French Connection

Over the years we as a family have been fortunate enough to holiday with foreign friends. Our main contact was with the French, as expected we quickly found many cultural differences. One of these that stood out was the custom of greeting one another when we first met in the morning after arising. We greeted all the members of the opposite sex with a kiss on each cheek or a handshake for the males. Later when I was back home and in my office, I continued with the custom, and the way I greeted my foreign friends. They expected it, and considered it normal. This always caused my staff much amusement, but I took it all in my stride. Once we started mixing with foreigners, we had many new customs to take in our stride.


The French Breakfast we found was alway a very simple affair, such as a roll or croissant, with a large cup of coffee. I noticed too more often than not, the roll was dipped, or dunked into their coffee. Their croissants were very rich, dripping with butter, often too chocolate filled.


I’m now talking about New Caledonia where many of their customs were different again to that of France, or the Metropol French. Because it was so hot midday, shops and schools shut at noon for a two hour siesta, which nearly everyone took at home. I should add too, that their day started very early, most were on the job at 6-00am, schools at 7-00am. I noticed too, that as most wives worked, they had a system that most took advantage of and was universally popular. This consisted of using the services of stand alone ‘kitchens’ scatted around the town, these cooked a range of three course dinners for participating families. You contracted in advance with the kitchen of your choice, to take their prepared meals on a weekly basis. These hot meals were picked up daily usually by the wives on their way home while exchanging containers. This container was a tall stack of interlocking pots. (I can’t find the word in their dictionnaire for the correct spelling but it sounded like ‘Gamelle’) They containing soup, a main course, and a dessert. I had seen these food containers, or something similar in the East. So maybe they had picked up the idea from Viet Nam or the other way around. The system was clearly a boon to the busy housewife. Not a lot different from the ‘meals on wheels’ we have here.


Another difference was their drinking of wine. None of the nonsense and pretence we have here. It was regarded as an necessary adjunct to the meal. In fact it was even regarded as a food. The children too were allowed a watered down glass. If a bottle wasn’t consumed during dinner or lunch, it was just corked, and popped into the refrigerator for the next meal. However the French Hostess without exception was very particular with her seating arrangements. You tell at a glance, exactly your social standing.


Because of the tropical heat their evening meal was served very late at night. Initially we were starving by the time dinner arrived, until we discovered that they, (All other people) were taking advantage of a substantial snack at around 4-00pm. The French or the Caldouch cooking as to be expected was superb. Initially we found their dishes were too over spiced, and far too hot with chilli for our taste. We soon adjusted to that, and found we too craved for the addition of chilli and garlic. In one conversation with a French House Wife over the price of vegetables she told me when she cooked a cauliflower, she cooked the lot. At $13 each she said, ‘It was a shame not to waste any’.


Of course they all drive on the wrong side of the road. We soon adjusted to that, but something else always seemed to catch us out. That was when as a pedestrian, we always looked the wrong way for on coming traffic, and this could kill you.


Every one seemed too seemed to have a ‘Nick Name’ or a shortened name as all were dubbed with a couplet of Christen names, when baptised such as Jojo for ‘Georges Louis’. Of course the books on grammar would tell you too, that ‘Vous’ is you, but so is ‘Tu’, which is the familiar form, but you never used Tu unless you were very close to the person being addressed.


In New Caledonia some of the early settlers were English, and they have left their mark in the language, as there are many English words in common use, but now pronounced with a French accent. Their phone books too are peppered with English names.


As a race they have very good sense of humour, but to us sometimes it’s meaning seems hidden. In Queenstown we had a very popular fine dining restaurant, owned by Alan Pay and his wife. ‘Pay’ in French is pronounced ‘Pie’ and quickly they all referred to him as ‘Hot Pie’, however the joke was not understood by the English or Alan.


As I’m not writing a guide book. I can only advise that if you wish to know more, make a visit yourself. This wonderful Country is on our doorstep.

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