I grew up in a small city where not much ever happened. A big weekend would include a boat ride on the lake, or gathering with family and friends to tailgate the local high school football game. Most of my friends belonged to the 4-H Club or to Future Farmers of America. People in my hometown rely on themselves, and take vested interests in their neighbors’ well being.
Anyways, the picture that I am trying to paint is that I am used to living in a laid back area, full of good, salt-of-the-earth people–in an area where self-reliance is a virtue, and where the Greek practice of xenia is still commonplace. The reason I paint this picture is to emphasize my surprise at how even more open and laid back my experience in France had been.
Upon reaching the French ville of Grenoble-one of the largest metropolises of France-I was struck by an odd juxtaposition of things old and new. My intrigue picked up when I reached the house of Paul and Jeanne–my host family. Before even entering the gate that led to their yard, I could hear the faint sound of chickens clucking. After crossing the threshold, I was introduced to one of the largest and most beautiful home gardens I had ever seen. It was replete with a fig tree, bushes and bushes of raspberries, mint, and various other herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Throughout my entire duration in France, I don’t believe I ever partook of a home cooked meal by Paul or Jeanne that did not consist of something from that garden. This down to earth nature stood in stark contrast to many other aspects of the house and city. For example, my room in our 200 year old farmhouse was serviced by WiFi of the most sporadic nature, and just a block away was a stop to board one of the most efficient and easy to use tramways I ever had the pleasure of riding.
While slow Sunday afternoons back at home usually consisted of hanging with friends and watching television, the case in France was much more subdued. The occasional march through the hills of the Alps would be followed by a peaceful and long nap. At around 5pm we would arise for an early feast, and later enjoy the generous view in the shade of the colline. Sunday nights usually ended early, as–to my huge surprise, after trying to buy some snacks one Sunday afternoon–I realized that almost anyone and everyone took that day off.
This laid back lifestyle was not only confined to my home life in France. Seldom was the case in the big city where people would prefer to drive rather than walk. Over the weekends, while, yes, you could find a small fray of people hanging around clubs and bars, the vast majority of the city population could be found enjoying a cabaret or any other of the free cultural productions that were so often available.
Of all the experiences I had abroad, and of all the lessons learned, whenever I feel stressed, I remember my time in France, and realize that sometimes it’s just better to take things with a little less urgency.