I’ve kept a list on my phone of observations that I’ve picked up during the first few weeks in La Rochelle, so I suppose I’ll just list them here as well!
It may sound like a lot of complaining but settling into France has been super hard and I am notorious for wanting to be somewhere I’m not, if I’m in NZ I’m looking for my next holiday, now that I’m in France I’m missing everything about NZ (and I mean everything) so I can’t win with myself. 🙂
Before I came to France, all I heard about was the food. BUT The general vibe around dining out here in La Rochelle is a lot less cared for than home. I’m 6 weeks in and haven’t yet been to a place that I’d say “I’ll definitely bring my NZ visitors here!”. The markets on the other hand are amazing and there is a lot of fresh produce readily available along with delicious pastries and bread to die for! I’m not a huge cold meat and cheese fan though, maybe thats what I’m missing (maybe not)? Ihaia and I had a conversation about why on Earth does no-one froth over the NZ food, yeah we make a lot of Asian fusion, Italian and general “western” meals, burgers etc but we do it so well, we feel like it needs more credit!
- Breakfast isn’t a thing here. This is an issue for me as I am HUGE on breakfast and not fussed about dinner. The breakfasts served here are pastries with a hot drink or orange juice, breakfast often doesn’t start until 10am when cafes start to open or there are bakeries that open earlier that offer the same menu. I’ve found one cafe in town that does smoothie bowls and smashed avo on toast but thats about as close to my “norm” as I can get.
- Just like a cliché in a movie, people really do carry around bread sticks, from eating it straight out the bag to carrying it in the baskets of their bike or in a backpack.
- The hot chocolates look terrrrrrrrible but all taste delish(?!). The coffee looks terrible too and I’m not a coffee drinker so don’t know if thats the same story but there is no care for presentation like the cafes at home, thats for sure!
- There is fresh orange juice in bakeries they make for you on the spot, its so yum. Most supermarkets have self serve fresh orange juice machines as well.
- The French seem to live off sugar. Breakfast is pastries, snacks are pastries, fruit, sandwiches. Most drinks are fizzies, wine, juice. They are also huge on Lipton and Fuze Ice Tea.
- Carrying on from that, every restaurant has a huge dessert menu, definitely not short on options. The streets are scattered with lots of ice cream/gelato places, waffles and crepes on every corner. Dangerously easy access!
- And carrying on from that, there are wasps galooooore around the sweet things. Sometimes even in the ice-cream and bakery displays, I once had to throw my ham and cheese panini away while I was at the beach because the wasps wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m not sure if its just a summer thing or not.
- There is no such thing as a dairy here, there are shops called “Tabac” that sell a couple of drinks and sweets and then its mostly magazines and souvenirs. The Petrol stations (that we’ve been too) also aren’t like home with a store full of food, you just drive in, drive out type thing. We’ve either got to go to the markets or supermarket even if we just want something quick.
- Nutella is everywhere. Everywhere.
- Crispy M&M’s don’t taste the same….. someone needs to explain this.
- The earliest time restaurants open for dinner is 7pm. We learnt that quick when we sat down for dinner at 6ish and only got served drinks until their kitchen opened.
- There is always free bread with dinner. Some places serve bread before you order and then again with your meals.
- We haven’t actually found great French fries in France! Disappointed! (but still on the hunt).
The French lifestyle is such a contrast to NZ’s up at 5am to gym, 8-5pm in the office, home, eat, sleep, repeat. I’m so dialled into that way of living that I fought with the adjustment over here. Most work doesn’t start until mid morning then theres a 2 hour lunch break in the middle of the day. Customer service takes forever and most stores are closed Sunday and Monday. However talking to a few people that have been here for a couple of years now, say that this way is the best way, it teaches you to slow down and spend more time with friends and family.
- Another cliché is that e.v.e.r.y.b.o.d.y smokes, everywhere. If you’re eating somewhere and you choose to eat outside, be aware.
- Two kisses on each cheek is the greeting in La Rochelle, left then right. It depends where you are in France for how many kisses are given.
- Roundabouts have me puzzled, no-one indicates, there is space for two lanes but no-one seems to use as two lanes but a jumbled one lane, sometimes there are traffic lights in them too (?!)
- Zebra crossings are also not as they are used in NZ. Sometimes you stop, sometimes you don’t.
- When its busy out like before a Stade Rochelais game, morning of markets etc and parking is hard, you can park anywhere! In the middle of roundabouts, footpaths, islands in the middle of the road.
- There are so many dogs everywhere! Cafes, shops, post offices, all over the place, they seem to be allowed everywhere but thats no issue :):)
- There are pharmacy’s on every corner.
- The locals do expect you to know French. I understand that this is their country and if they came to NZ just speaking French we’d all be like whaaatttt. But its not easy to pick up a language just like that!
- 9/10 people you pass on the street are so well dressed. Literally no-one walks around in activewear.
- There is a lot more plastic over here then there is in NZ. Lots of food/takeaway served in and on plastic, but then if your at a supermarket/department store you get charged for a bag if you don’t have your own.
