Steeven Ballein hiking near his home town in France.
Steeven Ballein hiking near his home town in France.

The French live life on high

WHEN the world thinks of France, snails, cheese and bread sticks, little cafes with croissants, the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre museum may come to mind.

Or should I say escargot, fromage et baguette de pain, petit cafe et croissant et la celebre Tour Eiffel et le Louvre.

Of course, I would like to say that out loud so you can hear my homegrown French accent.

After more than one year away from my country, I now understand why France is so popular overseas.

Before even starting, I would like dismiss the cliche that all French people eat frogs' legs.

Once, I tried them, and then I knew that would be the last time. Ever.

Now, let me transport you to the most visited country in the world, which receives 82 million foreign tourists annually but more particularly, to the place where I grew up.

I come from Allinges, a small village of about 4000 people in Haute-Savoie - a province in the Rhône-Alpes region of eastern France, bordering both Switzerland and Italy.

My childhood was spent building tree houses, going to the beach in summer or making snowmen in winter.

Allinges residents are lucky because they can take the plunge into the freshwater of the Leman Lake or go skiing on it - a favourite hot-weather pastime.

For those who like riding motorbikes, as I do, then you can enjoy the beautiful mountain roads through the Alps and refresh yourself with the "real" source of the famous Evian water.

When winter arrives, you can go skiing or hiking on the roof of Europe at Mont-Blanc, soaring more than 4800 metres, as well as cheering on the Tour de France cyclists as they head through each leg of the annual classic.

In my case, the most beautiful view I have ever seen was when I jumped from a plane at more than 4000 metres.

From that height, I had an unforgettable view of my hometown, surrounded by the Alps as well as the Leman Lake.

But what I have missed the most this year away is everyday French food.

No Frenchman would spend a day without bread, cheese and red wine (but unlike the cliche, I don't wear my beret when eating).

I used to buy two crispy, country-style baguettes de campagne a day, for breakfast and lunch, but I would keep some aside for afternoon tea and dinner.

You may wonder how we can eat such a huge amount of bread.

But we have all grown up eating bread with everything, especially with a variety of cheese (or fromage) and sometimes even as a side dish to pizza.

French food culture means taking time to eat and appreciate what Mother Nature gives us.

We spend between 45 minutes and two hours eating at most meals, taking the opportunity to talk and share our point of view about what we have done during the day or community issues.

Fromage is also an important part of our culture, and I surely could not live without the reblochon, the tomme de savoie, the emmental, the abondance and the celebrated raclette and fondue Savoyarde.

All these traditions date back through the history of France.

Think about the French motto: Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite (Liberty, Equality, Fraternity) - and what does it mean?

It means that millions of French people died to protect those values and that makes me proud of my country.

That is why a band of Free French Resistance fighters rebelled against the Nazi regime that operated in The Maquis des Glieres in my Haute-Savoie province in the Second World War.

Our splendid cocktail of culture and traditions has been spreading worldwide for hundreds of years, to the point where everyday French words are now part of the English language.

So if I say "au revoir", you will understand, in one-way or another, we are all children of France.


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