Pondering whether she feels British or French, Janine Marsh concludes it’s all in the art de vivre..
Do you feel French or British?” asked my son Harry the other day. And it’s a good question. I’ve had a house in the Sept Vallées, Pas de Calais, for 19 years and have lived here for several years. I’ve travelled all over France, written three books about my life here and just finished writing a book called How to be French. And yet I’ve never asked myself that question.
I was born in London and my dad was a proper cockney whose speech was spattered with phrases like “get up those apples and pears” (cockney slang for stairs), and “go wash your Germans” (German bands hands). I’ve always considered myself a Londoner living in France. But thinking about my son’s question has made me realise that I’m a sort of hybrid. Not French but not 100% British.
For me, being French is not just about whether you’re a French passport holder or have passed your citizenship exam. It’s as much about how you live-especially when it comes to the art de vivre, the art of living well.
Art de vivre is about making the simple things in life as pleasurable as possible.. Dressing a table with a pretty tablecloth and stylish tableware, savouring a cup of black coffee in a pure white cup at a terraced café and being in the moment, lingering over a two-hour lunch instead of rushing to get it over with, enjoying a stroll without having to arrive anywhere in particular, what the French call to flaner-it has no real equivalent in English.
Art de vivre touches on so many aspects of life that we may sometimes consider mundane but instead become a series of moments and experiences that become special because you take the time to appreciate them or the efforts that others make.
I’ve asked my French friends if they are conscious of practicing art de vivre and all of them say no, it’s just something that they grew up being aware of-that quality is better than quantity, that knowing that small details can make a big difference to the basic pleasures of daily life. For non-French people, it takes a bit of time to become accustomed to it, but with practice it can be achieved.
I thought about my son’s question-do I feel French now? Yes, in some ways I do. I truly appreciate the good things that come my way, they’re not wildly dramatic things-a beautiful cake display showcasing the skill of the parissier and the time taken to achieve perfection. Being able to go to a market for fresh food any day of the week that I like. Shops that sell only cheese that has been chosen by an affineur, a cheese expert who cares for and ripens the cheese to perfection. Traditional lace curtains at windows, a perfectly folded napkin and villages with floral displays that make your heart sing. Vive l’art de vivre!
Janine Marsh lives in France with her husband and 72 animals. She has a column in French Property News magazine and her latest book. Toujours la France! Living the Dream in Rural France, is available to buy now.
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