Is France magic? Is it really the land where the workweek is only three days long, where newborn babies drift off to sleep for a full 8 hours so their parents can rest up for the four-day weekends, and where people will get to see the new Star Wars movie a full two days before we can?
While only one of those assertions is definitely true, there really are some everyday French habits that may be worth adopting. From shopping to laundry, un petit changement might just be as easy and inexpensive as flipping a switch—or choosing not to.
5. Instead of drying your clothes in the dryer, hang them and iron them.
When it comes to chores in French households, the ironing, or le repassage, is right up there with doing the dishes and making the beds as a daily necessity. Sound excessively laborious? I thought so, too, until I realized a major difference between US and French laundry routines: the dryer is a rarely-used tool in French households. Chalk it up to high energy costs—or the fact that dryers destroy your clothes. (You know the lint in that trap? Yeah, that used to be part of your shirt.) Without a dryer, ironing is a necessary part of getting your duds clean and wrinkle-free.
The average French person doing his laundry will factor ironing into his routine. Those who don’t have an outside clothesline will get a nifty free-standing drying rack that folds and fits conveniently into the space between your washer and the wall.
4. Make—don’t buy—your salad dressing.
The French eat a lot of salad—salade verte—and they never buy dressing. If there is a salad dressing aisle at the store, I’ve never seen it. Kick that bad-for-you Ranch dressing habit and instead invest in some high quality olive and/or nut oil and very good vinegar. To that base, add salt, garlic, maybe a little real mustard, and voilà! Here’s a great recipe for a basic vinaigrette from French and Parfait. So simple, so inexpensive, so healthy, and mighty impressive to boot.
3. Hungry and in a hurry? Let fast food go and get frozen instead.
The French are known for turning their noses up at le drive thru, but look in their freezers and you will find a stash of bagged and boxed meals that would make Marie Callender weep. While many of the highest-quality frozen entrées (and sides and desserts) sold in France aren’t necessarily available in the US, the frozen aisle at your local Trader Joe’s can provide you with enough selection to avoid burgers and fries for several weeks. Another plus: eating at home (rather than in the car) means you get to have a glass of wine with that.
2. If you’re cold this winter, layer up instead of blasting the heat.
French households tend to be a bit chillier than US ones. This is one of those energy-conscious choices that just seem to come naturally to the French. In America, we don’t have the financial incentives that exist in high-energy-cost France, but think about this: the vast majority of US households are still powered by highly polluting coal and natural gas. Save the environment and drag out those cozy sweaters and blankets, and don’t forget the slippers, or pantouffles, an absolute must-have in French homes! Now you know what to get for half the people on your holiday list this year.
1. After a big meal, take a walk instead of watching the game.
The holidays are upon us, and that brings me to something that French people actually have in common with Americans: they like to indulge in a nice big meal en famille. What they do between lunch and dessert, though, couldn’t be more different. Instead of heading to the TV room, they throw on some coats and scarves and head outside. I’m talking, of course about the petite balade digestive or “little digestive walk.” Refreshing, healthy, and a great way to literally distance yourself from any awkward dinner conversation. Most importantly: this, my friends, is how you have room for pumpkin pie. De rien.