The French aren’t fat.

They spend two whole hours eating lunch and another two eating dinner but they’re not overweight, it’s incredible. They eat after 8pm which a nurse once assured me was a guaranteed way to gain weight, but this doesn’t affect the French. They eat cheese and crepes and drink wine and it just rolls off them.

2. Bikinis are de rigueur

The women all wear bikinis at the beach – or at least half a bikini anyway. The one-piece costume is a rarity reserved for the British and aged. My daughter says “they don’t respect their tummies”. The French would probably say their tummies are at “liberté”.

 3. Almost no French people have tattoos.

A total contrast to a British summer, it was one of the first things we noticed. It made me want to get inked and go back just to emphasise the point. But I soon got over it.

 4. They don’t drive SUVs.

Now, perhaps Renault, Peugeot and Citroen make terrible SUVs, I don’t know. But the contrast to British aspirations is stark; the UK has gone mad for Chelsea tractors or smaller copies. It’s not smart to get a tall car if you want to put bikes on the roof, so the French have probably made good choice there.

 5. They really know how to camp.

French holidaymakers have the coolest tents and motorhomes, they have the best camp cookers and barbeques, they just settle right into their pitches like you might sink comfortably into your sofa, it really suits them. The weather probably helps them get one up on us here.

 6. They are great with children.

They are tolerant, kind, thoughtful and welcoming to children. They provide all kinds of kid’s facilities in every environment and expect families to go everywhere together. Children are never out of place. I generalise of course, we did get one belated and cold child’s dinner from a grumpy waiter.

 7. Their parking is free.

Well, outside of Paris it seems to be. Even in private carparks, town squares, prime spots by the beach or the restaurant we never saw a paid parking space, although we never visited a city centre. The only exception we found was a prime spot in a large seaside town, but it was so ridiculously cheap it hardly counts.

 8. The drivers are great with cyclists.

French drivers will just follow cyclists very slowly and patiently for as long as it takes for a safe passing place to come along. This doesn’t usually take that long because the roads are quiet and many have cycle lanes. Wobbly kids on little bikes are carefully watched and tolerated too.

 9. Supermarket food is stuck in the past.

The food in the supermarkets has not advanced much since the 1980s when I used to visit regularly as a child. The French are still eating the same food. I was quite surprised; a visit to Super U was like a trip down memory lane. I think the French are missing out. In the UK we get a lot of fun from food fashions. The French deserve their reputation as good cooks, but it’s traditional stuff, their grand-mère’s stuff, few foreign influences or speciality food aisles.

 10. The French love a protest

They have their own etiquette for protests. A traffic jam at the tolls is likely to mean one driver starting on their horn and every other driver joining in. The British would consider this rude but when I was stuck in a slow queue for a roller coaster watching some staff doing nothing to help, I quickly discovered that the British slow-handclap protest is inappropriate in France!

 11. They don’t think death is funny.

Well they’re right, it isn’t, but a friendly Frenchman pointed out to us that the British black humour appeals to some French people but not others. They’ve noticed we make a lot of jokes about death. I had to think about that but they’ve got a point. Think of Monty Python, for example. We were told some love it, but many don’t get it.

 12. The French reputation for unpleasant public toilets is largely undeserved.

In fact the loos we visited were all nicer than anything in a British motorway services and all provided some antibac spray for cleaning the seat. There was always paper and soap. The only negative was just the faintest smell of wee, which was not uncommon even in an apparantly fresh loo. We had to go somewhere remote before we found an old-fashioned hole in the ground.

France is a great place for a family holiday, I’ve written about our holiday planning tips here.

Get some tips for French supermarket shopping. Click here.

Lou Messugo

 

How I sold my old carI love cars. I always have. I love the memories I have with mine, which made one day last month very hard as I had to sell my old people carrier. Whilst I won’t miss the regular trips to the garage and the skittish, ageing suspension, I will still miss it because it’s the car my children have grown up with for seven years and it’s been like a giant perambulator for our family life. There are certain squashed raisins in certain cracks beneath the seats that can never be fished out, lying there unreachable, as a testament to journeys long since completed.