- Europeans literally don’t move out of the way. When your walking, when your driving, wherever! You just wait as they take their time and look at you like you’re in the wrong (wow this winds us up).
- No-one indicates.
- Lots of people stare.
- Not wearing a bra while driving on the roads here is dangerous as its bumpy literally the whole time.
- Customer service is no big here, peak time at the supermarket? Ah 1 cashier open will do it.
- Some stores open and close at very random times. Most shops open at 10am while some open at 8.50am, I mean??! Some stores close during the lunch period which is 12-2pmish but some don’t… its really hit and miss. Same with food places, some open at whatever time, close for a couple of hours and open up again for dinner. But timings are all over the show.
- EVERYTHING IS CLOSED ON SUNDAY’S (&a lot on Mondays too). This is SOOOO hard to get used too! Some bakeries, food places and markets are open but thats it.
WHAT I MISS ABOUT HOME:
I’m not one to get homesick, in the past I’ve missed home and the people there – for sure! But “homesickness” hasn’t happened to me before. Here, its hit me like a huge wave. Along with missing family and friends and organising a time that works for FaceTime (name a more inconvenient time difference, I’ll wait), its a type of homesickness that makes me realise how much I appreciate the most mundane things of home. I’m mostly missing the lifestyle and the quality of NZ – products, beaches, food places, saying hello when passing people out on a run, where the roads actually fit two cars and where I can supermarket shop and be able to read the labels!
- WHITTAKER’S CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! PLS SEND ME OVER COPIOUS AMOUNTS!!
- Family and friends in such easy reach.
- Being there to watch my baby sister grow each day.
- Obviously the english language.
- The GREAT, efficient customer service NZ provides and how easy it is to get admin done.
- Grabbing a quick, easy, yum dinner then going to watch a movie at the cinema.
- Knowing where to go to buy literally everything. Where do I buy things that Superette, Kmart, plant shops, Briscoes (and the list goes on) stock?!
- NZ produce. I didn’t realise how many products I was buying that was NZ sourced like collagen, vitamins, skincare, food etc. I prefer and trust NZ over anything else so having it so far away now has my “stock up” list for when I go home next filling up fast!
- NZ Post, getting everything delivered the next day. The post/courier here takes ages, forever “held for clearance” in customs with no-one to help you find out why and to release it.
Its the start of October and its only just starting to get a little chilly now, so we’ve really enjoyed the warm weather and are interested to see how our first cold Christmas goes (I won’t call it a “white” Christmas as I’m not sure if it snows here). Lets see how the next few months go! I’ll be sure to keep the blog updated on French living.
As a frenchman i am amused by your comments.
First you should manage your expectations. La Rochelle (despite being a nice little town) is pretty much nowhere if you look at the big picture of France, I mean it’s the 49th “urban area” of France. I’m sure you noticed the difference when you went to Toulouse which is a much bigger town.
Imagine a Parisian being transferred to let’s say Dunedin, he will probably feel a bit lost too 😉
French cafés will only serve French breakfast … you won’t find what you are looking for there. I’d suggest your try a big chain hotel which will have breakfast buffet with everything you might be interested in. I’d suggest you try “Novotel La Rochelle Centre”. The staff will even speak English I guess.
In La Rochelle there is only one TOP restaurants. It’s Coutenceau (https://www.coutanceaularochelle.com/ ) it has two michelin Stars.
For your information in all of France & Monaco there are 28 restaurants with THREE stars, 85 with TWO stars, and 508 with ONE stars.
So this place is one of France top 100 restaurant.
I’m sure it will fall in the “I’ll definitely bring my NZ visitors here!” category : )
It will probably cost you ~150 ish euros per person so save it for your special friends!
For other option I’d suggest you to check “Le Guide Michelin”
I’d suggest your try the one which have a “Guide Michelin 2018 plate”
(they have this mention above their name).
You’ll find there are about 8 or 9 of those in La Rochelle. They offer good food at affordable prices (like 30 to 50 euros per meal)
Driving around : always use Waze , it will tell you which lane to use, and you’ll never get lost.
Super markets :
You should avoid the small and mid size ones. Just go at “Leclerc” (Sautel) , Hyper U (baulieu) or Leclerc (Lagord). Those seems to be the biggest three in La Rochelle.
The trend now is a the “drive” option. You can choose the products online, you go with your car and they load it in your trunk.
I’d recommend you buy as much as possible from open air market / organic markets. Usually there is a square in the city where producers open their stall like 2 or 3 mornings per week. (one of those morning Is often Sunday). You can buy seafood directly from fishermen. That’s where you’ll find the good stuff, the local stuff.
In the city center you also need to identify a good butcher and a good “fromager” (cheese place) because that’s where you’ll find the good stuff. Not at supermarkets.
Spoiler alert : it will probably not snow in La Rochelle. If it does it means it will be an unusually cold winter.
You should try a ski resort in the Alps. The Pyrénées are closer to you but the ski resorts there kind of sucks compare to the Alps one.
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Hello, thank you for your tips and tricks! I’m 9 months in now and every day the transition is getting a little easier [some days are harder]. It was helpful to read!