Below are some points of interest especially for Americans visiting or living in the Languedoc-Roussillon. The region is one of the most interesting and beautiful in France. You will find lots of information on it on this web site. Just click on any of the main header links above. This page picks out points that are likely to be of specific interest to visitors from the USA, whether short or long-term.
Although living and working in the Languedoc-Roussillon is interesting and enormous fun, there are many areas where differences between what you experience here in France and what you are accustomed to back home will surprise you. Often they will delight you, but sometimes they will frustrate you, and occasionally mystify you.
French Culture and Languedoc Culture
You will notice far fewer grossly overweight people in the Languedoc than back in the US, even though they also eat fatty diets. The reasons for this so-called "French Paradox" are much debated but basically obvious: small portions of fresh food eaten at leisure during set formal meal times, and featuring relatively little dairy produce, with generous amounts of olive oil, garlic and red-wine. Its as easy as that.
The French are less squeamish about their food than most modern Americans. Giblets and offal is delicious and healthy. So is cheese with living mould on it. So are fruit and vegetable that are not perfectly formed. So is raw sea-food.
Food allergies and bowel problems in children are rare in rural France precisely because their diet is not confined to safe hygienic processed perfect-looking tasteless mass-produced packaged food. Children will eat local food, including fruit and vegetables fresh from the garden, mushrooms fresh from the forest, fish they caught themselves, meat from animals they might have seen in the fields earlier in the day, and so on. If you are new to the Languedoc-Roussillon, you will find local markets magical. Click here for more on local Markets
Times are changing, so if you hanker after brightly-colored artificially-flovored food laced with salt, sugar and preservatives, you will find it in any supermarket.
People in the Languedoc-Roussillon tend to eat at fixed times, so if you are going to a restaurant aim for 12-2 pm for lunch and 7-9pm for dinner. Do not expect shops to be open during that two hour lunch slot. Fast food outlets like McDonald's (referred to as McDos (pronounced Mac-dohs) have recently sprung up everywhere in France - testimony to the pent-up demand outside 12-2pm & 7-9pm that is otherwise unsatisfied.
Wine. Wine is also very different here. Grape variety is only one of many factors that the French need to know about in assessing wine, so assertions of the type "I like Pinot Noir " are likely to be be met with bemusement. Take a few minutes to find out about the concepts of terroir. and appellations (AOC) .
Bear in mind that it has never occurred to the French that anyone else in the world can make good wine and the fact that other countries do is almost never mentioned in the press, media or polite society in France. It is only in the last few years that Californian and other New World wines have appeared in French shops. You will not find many, just enough to perplex the locals.
French Language. French used to be the international language of culture. It was spoken around the world even outside the French Empire, especially by the ruling classes - for example in England and Russia, even in Iran. Many French people are unaware that times have changed and that there are now only a few vestiges of this glorious past, such as French writing on passports issued by many countries, and on menus in smart restaurants around the world. It is not considered good form to mention this change over the last century to the French as it will come as an unwelcome surprise and evidence of an "Anglo-Saxon" plot to make English the world language.
Anglo-Saxons. In the French mind the English speaking world is engaged in a massive conspiracy to do down French culture. The collective name for the conspirators is "Anglo-Saxons" - in this sense the term really means "English speaking nations" and has only a tenuous connection with what historians and philologists mean by the term Anglo-saxon. In France the term Anglo-Saxon is rarely used with approval.
The term "globalization" has the same meaning to the French as it does to us, but for them (and for most of the rest of the world) it is regarded as a Very Bad Thing. Hence the phenomenon of a Languedoc hero called José Bové attacking a McDonald's to widespread public approval.
Attitudes. A great deal could be written about French culture and difference in attitudes between the French and Americans. Almost all the differences can be distilled into the following parable. A poor American, cycling along the road, overtaken by a rich man in a luxury car, thinks to himself "One day I'll be driving an automobile like that". A poor Frenchman, cycling along the road, overtaken by a rich man in a luxury car, thinks to himself "One day that bastard will be riding a bicycle like me". If there is one important truth you need to know about France, this encapsulates it.
National holidays are not the same in France as those in the US. Although the French Constitution is supposed to be secular, many of them are Christian holy days. Click here for more on French National Holidays
The French drive on the right hand side of the road, but many other rules and conventions are different than the US. Click on the following link for more on driving in the Languedoc
You will find that most French media, newspapers, radio and television are insular and parochial. A little understanding may be in order here since, if you think about it, they are less insular and parochial than most US media. You may also find them overly deferential to those in authority. Think of the French media as an opportunity to see the world from a different point of view.
You will find that most utilities and services outside the cities are not spectacularly good. For example the electricity supply is often uneven and underpowered.
