If you see more French flags on your social media timelines and your coworkers suddenly have a box of chocolate croissants on their desk, there’s a reason for it. Today is July 14th, which means that it’s also Bastille Day – France’s National Day. The 14th of July commemorates the beginning of the French Revolution with the Storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789. In other words, it’s their Independence Day. More so than any other country, I see celebrations for this French holiday every year here in the U.S., which at first may seem a little odd. I don’t see Foster’s Beer on Australia Day or any other national holiday celebrated with such fervor as we seem to if not just acknowledge, then openly celebrate this important day for our French friends. But why is that? Sure, as I’ve shared in my posts about the frigate ship Hermione, there exists a very old and very special bond between the two countries, but I think it’s more than that. While France is the most popular tourist destination in the world, that’s nothing new to us. Americans have always loved visited the land of crepes and berets, from Franklin to the modern era. I too love visiting France and it was even my first international trip as a teenager. Because of that, among many other reasons, France holds a very special place in my heart and so today I wanted to share just a few of the many reasons why I love France and why I think every trip there is a new adventure.
We’ll Always Have Paris
As I boarded that Air France plane in the summer of 1993, I was excited. Excited to see for myself what millions before me had already discovered; that Paris may very well be the best city in the world. Hear me out. Paris is one of the very few cities in the world that has a particular kind of urban mythology constructed around it. We see it in movies, read about it in books and for so many of us, there is an undeniable romantic notion about strolling along the streets of Paris. It’s just something almost all of us want to do at some point in our lives. Over the decades, and even centuries, Paris has come to symbolize the pinnacle of travel in Europe. Walking through the leafy streets of the Marais, long lunches at sidewalk cafes, widow shopping on the Champs-Élysées and of course seeing the mighty Eiffel Tower for the very first time – these define travel in Paris for most. Whether or not you like Paris is almost inconsequential, you have to admit that you felt as if you had to see it for yourself and you also have to admit that these travel ideals are very real ones. But Paris is more than its stereotype, it’s a modern, living and breathing city; one that is in a constant state of flux and of redefining itself. Again, while I know that there are some who actually don’t like the City of Lights (quel domage!) I believe that most visitors are like me, and fall under the spell of this very special city. It’s a place rare in the fact that it has an allure that is so strong, visitors can’t help but want to return time and time again. Or maybe I’ve just had too many crepes, who knows?
Much More Than Paris
However, for as much as I love Paris I have to admit that the rest of the country may be even more interesting than the capital city itself. France is deceptively large and complex, ranging from the Mediterranean to the Alps and the marshy low country, the terrain and the cultures shift more dramatically than most people realize. I’ve long said that one could spend a lifetime exploring France and it’s true. The level of diversity and the sheer number of interesting places is almost overwhelming. More than just a large country with interesting towns and villages, I think that not unlike Germany, France too fulfills the promise of what Europe should look like. Now, I can hear the eyeballs of non-Americans rolling out there, but stay with me a moment because you’re included in these aspirational feelings. From an American point of view, there is something so special about Europe, so unique that we all dream of visiting it. Maybe it’s our family histories or just the similar cultures, but for us Europe is the first place many of us go on our first big trip overseas – it’s the fulfillment of a travel promise and France is one of the countries (there are several) best able to match our expectations. From the wine lands to the coast and quiet villages along the way, France does an excellent job at being France, and sometimes that’s more than enough.
Something To Eat
Some countries are better at eating than others and for centuries France has been amongst the best. The creator of the modern-day methodology of evaluating restaurants around the world, we just trust the French when it comes to all things food-related. Sure, you can enjoy some of the finest restaurants in the world while traveling around France, but for me the beauty is in the everyday meal. Starting at breakfast with the expertly crafted coffee and delicate pain au chocolate continuing through snacks and meals, the French don’t take any food lightly and it shows. The French consider food in a way that’s not like the rest of the world. It holds a certain place of reverence so important that to abuse an ingredient would be unthinkable. That means for casual tourists like me, a simple lunch in the middle of nowhere is usually better than anything I can find at home. A reliance on using fresh ingredients and an expert level of care in the crafting of meals is what has defined French food for the world for a very long time and I’m absolutely certain that French cuisine will continue to be the standard against which all else is judged well into the future. And now I’m hungry.
The People – Yes, The People
The French have a bad reputation, and I’ve never fully understood why. When I was 17 I spent a month living in Paris; one of the travel highlights of my life. Even then this reputation confused me because everyone, to a person, treated me warmly and with kindness. But even if you have been met with curt personalities in Paris, you should know that even the French consider Paris and France to be two very separate entities. Like most major cities around the world, Paris is big, bustling and in a hurry – all the time. Its residents consider themselves to speak in a different way, act in a different way and overall they take this other-ness very seriously. Once you leave the city limits though you will find that many parts of the country are indeed rural, the pace of life is slower and along with that, the people tend to be a little more welcoming. This isn’t unique to France, you’ll find it around the world, but for some reason it seems to be more pronounced in France. Another part of the problem is that because of this slightly inaccurate reputation, first-time travelers to France expect rudeness and so they seek it out. As soon as the first offense is offered then they pass judgment on the entire nation; as unfair a travel sin as any other. You should treat France like you would any other country, with an open mind and a tacit willingness to be proven wrong.
Je Ne Sais Quoi
It’s corny and trite but most of my love for France comes not from a definable experience, but from a general feeling when I’m there. Everything seems to click, my French speaking abilities come rushing back and all seems well in the world as soon as I set foot on French soil. There’s just something about the country that has always appealed to me, even if I’ve only explored a tiny fraction of it. It seems as if there’s a new discovery around every corner, something more beautiful and interesting than the last. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve always found the people to be kind and helpful and of course the food is amongst the best in the world. More than these facts, and the reasons I’ve tried to lay out though, I think the real reason why France is such a popular tourist destination is much less tangible than the experts would like to think. It’s the ethereal feeling of Frenchness that draws so many of us in and convinces us to return again and again, if only to try to recapture the magic of the country.
So thank you France for just being you and I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating a very special day.
What do you think? Does France hold a special spot in the hearts of people around the world or am I crazy for thinking that?