Three bags full

I never saw many farm animals up close when I was young. We lived in suburbia, where you got your milk in bladders (it’s a Canadian thing) and wool only ever came in sweaters. Living for years in France and now in Switzerland, some of our closest neighbours are furred or feathered.

Our French bulldog, Humphrey, the one with the wonky ticker, is mildly obsessed by sheep. All farm animals really, but especially the ones closer to his own size. Humphrey stares fixedly at the sheep and goats we pass on our walks. How ridiculous he looks; I feel rather embarrassed for him. Even the cows just look back at him placidly as they chew their cud. Electric fencing means that their relationship will never get beyond a curious stare. Although on one occasion he was surprised when the massive pink tongue of a curious cow came and licked him over the fence.

Now the farm animals have all gone inside for the winter but in most seasons they graze happily outdoors. I wonder if they have shorter legs on one side to keep their balance on the steep slopes?

We had a bit of snow this week which made the dog walks a little tough on the Frenchies’ tootsies. Our boys are getting older and are less excited about going out in the cold and wet. The upside is that when they do their business, which I always pick up faithfully here in the land of civic duty, it is easier to grab in the snow. And even warms my hands! Like most modern dog walkers, I have perfected my technique for picking up dog-do: slipping the bag over my hand like a glove then grabbing the item and turning the bag inside out. Before knotting it, that is; here in Switzerland there is a protocol for everything and one must knot the bag, n’est-ce pas?

Thankfully the bags are thoughtfully provided by the Gemeinde (town council) at poop bins strategically located where people walk their dogs. So I have no excuse, really, and can even be seen after dark with my walking light scrabbling around on the ground to pick up after my pets.

Garbage bags are another story. I’m not sure how it works elsewhere but here in German-speaking Switzerland, you have to buy special pre-taxed bags. Any other kind will simply not be picked up.

“Müllsacks, bitte,” I venture to the woman behind the counter where they sell pricey, taxed items like garbage bags and cigarettes. Thankfully she understands me, even though I think it’s not the correct word. That might in fact be ‘Gebührenkehrichtsack’ (charged garbage bag) but I am far from able as yet to spit that one out.

I am, however, proud to be able to specify the size of bag: “Fünf und dreissig.” The 35-litre bags are the most popular format so perhaps she saw it coming. I fork out 20 francs to pay for my roll of ten red bags. At 2 CHF a pop, it’s a good thing they’re sturdy because you need to amortize each one by filling it to the max. Most weeks we manage three bags full.

It seems the philosophy of making the polluter pay for the costs of waste disposal is deeply ingrained in the Swiss psyche. I suppose it’s an incentive to create less waste and recycle more. Which is all very well and good unless you have a sensitive nose. Those bags start to stink after a few days.

But who wants to be a black sheep?


Feature photo by Jared van der Molen on Unsplash

Français ou pas?


One of the things I enjoy about travelling is the perspective you gain from stepping away from your world. Our recent jaunt to England made me think about some of the things that define the French. How very ‘English’ I sometimes still feel (which for me means anglo-Canadian) and at times how very French I’ve become.

It’s the little things, of course, and readers of this blog will know that I am one for observing the details that make up our lives.

La file d’attente

It starts at the airport. Whenever there is a line up, the difference is immediately apparent. The Brits queue in an orderly fashion; the French must push forward like a force of nature. I find myself somewhere in between, struck with admiration for the ‘keep calm and carry on’ approach of my fellow English natives yet driven by my far more impatient French self to get ahead quickly.

Le parfum

If you smell someone before you see them, there are two possible explanations: either they have not bathed or they are wearing strong perfume. Sometimes both explanations apply. In the latter case, they are very probably French. I can put up with body odour but have a very low tolerance (which is to say almost no tolerance) for perfume. French noses seem to be able to bear stronger scents far better than mine; the idea of a fragrance-free zone is entirely foreign.

Le petit déjeuner

One of the habits I have never acquired after all these years in France is eating just bread for breakfast. I will rarely say no to croissants and other French viennoiseries like pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins and croissant aux amandes (yum!), but my idea of breakfast is a bit more substantial. And if bread is involved, it must be toasted.

Starting the day with a ‘full English’ is horrifying to most French people; personally I enjoy a bit of egg and bacon, but the sausage, beans and black pudding is a bit much. A beer would have made it even better but is this even allowed in the UK so early in the day?

Le café ou thé

The French mostly have coffee with hot milk for breakfast, famously dunking their bread or croissant in a large bowl of the stuff. After that, they tend to drink small cups of espresso café or ‘express’. It is taken black, although sugar is always on offer.

I’m a hybrid there, too, as I love a couple of good strong coffees with milk for breakfast then drink tea in the afternoon. If the espresso is good, I will drink it black after a meal. Coffee culture is everywhere in the UK now but as soon as we left London, I had a hard time getting the kind of coffee I like: strong but not bitter with a bit of milk; not milk with a bit of coffee. Or – horror of horrors – instant coffee.

As for tea, who am I to complain about the nation that made it famous? But there was little evidence of whole tea culture that can be found now even in France, where green is a mainstay and my personal favourite is white (the leaves, not with milk!). French tea drinkers rarely take milk.

La cuisson

If you order meat in a French restaurant, you will usually be asked how you’d like it cooked. ‘La cuisson’ may be medium or rare (rosé or bleu), medium rare (à point) or well done (bien cuit). Ordering anything well done is a very tell-tale sign of English-ness.

Mine is medium rare.