The offer from the showroom

So when we ordered our new car from the dealer we haggled over part-exchange. We didn’t get a great offer although after some shameless arm twisting they raised the offer from £1500 to £1900. For a low mileage, top spec, 8 year old car with 12 months MOT and full service history, it was a bit miserly. Why was the offer so low? Well firstly we were selling them a different make of car. Wrong badge, they didn’t want it. They would have to transport it to the auctions. Also they don’t know much about them and only have an industry guide (Glasses) to help them price it, and even then I know Glasses said £2200 so they knocked a good bit off to be on the safe side. But the other issue is the industry-wide slump in car prices, and that affects everyone. Manufacturers are pressurising dealers to shift stock so they don’t want your part-ex car as extra stock.

Looking for a better deal

Once we had a date to take delivery of our new car I went hunting to try to get more money for my old car elsewhere. I started with We Buy Any Car. I entered the details on the website, (there’s no option to note any damage) then they display a glitzy headline figure “your car is worth £3060 subject to inspection” and so I booked an appointment at my local centre which turned out to be a sparse hotel room on the second floor of a tired Victorian building. A charming young man took some details and then came out to inspect the car. He barely looked inside, this turned out to be all about bodywork. I got quite annoyed that the faintest and infinitesimally small door-dings no-one would mend or even see were noted down as “dent, over 5cm” a phrase which appeared to be the most damning remark he could record. Then he turned round to me and said “Wow! It’s in fantastic condition!” and knocked £500 off his offer. Oh man.

The We Buy Any Car bloke said if we did the deal on the spot he would increase the price by £100 but the problem was that it was still 5 days before I took delivery of the new car. Clearly I should have left this closer to the last-minute. The company’s TV ad leads you to believe that selling your car for cash will boost your power to haggle a better deal on a new car. I can’t see this being the case at all. It made no difference to the price of our new car and several dealers told us that nowadays their profit and commission are unaffected by the method of payment, whether cash or finance deal. So it was a good offer but I kept looking.

The independent dealer

The next day I took my old people carrier to a local independent car dealer with who sells a mix of cars of a similar age. His inspection was even more cursory than We Buy Any Car but my first impression was that with about 30 years of experience in the business, he properly knew his stuff. He told me what Glasses guide said, I told him what We Buy Any Car said, so he offered me a smidge more and without even remembering to haggle I said “yes”. Uh-oh. I kicked myself. Still, it was such a big improvement on the part-ex from the new car showroom. This independent dealer will tart the car up and sell it on his own forecourt, saving himself the expense of auctions and transporters. Then he said “it does drive ok, doesn’t it?” Um, yes, but what timing for that question?!

The process of selling

So the day before we got our new car, I went back to the private car dealer, gave him the V5C (removing the yellow section first), the MOT, the service history and two keys. He gave me a company cheque and I walked home car-less! I probably saved £25 on a taxi by selling locally. I logged on to the DVLA website to claim my car tax back which was simple. They said the cheque would arrive in 4 weeks but actually it was 4 days. I altered my car insurance with LV which they initially got wrong but quickly amended next day. Once the decision was made on who to sell it to, the process was easy peasy.

I then contacted the dealer from whom I was buying a new car, told them that the part-ex needed to be removed from the deal and we would give cash value instead. I had talked to them in advance about possibly doing this, and they simply re-issued the paperwork for the sale without the part-ex.

If your car is worth less than £1000 then chances are that part-ex might be better value for you as some dealers of both old and new cars offer a minimum part-ex value. But the moral of this story is don’t take the car-buyers adverts at face value and do allow time to take your car to a few places to get the best price.

So you want to do less ironing. Well, if you and I didn’t iron any clothes, what’s the worst that could happen? Okay so ironing gets creases out of things, but how bad are the creases, really?

Steps to never iron shirtsDo you perhaps iron things to finish them off drying instead of using an airing cupboard? Maybe you don’t have an airing cupboard thanks to the prevalence of 1990s combi boilers, which can be installed without a hot-water tank. Maybe you’d rather iron than fold damp clothes to perfection. Maybe you want to be like your Mum, and that’s how she did the laundry.

I wanted to be like my Mum and she doesn’t iron shirts. We didn’t go around wrinkly and crinkly, however. We were as neatly turned out as the next family. I still don’t iron shirts. My husband doesn’t iron his shirts. My siblings will back me up on this. We don’t spend time or money on getting out of the ironing. So what’s the family secret? Well, I confess I rarely wear shirts, so in my house this is menswear or schoolwear advice, but here goes:

1. Buy the right shirts.

You really do have to purchase easy-to-iron polyester and cotton mix for this to succeed. Marks and Spencer multi-pack easy care white shirts are great value and perfect for this.

