Our Family’s (2nd) Year in the South of France
Kids and Castles - Our year with kids in the South of France


When you discuss other cultures, big differences come up frequently. Many of the things I heard about France before we came here are true:  the food really is that good (REALLY!!!), there is a truly unbelievable amount of dog poop, businesses close for weeks with no notice while their proprietors go on vacation, and Provencal men pee out in the open even if there is a perfectly good bush only a few feet away.

But there are the smaller things that are different here. They really are not worth mentioning, but I notice them. For example:

  • The milk is stored in the CUPBOARD! Of course there is UHT (shelf-stable) milk in California, but normally you buy refrigerated milk and drink it within a week or so. Here in Provence it is much more common to buy milk that you stick in the cupboard for up to nine months.  It comes in smaller bottles – typically one liter – and once opened it should be used very quickly.

    Shelf stable milk

  • Less fundraising – In California somebody is always asking us for money. Our California school has three huge fundraising events a year – a carnival, a gala, and a wine auction – plus about half a dozen smaller ones. Neighbourhood kids knock on the door to sell magazines, cookies, wrapping paper, and chocolate.  Our little French village is different.  Here fundraising is a rarity not the norm. The only fundraiser our Provence school does is a plat a emporter (take out) dinner twice a year. 7€ for a really, really amazing meal. I wish they’d do that fundraiser every week. The only other fundraiser was the firemen that came to the door in January to “give” us a calendar, but would of course accept a small donation. (Sorry ladies, it was full of fire-prevention tips and everyone was fully clothed. Quel dommage.)
  • No facecloths – It’s a small thing, but several times a day I reach for a facecloth that doesn’t exist.  We did find some small towels that are sewn together like thumb-less mittens. They do the job cleaning dirty faces, but it’s not the same.
  • Recycling and broken glass – Our village recycling station has a bin for plastic and cans, one for paper, and one for glass. The bins are the size of a small garden shed with slots for recyclable items at eye level. But here’s the thing – when you put the glass items in near the top of the container, they fall to the bottom and shatter. You can hear the breaking and I find it a bit disconcerting. When I first arrived I was sure I was doing something wrong, so I hung around trying to look nonchalant until a local came to recycle their glass so I could watch. They just tossed it in and didn’t flinch when it broke, so that’s what I do now too.

    Recycling in the Village

Somehow it’s these tiny, silly, irrelevant things that make me realize I’m in a foreign country.

8 Responses to “Oddities”

  1. Val says:

    I love the idea of you nonchalantly hanging out near the recycling bins 🙂

  2. Vered says:

    “In California somebody is always asking us for money. ”
    So true. And it’s sad, because at least on some level, it desensitizes you so you might end up ignoring important causes.

  3. Maureen says:

    Your comment about no faceclothes explains why my Canadian friends, who lived in France for 10 years, don’t have them in their house. We occassionally stay with them in Toronto and I find it very difficult to wash the kids. Of course, they don’t have kids. Maybe one day they will and then they’ll buy some faceclothes!

    • Diane H. says:

      Hi Maureen. And then they can blog about how in North America they have these very convenient small towels for washing dirty kid faces.

  4. Sonja says:

    Love your post! The milk thing bugs me too – I blogged about it once at

  5. Yanna Seabra says:

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  6. Ha! My wife is always on the search for facecloths but none to be found here in Honduras. I am used to the *dead* milk that is stored on the shelf, but wish I could get some fresh milk. I’m about to ask our neighbor if i could buy some fresh milk from his cows. And at least there is recycling there. The thing that pains me most is not to have recycling here. We try and use plastic bottles and such for art projects or whatever, in order to help reduce our waste.

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