Free Wee-Fee! Oui oui!

4 Feb

Montpellier.

Let’s catch up, it’s been awhile.

There’s a big, new international adventure in the works, so I’m officially back on the blog. But before I shift gears and continents, France deserves a little more time & space from me. Following SendMoneyPlease’s departure in Grenoble, I headed back to one of my all-time favorite places: lively Montpellier on the sunny Mediterranean coast – spending some quality time visiting friends and adopted family, gathering new vocabulary words & soaking up that delicious southern French way of life (read: hiking, beautiful beaches & pastry!). In other words, I officially dropped off the map for awhile.

Picnic at Palavas-les-Flots

It’s been 10 years since I lived in France, and during my train and bus rides, I had plenty of time to observe and reflect upon my French experiences.

A couple of things have noticeably changed:
  • Wi-fi is everywhere! I distinctly remember waiting hours to use one of the three university computers or the two private library computers (if the computers were up and running that day) to check my email 10 years ago. It was one of those “adjusting to French bureaucracy” things you came to accept, along with difficult-to-locate classroom & grade postings and official identification cards that had actual photographs stapled to them. (I mean, really? You wouldn’t accept my state driver’s license as a form of ID at the grocery store, but an ID with a stapled photo is ok?) Now, the Internet’s at every hotel, hostel, private home and coffee shop. Yea technology!

Doctor of sexologie in Montpellier.

  • WCs are much more prevalent. As an American, I’m very sorry that McDonald’s has invaded the earth , but I will take it as my personal right to use their (increasingly difficult to find) free bathrooms. However, I’m happy to report that we found WCs in even the smallest villages on this trip. Free & with modern “flush the whole room down” cleaning systems.
  • French youth have recently picked up on some early-90s-US-style-trends. Lip rings are all the rage, Converse hi-tops are in full fashion, and Eastpack backpacks are being worn everywhere. I bet that original Eastpack in your attic could fetch top dollar on Ebay right now, just be sure to list it in French.
And a couple of French things will never change (and I hope they never do):
  • Mussels with onion, fennel & white wine, chez Clo, Montpellier.

    The food is still delicious. Maybe it’s the proximity to the source of fresh, local produce. Maybe it’s the unpasturized milk and cheese products. Maybe it’s not being afraid of cooking with real, full-fat foods. Maybe it’s a unequaled culinary tradition & technique. Maybe it’s the knowledge that some good things just take time & seasons & skill & the right climate. I think it’s all of this, coupled with a country that has a discriminating palate (Trust me, I’ve seen the number of cheeses on the elementary school menu. It’s impressive for the tastes of a 1st grader.)

Tulipe – chestnut paste & whipped cream, Montpellier.

  • Everything’s still closed on Sunday (and sometimes Monday). Including the hypermarkets. Even Carrefour, 2nd largest hypermarket chain in the world, knows what’s good for its employees.
  • They’ve still got that charming there’s-nothing-we-can-do-about-that-shrug-your-shoulders sense of bureaucracy when it comes to banks/doctors/schools/official business. One morning we attempted to exchange currency. Turns out, there’s only one bank that exchanges money in the not-so-touristy (but huge city) Montpellier. As it also turns out, it had a handwritten note taped to the door explaining that it was closed that morning. No explanation. Sorry. 
  • Montpellier demonstration, September 2010.

    The French still love strikes and demonstrations. They still turn out in large numbers with their families to participate and observe them. And they still schedule them in advance (because it is very practical to know if the buses won’t be running, or there’s no school that day).

“Sidewalk, not crapping-ground.” Nantes.

  • And oh sure, there’s still plenty of dog poop on the sidewalk. But maybe that’s changing too. . .

I’ll wrap up France with a few more posts from the sunny Mediterranean & then I’ll be relating the events of the next big adventure. . .

“My master picks up after me.” Sidewalk in Nantes.

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