2. Never EVER iron them.

Never! Ironing them even once or twice will cause the heat from the iron to change the movement and behaviour of the fabric permanently and you will have to carry on ironing them forever.

3. Never wash them above 40 degrees Celsius.

Any hotter than this and the fabric will be permanently weakened by heat. For the same reason, never put them in the dryer.

4. Use fabric conditioner in your wash with the shirts.

Fabric conditioner is not recommended for use on materials with permanent creases (like suit trousers), stain resistant coatings (school skirts) or waterproof coatings, so make sure that those clothes go in a different wash.

5. Use a slow spin speed.

In the washing machine, don’t spin your shirts fast, I would say don’t go above about 900 rpm. 1200 rpm is too much.

6.Take the shirts out of the washing machine quickly.

Take them out within 20 minutes of the end of the cycle. Set yourself an alarm if necessary. If you leave them piled longer than half an hour there’s a good chance you’ll need to wash them again to get the right results.

7. Shake firmly and hang it right.

Now I turn to my Brownie Guide handbook! “All washing needs two good shakes”. Take hold of each shirt by the shoulders and shake hard. Try to get a good snapping motion, go on, whip it! Then hang each shirt neatly on a hanger to dry, not upside-down on a line because it works best if they dry in the shape you want to wear them. If it’s a hot day, dry the shirts more slowly indoors so they have time to hang out.

8. Wear it well.

When the shirts are dry there will still be some creases but don’t give up! When you want to wear the shirt, simply put it on and within 20 or 30 minutes (say, while you’re eating breakfast or driving to work) your body heat will have loosened out the last few creases. This works because you’re wearing an easy-iron shirt and have cared for it meticulously. So steel yourself to set off to work in your not-quite-perfect shirt. Go on! Victory is in your grasp!

If despite following all these steps you still have a creased shirt you have two options.

  1. The simplest solution is to put it back in the wash and start again, don’t give up and iron it.
  2. If the creases are significant then put the shirt on, put a sweater on top and go for a long brisk walk. Your body heat and moisture will gently relax the fibres and revive the shirt.

Maybe my outlook on ironing was influenced by one of my school friends who, at age 16, developed a bit of thing about not being creased. She would have a meltdown after a twenty minute car-ride because a wrinkle would have appeared in the back of her Benetton blouse. She would stand in front of a mirror shrieking “creased!” She became a fashion designer, so make of that what you will. Of course there are still some things I iron, but in general if you remove laundry from the machine promptly, give it some good shakes and smooth it out before you hang it, you will be amazed at how many things dry out smoothly.

I hope this works for you!

This is not a sponsored post, it’s all my own x

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Take a First French Holiday Loire Valley Chateau VillandryWe had a fabulous family holiday to France last summer. We took our car on the ferry and stayed on a campsite, in a gite and a hotel. After sharing a few photos and details of our adventures on Facebook, several friends said to me “I’d love to have a holiday in France but I don’t know where to go.” Well my wish-list included not going too far, finding chateaux, cycle paths, sun and swimming. If that sounds like your thing, here are my four top tips!

Loire Valley

Outline map of France showing the Loire Valley regionThe central area between Angers and Blois is full of stunning, grand chateaux and vineyards so take plenty of spending money. There’s also a huge variety of fascinating caves to visit and fields full of sunflowers. Inland the weather changes more slowly and summer temperatures are good. It’s quite common to find holiday accommodation in this part of France with a pool.

French Atlantic Coast

Outline map of France showing Atlantic Coast regionMy tips for this coast are the regions of Loire Atlantique, the Vendee and Pitou Charentes, all great spots for a French beach holiday. The further south the more expensive due to the warmer weather and it’s worth booking well ahead as it’s popular. The landscape is quite flat and plain but there are pretty canals and cycle routes. Large attractions within reach include Le Puy de Fou (historic reinactments) and Futuroscope (science experience).

