In 2017 this Webmaster had a tremendous experience: He spent six months living in France and working as a freelance battlefield tour guide. Travel abroad can produce both positive and negative experiences. In this “La Vie en France” he highlights some of the positive memories of that six month period. They are in no particular order.
Food–Especially Bread, Wine, Cheese and Mirabelles
It is not a cliché: The French do food very well. One of the things the Webmaster misses most since returning to the U.S. is the morning smell in the boulangerie (bakery) when buying the daily / almost-daily loaf of bread. Restaurant meals can be wonderfully prepared. Referring to one hotel/restaurant, a former tour client would say that the chef could cook a piece of leather and it would turn out tasting flavorful. And yes, when mirabelles, those small golden plums from Lorraine, are in season one should take advantage of it.
More than one of the Webmaster’s “People of the Meuse-Argonne” have emphasized the beauty of the countryside as one of the reasons they love to return to the region. The Webmaster wholeheartedly agrees!
The French Autoroutes are great–even if one has to pay high tolls to use them. The surfaces are smooth, with virtually no bumps or potholes. There are no tire retread sections littering a highway; because the Europeans don’t allow them. Most important: There are frequent restrooms and service areas where customers can purchase gas, snacks and food–around the clock. Travel tip: Yes, there were times when this tour guide left the country roads and drove to the next “Aire” on the autoroute to use the restrooms or to purchase gas.
France has done away with a lot of its local train service over the last few decades, but the TGV seems to work quite well. It is possible to travel from CDG or from the Gare de L’est to the Meuse Gare (train station) in one hour! That compares to about a three hour drive.
The French depend heavily on roundabouts instead of stop signs; and they work in France. Readers can see “La Vie en France #19” for a more thorough discussion of roundabouts.
Assistance with Accidents
The Webmaster’s one accident during the six months involved driving off the road and into a soft shoulder, such that one of his tires sunk into the mud so far that he could not get out. He put out the “red triangle” to indicate a problem; and more than half the cars that passed asked if they could help. Two gentlemen, who spoke English well, helped him call roadside assistance.
Healthcare is good in France, and it is cheap relative to the U.S. During a 2005 tour one participant developed a urinary tract infection, and she was getting sicker as the day progressed. The Webmaster feared her treatment would involve a drive to the hospital in Verdun and a multi-hour wait in the emergency room. The hotel owners called a local doctor on a Friday night, and he made a house call to the hotel. Further, they called the local pharmacy after hours, and they opened up too! The cost for both was minimal–even for an American who was not under the French national insurance.
If one has a job, France has a wonderful work-life balance: The work week is short–35 hours. Vacation time is plentiful–6+ weeks in most cases. One can leave work at the office–A recently signed law stated that workers did not have to check emails after work hours. Thus, one can have a fairly good lifestyle without putting forth a lot of effort–if one has a job.
The downside to this is the fact that France’s inflexible labor laws make it a less attractive country for employers. As a result, unemployment remains relatively high and employers choose to invest in more employer-friendly countries, such as Eastern European countries.
The Webmaster welcomes comments from readers regarding what they like best about visiting France. Please keep your comments positive–for now. The next “La Vie en France” will talk about what doesn’t work.