The relaxation of dress standards in recent years has made it harder to put labels on people. So much the better! But there are a few tell-tale signs that will give French people away to those in the know. A scarf even in mild weather (we have very fragile necks!); a certain cut of clothing (the French don’t do oversized); anything well-ironed (rumpled is not a look the French favour). Men will be unshaven, as is the fashion, but they will wear a trendy pair of glasses, skinny jeans and their ‘pullover’ will sport a discreet but fashionable label. Women may appear drab at first glance, then you will notice that their jacket conceals a rather attractive top, that their accessories are coordinated and that underneath that basic ensemble is surely some well-cut lingerie.

En public

French behaviour in public places, aside from pushing in crowds, tends to be discreet. They don’t mingle, or start up conversations with strangers. I noticed this in several pubs where many of the patrons were looking about them and chatting with their neighbours; those with there heads down and sticking strictly to themselves were almost inevitably French. To be fair, the language barrier may be a reason.

Here again, I’m a hybrid. I have a horror of enforced socializing and will almost always gravitate to the edge of a crowd. On the other hand, people often come up to me on the street and ask for directions (more fools they, as I am rarely of much help); start talking to me on buses or in waiting rooms; sitting next to someone we often end up in conversation. My husband is always fascinated by this as it never happens to him. He shakes his head in wonder as I regale him with these stories.

Les bouledogues français

My Frenchie featured in this blog is called Higgins, a British name if there ever was one. And rightly so. On our recent trip, husband reminded me that the French bulldog breed has its origins in Nottingham, where the lace workers who travelled to France had to keep their canine companions small in order to go on the boats across to Calais.

Have you ever been surprised to discover that something you thought of as typically French or English was not at all?




Avoir du chien


Higgins and Humphrey, our third generation of French bulldogs

The French bulldog became my preferred pet just as France became my country. The first time I saw those perky ears , I thought they were funny looking. The second time I fell in love. By the time I noticed all the imperfections — panting, snoring, farting — there was no going back.

“Avoir du chien” is how the French describe someone with a certain style and elegance. Exactly why “having dog” equates to being attractive is unclear but one thing is sure: the French love their canines. From Paris to province, here is a look at the dog’s life in France.

Sidewalk art. Like so many visitors to the city of light, the first thing I did upon arriving in Paris was to put my foot into a sample of its sidewalk art. This despite the fact that French city streets have a dedicated place for dogs to do their business: le caniveau, the gutter that runs along the side of major streets and which, in Paris at least, is cleaned out daily by running water and troops of street cleaners brandishing brooms. However, most dogs’ interpretation of the caniveau is rather broad, or their aim is off, which makes navigating the city streets rather like sweeping for mines. They recently introduced laws that require you to pick up after your pet, but the French are resistant to such discipline and sidewalk art remains a fact of life. The city of Paris has a whole series of videos designed to train dog owners how to be good citizens.

La promenade. The French verb for walking the dog says it all. Promener le chien is a chance to see and be seen, while buying the daily baguette and taking moderate exercise. Nothing as undignified as jogging (the French don’t like to sweat unless sitting on a beach) but the daily constitutional keeps the bourrelet at bay. If you really want a slice of French life, go to one of its parks or squares and watch the doggies parade their owners around.

Pet friendly. Dogs are welcome most everywhere in France. In restaurants it is not uncommon to dine with one’s dog and most wait staff will cheerfully bring a bowl of water for le toutou. Contrary to customs in North America, pets are allowed in apartment buildings and hotels. However, many parks and beaches do not allow dogs or have a keep-off-the-grass policy.

Well groomed. Dog grooming salons (“salon de toilettage”) are almost as common as beauty parlors in France, where long-haired breeds like poodles and lhasa apsos are popular. Keeping them impeccably groomed is de rigueur and that requires a professional touch.

Pedigreed. The French love their pedigrees as much as they do their protocols. So to ensure order in the breeding world, a strict naming protocol was implemented by the organization responsible for pedigrees, the LOF (Livre des Origines Français). In any given year, a pedigreed pup must be given a name beginning with the same letter of the alphabet (for simplicity’s sake they deleted the k, q, w, x, y, z). Of course you are free to call your pooch whatever you please, but his papers will show the regulation name – and it is so much more chic to call one’s dog by his pedigreed moniker, n’est-ce pas? Note that 2013 is an ‘i’ year, so prepare to hear all kinds of unusual names: Igor, Ivan, Izac…

Well bred. You can tell a lot about a person from his or her choice of breed. Little old ladies tend to prefer the French poodle. Fashion hounds of all ages favor the Yorkshire terrier (“le York”) or other fluff balls that can be carried as fashion accessories. (NB. Have you ever noticed how mean those tiny terriers can be? On the other hand, if someone put a pink bow in my hair, I’d probably growl too.) People with children will often have a beagle, spaniel or some variant. And of course hunting dogs of all description are commonly kept in the country, where la chasse is widely followed in game season.  Oddly, apartment dwellers often have the biggest breeds.

What’s in a name? In a lovely example of synchronicity, the word ‘pet’ actually means fart in French. And the word ‘puppy’ pronounced the French way (“poopy”), accurately describes its primary activity. Also in French: ‘chiot’ (shit – oh!)

Why the French bulldog is, in my view, the only truly French breed. The Frenchie, as he’s known to lovers of the breed, is not quite a dog. He understands the importance of sniffing and chewing his food. He does not know that his place is under the table but insists on sitting at it with you. The Frenchie expects — and gets — attention everywhere he goes. He struts his stuff with innate style. He may not be the most beautiful – crooked teeth, big ears, a stocky shape – but he will win you with his charm. And that, mesdames et messieurs, is 100% French.