Bread: The biggest culture divide.

In Australia I remember talking to Seb about bread. The conversation went something like this..
“When you get to France Nik you are going to eat bread, it’s amazing the bread, the texture and everything.” Seb was starting to rapture and I interjected here with
“But it’s just bread.”
“JUST BREAD?!?!? JUST BREAD?!?!” You could see his french side growing and taking over (think a Jekyll and Hyde transformation)
“It is not just bread, it’s never just bread. It’s our culture, identity, life! Bread is …..” and I then got lectured for over half an hour about my slight ignorance on French Bread (yes, with capitals). He still tells people about this conversation and people in France regard me as the “weird Australian girl”.

"it's just bread"

Basic comparison of Australian and French breads

Growing up in Australia my family focused on healthy living and an outdoor lifestyle, bread was never at the top of my list for something on the foodchain to worship. Choclate: Yes. Bread: Never.

I remember working in a bakery during highschool. I worked there for three years. The boss always fed us for free and I ate salad for my lunch followed by fruit that was supposed to go on top of the cakes. For 3 years.

It. Was. A. Bakery. With. Bread.

Which shows exactly the Australian attitude to bread. I regarded it as something that was as exciting as eating cardboard. A filler for more interesting things. And Australian bread is exactly that. The general character of an Australian piece of bread is boring, dry, chewy and lifeless.

But slowly over the last two years Seb has slowly changed my attitude. I still won’t eat bread in Australia. But in France? Well it’s way too easy! Everyday I buy bread. EVERYDAY. Baguettes that are usually arriving warm out of the bakers oven.

The difference, which is like explaining sex to a virgin is the bread itself. It’s in the flour that makes it. The way they cook it.The kneading of the dough.

French bread

Baguettes ripped apart!

It’s the way that when you tear it apart steam rises like an advertisment. It’s maybe the pride behind the bread too.

The crispy crunchy outer layer. I hated crusts in Australia. Now in France I search the baguette for the best bits. And the crunchiest bits still soak up juices. That crunchy robust outer layer then gives way to the inside of a baguette. The bread is never dry, more humid and soft. The texture like a chewy sponge. For me that is the difference of France and Australia.

Bread is so important that it has led to riots and even a war called la guerre des farines In the history of France you can find it used in slander against the French Royalty. The “great princess” learning that there was no bread for peasants responded with “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” (Let them eat cake).

And that’s what it boils down to for the French. While life can be complicated the things to be proud of are simple. Bread is eaten by everyone: from a street beggar to a millionaire. You have the most amazing chefs and michelin starred restaurants. But yet what do you find a French person misses when living abroad. The BREAD!!! Bread such a simple staple that it must assist the enjoyment of life. Not hinder it.

Australians forget the simple joys in life. We are always going somewhere, doing something. We struggle to stop on a Sunday (I still feel crazy on Sundays when nothing is open). And we struggle to enjoy a piece of bread. We look at it in quantities of health and how much we’ll have to run after eating it. Or how much better something else is for us than that slice of bread.

And that’s my education and my lesson for you with bread.
1. Take the time to go to a real bakery.
2. Pick a baguette or a roll NOT A SQUARE LOAF.
3. Take it home. Turn off your phone, TV, INTERNET, RADIO Or Fax.
4. Sit down to silence and listen as you rip it apart. You should actually hear cracks from the crunchy bits and whispered tearing from the soft parts.
5. Eat torn chunks. Not neat cut off pieces but chuncks. With demi-sel buerre (semi-salted butter) and cheese!

And just enjoy life while you have it!

*Images sourced from interenet, if you do not wish them to be displayed please leave a comment below.

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Prefecture – a complicated word

It doesn’t sound so hard to pronounce right? Try pronouncing it french style when you are angry. It’s complicated all right. As soon as any strong emotion hits me I lose all french language ability and what results its something like a two-year old with horrible pronunciation.

Really, try this, imagine a young woman (aka moi), sitting there flushing red, attempting to produce a recognisable sentence with my pathetic range of vocabulary. I have a slightly panicked and confused look on my face and have curled my hands into those little white knuckled balls. AND I don’t understand a thing. I sit stiffly in the chair while VGT talks with the woman. I try to calm down and concentrate on understanding anything of whats being said. VGT glances at me with a funny look on his face. I must look pretty weird compared to my normal carefree, relaxed Australian style.

I bring this scene up for a very good reason. We are sitting in the office of etrangers (immigrants), at the prefecture. The Prefecture. Will. RULE. My. Visa. Here is the place I come for information, to give information and to get important things like my carte de sejour. Oh, and did I mention that we waited 10minutes for the lady at the desk to finish gossiping to serve us. There was no one else waiting but we still had to stand/sit/shuffle for a designated time. And she looked harassed!

So we are back to me sitting in the chair, my nails are now making pretty crescent shapes in my hand. She is speaking so fast it’s nearly spanish to me. Somehow the conversation is ending because she starts pausing (I am amazing at body language now, after a year in this country I am obliged to learn something ) and after all the hullabaloo of waiting and getting information I don’t understand she finishes with “Mairie”. My ears prick up like a dog hearing a whistle. The mayor, what has he got to do with it all?

As we walk back down the stairs VGT explains that for my carte de sejour we need to get married now by the Marie, and then I return to Australia, wait for my visa AND then come back. If we don’t get married now, I have to return after marriage into Australia to wait for my visa. So another plane ticket, or the extension for the fifth time of the ticket I have now…. Insert the sarcastic AWESOME!

So not only did the woman want me to rush into my marriage, she wanted it in three weeks. And then I had to go back to Australia. I am skeptical as to whether she gets a commission off the airlines too…

As we drive home I start screaming and crying at the same time “I TOLD YOU, I KNEW IT, I TOLD YOU SO!” It all stresses me out. But alas, I have survived my very first encounter with french bureaucracy. I have come out nearly whole, I don’t need a mental institution but I do need tissues…

The problem was I had been under the impression of a Fiance visa, allowing me to move and marry in one big swoop… after double checking different sources it is still possible. She was just… FRENCH.

Prefecture… There. I can write it without wanting to fisty someone in the eye. Don’t ask me to say it just yet. I ask for a little patience (maybe kindness too, the french aren’t too good at that, have you heard their national anthem?) But there, Prefecture. It’ll have to do.