The French managed to exterminate or exile almost all of their early Protestants (Waldensians and later Huguenots) so they never suffered the sort of Puritanism that was exported to North America, and that has thrived there ever since. One consequence of this is that nudity is common in advertising, magazines, television and films. Naturism is widely practiced and wholly acceptable on many beaches. Women go topless on all beaches in the Languedoc-Roussillon. It normally takes newcomers about four hours to get used to it, stop gaping, and start regarding it as natural.
The lack of any discernable Protestant ethic also accounts for a relaxed attitude to alcohol. Prohibition is regarded as an absurd joke in France and even Euro-Disney had to relent and offer alcoholic drinks on its premises since the French and other Europeans were simply not prepared to sit down to lunch without a civilized glass of wine.
Children have traditionally been introduced to drinking at an early age so "Anglo-Saxon" style binge-drinking by teenagers was unknown here until recently,
Another consequence of the elimination of the early religious dissidents is that the Protestant work ethic is also pretty much unknown here.
You will find many games and pastimes in the Languedoc-Roussillon that may be unfamiliar. Among them are
Your place in the scheme of things
If you have not traveled extensively outside the US, it will take you a while to accept that you are the foreigner here. People generally do not speak English and they will expect you to speak French, or at least make an effort.
Avoid loud sentences that start "Gee Honey ... " and whatever you do, avoid the temptation to say to the locals "Where I come from ..." or "Back home ...." eg "Back home the tomatoes are twice as big as this". "Back home we have 342 television channels". "Back home you can get a hamburger 24 x 7". Even if you find a French person who is envious of tasteless large tomatoes, prefers 342 unwatchable TV channels to a mere six, or is looking for a fast-track to a heart attack, you will still not endear yourself.
If you want to fit in then don't talk loudly in any language, especially in English. Take a look at what other American tourists wear and wear something else (avoiding bright tartans, and safari outfits ). Also avoid looking like a fashionable Parisian - they are regarded as the lowest of the low here, one down from the lobster-colored beer-swilling Brits in their Union Flag shorts who at least have the merit of being able to understand and appreciate rugby.
You might be rightly proud to be American, but don't count on Europeans sharing your enthusiasm for your home country. Do not imagine that French people secretly wish that they had been born Americans. 99.9% don't.
The Role of the State
Although the French are not aware of it, they actually live in an absolutist elective monarchy. The system is a relic of the late middle ages but with the title "king" replaced by the title "president". Apart from the fact that the king is elected, it is in all essentials identical to the system that was already outdated before the French Revolution.
Some of the implications of this are that there are not and never has been such safeguards as habeas corpus, trial by jury or a right to silence in France. The French state is supreme. You would be wasting your time to challenge any arm of the French state in its own courts.
The French Constitution asserts that "Son principe est : gouvernement du peuple, par le peuple et pour le peuple" - government of the people, by the people and for the people, a phrase lifted from Lincoln's Gettysburg address, but there is no evidence of any practical application of this principle. This not like home, so don't expect it to be.
Don't Mention the War
All nations enjoy their own national myths, and you will be surprised both by French national myths and by French reactions to American national myths.
To take just one example, many French "know" that France won World War II. Many Americans are surprised by this as they know for a fact that the USA won that particular war. The French in turn are dumbfounded that anyone could assert such a thing. You can try to argue your case if you want, but your life will be easier and more interesting if you avoid that argument and do a bit of research into the roles (and bills of mortality) of, for example, France, Britain, Russia and the US.
One notable French myth is that there were almost no French collaborators during the Second World War, and that pretty much everyone belonged to, or was at least sympathetic to, the Resistance throughout the war. This is not just false but wildly and demonstrably false. Still, you should think about the impact before challenging any national myth.
A faux-pas to avoid in Europe is to refer to the Second world War as the 41-45 war (for Europeans it started in 1939). They tend to be a bit touchy about the fact that the USA joined in only after being pushed into it by the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
You might be interested in reading the story of Lt Swank a US officer killed in action during WWII near Alet-les-Bains in the Aude, a picture of whose tomb is shown on the right.
Patriotism and the French Constitution
France is actually a confederation of states, many of which enjoyed independence until relatively recently. There is still a strong cultural identity in many areas including the Languedoc (Occitania) annexed by France in the thirteenth century and the Roussillon (previously belonging to Aragon) which became part of France under the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659. The French state has dedicated itself for centuries to the eradication of regional cultural identities (not just Occitan and Catalan, but Basque, Breton, Norman, Savoyard and others), and it is useful for you to be aware that the French education system is one of the tools used to inculcate a French identity.
The Kingdom of France supported the American rebels against the British in the Eighteenth century on the grounds that my enemy's enemy is my friend. This support backfired when revolutionary ideas were brought back to France and fomented for a decade before exploding in another revolution, this time against the French King, Louis XVI. The Revolution in France did not bring stable government in France, as it did in North America. France has seen five republics, a couple of empires and a few other forms of government since 1789. The Fifth Republic, the current one, is just as unstable as its predecessors, which is why the state is engaged in building - some would say enforcing - a national identity.