Brittany

Outline map of France showing BrittanyDriving to Brittany is a far longer journey than you might expect due to fewer motorways and more rural roads. It can easily take 7 hours from Calais. There are numerous beaches and coves; few large attractions but great for outdoor life with forests, walking and culture. The weather is often described as being like Cornwall but generally better. Accommodation in Brittany tends to be cheaper than coastal areas further south.

Normandy

Outline map of France showing NormandyNormandy has a bit of everything; Norman castles, beaches, cathedrals, booze and cheese. It’s a great way to soak up French culture without going far. Accommodation is quite cheap however in my experience the weather is a little more like England so have some back up plans just in case. Perhaps visit the Bayeaux tapestry or set off early for a day-trip to Paris.

 

Quite a few accommodation websites will give you a good discount on Brittany ferries, but you could get a cheaper gite or campsite by using a French website. Try putting “gites bord de mer” or “le camping pres de la plage” into google, for example and see what pops up.

Vendee Beach on the French Atlantic CoastWe think France is an easy but exciting holiday and going by car just adds to the adventure. Follow my “Places – France” board on Pinterest to get more ideas of places to visit.

Our house looks like it’s been burgled. It’s not standard family mess this time, no. There’s an empty TV bracket on the wall opposite the sofa and empty picture hooks above the fireplace. It’s gloomy, unloved and stark, it’s not a good look! Well, we haven’t been burgled but there’s a bit of a tale here.

Smoking TV

The easier one to explain is the empty TV bracket. One quiet evening last week an acrid burning smell came from the TV. We quickly switched it off and googled it. No, we didn’t grab a fire blanket or even an air freshener, we hit the interweb. Such is modern life.

Within minutes we had established that our TV had been subject to a Sony recall six years ago. We rang Sony, they promised action within 24 hours, and only a mere six days later (a-hem) the set was picked up and whisked away for a grand audience with an Approved Sony Engineer. The collection guy said it would take “AAAAAges!” We have a shiny receipt in its place. It’s not much to look at on an evening.

Leeds Picture Library

The empty picture hooks are the former home of a fine work of art which we really loved.  It was loaned to us for a year from the Leeds Picture Library at Leeds Art Gallery. We never paid much attention to the name of the artist and I never took a note of it, but the picture grabbed us and we didn’t want to change it during our year of membership. The landscape brought the outside in and brightened our sitting area.

 

Leeds Library Painting

 

The problem with the painting was the fact we became so attached to it, and we knew we couldn’t keep it. Membership of the library was about £50 per year. We could have renewed our loan of this painting but the fact we couldn’t own it was starting to really grate on us. We couldn’t find another large painting that we liked in the library because there was a bit too much of abstract art and that’s not our style. Another problem was the glass in the library picture frames which was normal glass and not anti-glare, this posed a problem with our light fitting which reflected in it really badly.

Buy art

So my search for a new painting has begun. I want a lovely landscape by a local artist and I want an original. I want to see brush strokes and light reflecting off texture. OK, you think it’s an expensive dream but I’ve been inspired by the fabulous story of Tim Sayer, an art collector who breaks the stereotype of art collectors. He’s no millionaire with a yacht and six houses. He’s closer to my strata of society because on a humble BBC salary he collected thousands of original artworks for his own enjoyment. He’s now donating the whole collection to the Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. But for me the interesting part of the story is how he afforded it. He said he either asked for a discount or he paid in instalments, sometimes both. (He also doesn’t have children but I won’t sell mine to pay for a painting, despite the temptation).

With a little research I found that the Arts Council have an interest-free loan scheme called “Own Art”. Some galleries are very good at promoting this scheme. And the artists themselves do not price unreasonably. You don’t just pay for skill and beauty, you pay for reputation. The more exhibitions in grander galleries that an artist has shown in, the more their paintings are worth.

 

Open Studios

I’m starting my picture search by getting to know the work of artists through the annual event North Yorkshire Open Studios. Every few years, over two weekends in the spring, it’s possible to visit artists in their own studios, meet them and see their work and their ongoing projects. Entry is free. You’ll be surprised to find how thick on the ground professional artists are. We found half a dozen only two streets away from our home! Not all are painters. Last time we also visited paper cutters, ceramic sculptors, wire sculptors, wood turners and stained glass artists. The next NYOS event will be June 2017 but I’m planning on finding other galleries to visit before then.

 

The search is on! What’s the story behind the pictures on your wall? Let me know in the comments.