Today is a quintessentially French day. It’s 14th July, La Fête Nationale, Bastille day, the French national holiday. Which, in the peculiar French way, creates a public holiday on a Thursday and means that this morning was blissfully quiet.
This being France’s special day, I thought I’d share five little known facts about France.
1. Public holidays can be on any day (like today). Lots of people will take a day off tomorrow and make a long weekend, but just as many will go back to work tomorrow. There is no Boxing Day, so if Christmas Day happens to fall on a Sunday, Christmas effectively disappears into what becomes just another five-day working week.
2. The rain is dirty. Down here in the south the wind brings sand from North Africa (so the story goes), which is deposited when it rains. This is why my car looked like someone had been trying to build sandcastles on it yesterday morning.
3. Perfume factories stink. And they’re ugly. I live not far from Grasse, a town considered the world’s capital of perfume (see the film Perfume for more details). I’m always amused by the constant stream of tourists who turn up by the busload for a guided tour of the charming, stone-walled, quaint perfume ‘factory’ in the centre of town. I’ve never been in, but I imagine they have smiling happy peasant-types plucking the essence of eau-de-chanel from the heart of exquisite lavender tips collected by hand from the fields at dawn.
Meanwhile, the real perfume factories are on the outskirts of town and look just like any other chemical plant. They’re an unweildy mess of grey twisted metal piping and huge steel tanks. The surrounding stink gives them away. I guess the eau-de-chanel must be made somewhere, but I’m pretty sure these guys are making the pong that eventually finds its way into cheap air fresheners.
4. When driving, you must (sometimes) give way to merging traffic. However, this only applies in certain specific circumstances, which even French people find confusing. It has the unfortunate knock-on effect that some French drivers aren’t quite sure who has priority at roundabouts (despite the signs saying ‘You Do Not Have Priority’). I’m regularly forced to slow down on roundabouts as a mistaken merger pulls out in front of me and I’m regularly shouted at for not giving way to someone who knows the rules better than me.
5. You cannot eat dinner before 7pm. Even in tourist-ville you will not find a restaurant open for dinner before 7pm. It’s so rigid, I sometimes wonder if it’s regulated by law. When visiting, make sure you have a good lunch, because should you want to eat any time between 2-7pm McDo is your only food option. You have been warned!
Tune of the Day
In honour of this special day, please be standing for l’hymne officiel de France (the French National Anthem) La Marseillaise.