Lyon and Beaujolais, with the French and a faux pas

In my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, Jenny sees a lot of western Europe, but only a little of France itself. On school breaks, she travels mostly with Americans, staying in youth hostels and seeing the sights without the aide of les français.

Which is a shame. But that may keep her from committing too many faux pas in front of the French. Goodness knows she experiences enough embarrassing moments as it is…

Par contre, one of the highlights of our trip to France last summer was the weekend my husband and I spent with a French couple in Lyon. My faux pas (and I hope it was just the one) happened on Sunday…

Luc and Juliette met us at the train station on Saturday morning. Earlier, we had exchanged letters and emails – en français et en anglais – about our visit, a stop on the way from Montpellier to Paris. Near our age but with twice the number of children, they were très agréable, insisting that we stay at their belle maison rather than pay for un hôtel.

Luc doesn’t speak much English (though he made un effort) and my husband knows little French, but Juliette’s anglais is very good. She and Luc were surprised at my ability to speak French, very encouraging and complimentary.

(The men’s language barrier wasn’t a problem, since Juliette and I could talk to each other — and translate for our husbands — and since, well, men are men.)

For two days, she and Luc entertained us, showing us around Lyon and the surrounding area like only the French can do.


Above is a postcard they sent us one Noel. That Saturday, I took this photo of a similar view:

On the Presqui’île  — a peninsula between the Rhône and the Saône Rivers — we toured the Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, then stopped for une boisson at a café off the famous Place des Terreaux. 

Refreshed, we crossed un pont (bridge) and explored vieux Lyon.










We stopped to look in the window at the famous Musée Miniature et Cinéma and then wandered into a traboule between two main streets.

A window display of the Musée Miniature et Cinéma

Luc explained that these hidden passageways came in handy during World War II for the French to hide from — and fool — the Germans, and that people still live in the apartments which share covered spiral staircases:

Luc and Juliette were wonderful hosts, even helping us navigate the Versailles site web on their ordinateur (computer) on Sunday, in preparation for our visit to the palace the following week.

That afternoon, they decided we should explore the nearby region known as Beaujolais. We happened upon a vrai (real) French Renaissance Festival in the medieval village of Ternand just in time to watch a play (complete with horses and jousting) performed en français.

But earlier that day, after mass at their church just down the street, and during our visit to Les Halles in Lyon,* I made an erreur.

As we walked through the vast indoor market, Juliette made a few purchases, and I noticed poultry, fish, meat and cheese displayed in ways I had never imagined. Then Luc suggested we sit down at a café for a glass of vin and some raw huîtres — oysters. He ordered for us.

I listened and thought he had requested 3 oysters for each of us. Since I love oysters (and didn’t realize that Juliette already had un repas waiting for us at home), I interrupted en français and asked that he double it.


Luc had actually ordered 24 oysters, not 12. But being a polite Frenchman (and perhaps assuming that Americans like more of everything), he changed the order to 48. Which I didn’t understand  hear  catch, until they arrived.

Good thing oysters are so low calorie. They were delicious, I was embarrassed, and later, we all ate a very light dejeuner et dîner! 

*for more, see my post “Les écharpes, le fromage et café crème (scarves, cheese and espresso with cream)”

Les écharpes, le fromage et café crème (scarves, cheese and espresso with cream)

It’s the little things.

I noticed trois choses très français during my trip to France this summer. Number one: les écharpes. Everywhere I went with my husband, despite the warm temperatures of l’été, women (and men) of all ages and sizes wore them without effort and with no fuss, looking natural, cool and oh so French.

While the most common are a simple gray or brown, I saw a variety of colors, textures, and patterns. Here in the USA, Madame Marie-Helene, mon prof de français, has a collection. All are very pretty and look perfect on her. I have a collection, too, but rarely wear them, though I did when I was younger. Pourquoi? Je ne sais pas.

Number two: le fromage. One day, as guests of a family in Lyon, we visited Les Halles de Lyon, a huge indoor food market offering meats, poultry (with heads on), fish, foie gras, many prepared dishes and of course, incredible desserts like tarts, cakes and macarons. Also available are a zillion varieties of cheese, a staple in the French diet that is served after the main meal.

On our last evening in France, we were dinner guests in a Parisian home. After the appetizer, fish and salad, our hosts, a married couple, served a cheese plate and urged us to try a bit of everything. The cheeses were delicious and unlike any I had ever tasted in America. When we finished, they politely offered to pass the plate again; my husband and I thanked them but declined. Then Madame explained with satisfaction that we had passed the test: according to French etiquette, if one takes a second helping from the cheese plate, it means one has not been well fed at the meal (and we had been very well fed).

Number Three: café crème. Unlike café au lait, cream is used instead of milk. A must for petit déjeuner, along with yogurt or fruit and a croissant or pain au chocolat. C’est bon.

The protagonist of my novel (coming out soon) adapts well to France. She drinks café au lait instead of café crème, eats le fromage and wears écharpes.

Three little things that haven’t changed much in decades, and that make une grande différence.

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