In France I felt more respected as an older woman
Living in Provence, I was included and respected in all conversations. A delicious feeling
‘Even when my partner was doing the talking and questioning, I was always included and respected in France.’
The main thing I absolutely loved about France was the respect the French have for women, particularly older women. In Ireland, older women are often invisible, to both men and younger women. As an older woman I have often had the experience of feeling ‘tolerated’ when talking to a male professional, tradesperson or shop assistant, rather than respected. This is particularly true when in the company of a man.
This was demonstrated clearly to me last summer in Dublin when I went into my local wine shop to buy wine with my partner. He picked up a cigar while I looked at the wine. The proprietor greeted him warmly, insisted on showing him some recommended wines, while completely ignoring me. I left the shop without purchasing anything.
In France when we met any man, whether a professional, garage mechanic, tradesperson or gardener in any situation, even when my partner was doing the talking and questioning, I was always included and respected. Eye contact was maintained with both of us; so much so at times that I felt my partner was being excluded. It was a delicious feeling to be such an integral part of any conversation, and one I had not felt since I was young and attractive. Equal respect for women is innate in French culture, and now President Macron is in power with his beautiful wife, older women are more respected than ever.
By contrast, I missed the easy chat in Ireland. You can talk to anyone here, whereas the French, like the English, need to be introduced. Once there is an introduction they are warm and friendly but there is nothing like being able to go up to a complete stranger and just chat.
I was on the beach in Brittas Bay recently (another plus, deserted beaches!) and started talking to a fellow swimmer about swimming and the weather. We then moved on to more personal experiences, and it was wonderful to get to know a total stranger in such an easy exchange.
In the same way, motorists in Ireland will often wave and smile at each other, which would never happen in France. French drivers are reserved and aloof in their cars; perhaps because they need all their concentration to approach roundabouts at full tilt with horns blaring.
My year in Provence was magical. I made many friends, improved my French and enjoyed the glorious weather and long hikes up above Monaco. The vegetables and fruit were full of flavour, and decomposed the next day as they were meant to. Bread and cheese and excellent red wine all contributed to a wonderful gastronomic experience, and a few extra pounds.
I love France, the French, the language, their way of life, their culture but, all in all, there is no place like home and, returning to this soggy little island I felt I belonged. It is this sense of belonging that defines home for me.