It was easier to buy a baguette in London than here in France

My heroes used to be poets, great actors, scientists. Now it’s the people who walk neatly across the square in front of my house at 9:00 AM, baguettes under their arms, like extras in a Truffaut film. There they go, hair brushed, neatly dressed, relaxed, cheerful, roaring with art de vivre, their lives quietly under control. I often feel a little late for things, a step behind. “Jesus Christ”, my husband says, “did we miss the rhythm of the day again?”

Having lived for decades in London, where I was used to being able to buy anything at any time of the day or night, this is a cultural shift that is almost as drastic as trying to do my business in a second language. How do you plan your days around what looks like the most heroically informal opening hours of nine to twelve, then two or three to seven? I’m constantly waiting for a crucial store to reopen at two, three or four o’clock, or forget that the supermarket is closed on Sundays, and then remember that one of the Lidls may be open on Sunday mornings, merci à Dieu. I’m constantly looking up what times things open up, like a sinew seeking out a rare breed of bird. My heartbeat speeds up when I see a neon NON STOP in the window of a pharmacy or tobacco. And at the same time I feel sorry for those employees who can’t have a nice long lunch…

And while we’re on the subject of the rhythm of the day, can we talk about baking? This isn’t something I ever thought I’d write, since TAB (speaks about baking) was always my horrible shorthand for a moron. But in my new life, the detailed and excruciatingly correct letters of the council are my new form. One arrived this week to tell us that our waste collection (“le rythme de collecte de votre bac gris ‘ordures ménagères’”) will be limited to once a week during the winter. The letter also states that special collection points have been set up in all local landfills for our coquilles d’huîtres because of the holiday season. This is very useful as in Hackney I never knew what to do with my overabundance of oyster shells.

I’m quite resilient to change, but in the midst of our lives, in the midst of a pandemic, we threw everything in the air and moved to a new country, almost on a whim. On the surface, it’s easy to believe the idea that a Mediterranean life is all sunshine and less structure than our previous life in the city. In fact, life here has different structures, softer but more complex ones that I’m not quite used to yet. I will get there.

In the meantime, maybe I could just buy two loaves of bread at once and put one in the freezer for those times when I miss the rhythm of the day: no panic, no regrets; only the deep, deep peace of the double loaf.

Have you started a new life abroad? Tell us about your experience in the comments below


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