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I was right – I’d miss Dutch yoghurt.

Three months in Aquitaine, three months in Nèrac, what have I discovered/learned/missed:

– French women take more time than the Dutch women with their appearance. It’s POSSIBLE to do here because a) you are not in constant rain and b) you step elegantly from a car or a road and not off a bicycle (in the rain.) But on top of that, there is a beauty parlor or hair salon or esthetician shop about every 10 feet here!

The women are not flashy but under-stated, stylish not trendy, and elegant. Even just a trip to the market is a chance for neat clothes, polished shoes, coiffed hair, and… most of all… beautiful hands. French women take care of their skin and hands!

– They drink French wine… with maybe a smattering of wine from Chili or South Africa. Otherwise, shop somewhere else. Shops here are filled with local wines that I am working hard to discover :)

– EVERYTHING closes between noon and 2pm, EVERY day. Good luck trying to do anything from 11:30am until 2:30pm except cook and eat! Just walking through town will leave your stomach growling and your nostrils dreaming.

– Everyone drives a manual transmission. Automatics are for physically impaired or very elderly. Sigh. I had to get a ‘crash’ course on manual transmission driving. And in three months I’ve stalled, panicked, gotten stuck in the mud, and lost my grip on fifth gear while going 120 km/h

– You greet everyone when you walk into a store… and you use polite phrases learned in French class like “Bon journée” over and over as you exit. People are courteous, and friendly, and make eye contact.

– There’s little or no yoghurt in the stores. At least… nothing like what I had gotten used to Amsterdam. Sigh. I knew Dutch Yoghurt would be one of the things missed! But they have this stuff called “Fromage Blanc.” (Imagine natural yoghurt, but with the consistency of cream, and more of a Crème FraÎche flavor. Like a ‘kwark.’) SO yum!

– Crème Fraîche – there are FOUR different types in my local shop! FOUR! But fresh milk and whipping cream are tough to find. Most milks are this weird long-lasting stuff that you can store in a cool space for up to six months.

– Goat cheese – which I have come to love and adore in my cooking in the Netherlands…  is not as cheap here and has more of a fondant texture. (Still cheaper than in the US though!) But boy, are there other cheeses to try! My current favorite is a goat cheese from the Pyrenees…

– This is not Paris. ALL the books to help expats living in France that I’ve read or perused have said things like “French people don’t smile.” And “no-one in France wears a béret any more.” Well… here they smile and wear bérets, and are helpful when I ask questions in broken French and make me feel welcome.

– This is not Paris, or even Avignon, with cafés and patisseries full of cakes and desserts. Here when the baker sells out of baguettes… that’s it! And there are maybe four or five pastries to choose from in the shop… because… people make it at home!

– My French is improving every day… especially if you want me to order for you a couple of square meters’ worth of cement bricks or 10 pounds worth of nails! Just don’t ask me to talk politics or religion or anything else! Luckily – here they talk food, food and food :D

– There are no clocks anywhere. In San Diego I put on my watch before my underwear. In Amsterdam, I didn’t need a watch because there were clocks everywhere… on the street… in towers… in shops. Here… NO Clocks! And pretty French underwear ;)