A Very French Celebration

Whether it’s my abiding interest in human nature, fascination with psychology or simply sheer nosiness (as my other half calls it), I love to know what motivates people. As a Property Finder, it’s vital I develop a deep understanding of what makes my clients tick if I’m to find their ideal place in France.

Last week, I indulged my interest – you know how I love “research” – and did a straw poll of UK friends who’ve made the move to France. I wanted to find out their top reasons for coming here to live. Unsurprisingly, food, wine, lower house prices and better weather featured strongly.  Keen to know more, I then tried to dig a bit deeper and unpick what people meant by their most popular response: “a better quality of life” – something France is always rated highly for providing in official polls.

As it turns out, a lot of what people seem to mean when they talk about quality of life was illustrated graphically – and with added fireworks – during the fourteenth of July holiday to celebrate the storming of the Bastille.

Having spent a happy four to five hours last Thursday afternoon with local villagers in our Salle des Fêtes indulging in the food and wine element of the French Dream, we set off into Parthenay to meet some English friends for the evening fireworks display. Armed with folding chairs, picnic and, yes, the inevitable bottle or two of wine (well, when in France…) we made our way down by the river finally coming to rest facing the ancient medieval ramparts. As dusk began to fall, increasing numbers of people arrived to listen to the live bands, dance, picnic or simply chat with friends and family. Every age range was represented: from Great Grandmas perched slightly stiffly, knees apart on folding chairs to groups of cool teenagers in the latest fashion and excited toddlers rolling around on the grass. Between two and three thousand people and yet….no police presence! It simply wasn’t needed. And that, as my friends pointed out, was what they loved about living in France. The feeling of safety that they, and their families, enjoy at social events. The respect that exists for the elderly and, not least, the freedom to let their children out of their sight without the worry that something awful might happen at any minute. (There’s no suggestion that crime doesn’t happen in France but, here in the more rural areas, people still happily leave their barns, and often their houses, unlocked while children are free to play in a way that is reminiscent of 1950s England).

The firework display itself was a simply stunning combination of colours and shapes, superbly coordinated with both Latin American music and opera – they really do know how to celebrate in France. And, as most people packed up to leave, our friend David pointed to the lack of litter and the long queue of people winding its way patiently back along the riverside. When a first aider asked the crowd to allow someone in a wheelchair through, people simply moved over without having to be asked twice and there was no pushing or shoving.

So, there you have it, one example of the quality of life in France. Next year is the millenium celebrations for Parthenay and the quatorze juillet promises to be even more spectacular. I’ll personally be counting the days although, before then, there are numerous fêtes advertised and I really ought to attend. All in the name of research…. !

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