You will see the French Tricolore flying everywhere throughout France - but look again and you see that it flies only on public buildings. As in most of western Europe it is regarded as poor form for a private person to fly their national flag. On the other hand you will see any number of people in the Languedoc flying the Cross of Toulouse, the ancestral flag of the Counts of Toulouse, and people of the Roussillon (or Pyrénées-Orientales) the flag of the Counts of Roussillon and Kings of Aragon. You may also notice graffiti supporting Occitan and Catalan independence movements.
Do not imagine that anyone here will in any circumstances appreciate you flying the Stars and Stripes.
Some Revolutionary Symbols were shared by American and French revolutionaries, for example the goddess Liberty, the Liberty Cap and the fasces. The two revolutions also share a towering personality in Thomas Paine, the "Greatest Englishman" and the "First American" who among many other things sat in the French Congress. He was a great libertarian and the author of the three best-sellers of the eighteenth century. He was condemned to death in France for opposing the execution of the King, though in the event he escaped the guillotine.
A few years earlier his friend Thomas Jefferson had visited the Languedoc, attracted possibly by Blanquette de Limoux, a sparkling wine that he particularly liked, or by Pierre-Paul Riquet's new Royal Canal (now the Canal du Midi) which triggered interest in an American canal joining the Pacific to the Caribbean (ie what eventually became the Panama Canal).
The Languedoc-Roussillon has an astonishing, complex and tragic history. It is little known, even by locals, since the education system omits to mention the histories, languages and traditions of the once independent regions that constitute modern France. Languedoc-Roussillon history stretches back well over two thousand years into prehistory - There are prehistoric cave paintings here. Hercules came here during the course of his twelve labors and the Pyrenees are named after another Greek mythological character.
- Prehistoric Period. From early geological time to the Iron Age. See also Paleontology.
- Celts. Celts in the area and Hannibal's march through the Languedoc.
- Greeks. BC 600 - 50: Greek colonies set up
- Phoenicians. BC 560: Phoenician settlements established
- Romans: BC 60: Start of Roman occupation, including the Domitian Way (Via Domitia), Nîmes with its Maison Carrée and the Pont du Gard. (the lighting for which was created by an American expert)
- Visigoths et al AD 300 - 500: Invasion by Alamans, Vandals and Visigoths
- Moors. AD c 700: Occupation by the Moors
- Franks. AD c 800: Occupation by the Franks. AD 865: Formation of Catalonia
- Medieval Period. The Counts of Toulouse. AD 12th Century: Troubadours establish Occitan as a literary language. AD 1208 - 1244: Crusades against the Cathars (go to: War against the Cathars). Foundation of the Inquisition. AD 1276 some of present Languedoc-Roussillon under the rule of the king of Majorca. Mid 13th Century: Languedoc annexed by France. AD 1300 New border defences to the South. 14th Century: Visits by the Black Prince.
- Wars of Religion. AD 1559: Edict of Nantes granting freedom of worship to Huguenots. AD 1560 - 1600: Wars of Religion
- Treaty of the Pyrenees. AD 1659 France acquires the Roussillon under the Treaty of the Pyrenees
- Canal du Midi. AD 1666: work starts on the Canal du Midi. Click here to go to a page about the Canal
- French Revolution onwards. Click here for information on the following: AD 1789: French Revolution. AD 1875: Phylloxera destroys vines. AD 1939: Refugees flood in from Spain towards the end of the Spanish Civil War. AD 1939-45: 2nd World War War and the Vichy Government.
- The Second World War: Click on the following link for more on the Maquis and Allied OSS operations in the Languedoc
The light in the Languedoc and Roussillon has attracted many artists, including French impressionists, fauvists, cubists and contemporary American artists like Danielle Eubank (see right). Click here for more on Artists in the Languedoc-Roussillon
Getting to the Languedoc-Roussillon from the USA
The Languedoc-Roussillon is poorly served by transatlantic airlines. There are some flights to Toulouse and Barcelona from the US but in general you will be better off flying to London or Paris and then to one of the many local airports.
If you happen to have dual citizenship with any European Community country your life will be very simple in France. You have the right to live and work here. If you do not, your life will be filled with bureaucracy - visas for short visits, mounds of paperwork for anything longer.
You are required to carry your papers with you at all times (even on those naturist beaches), just as you are required to have your vehicle papers with your car at all times.
Other topics of interest
- Languedoc-Roussillon, first, biggest, longest, oldest, ....
- World Heritage sites in the Languedoc
- Moving to the Languedoc
- Gardens and Gardening
- Money Matters and Taxation
- The Medical System
Useful External Links
- American Women's Group in the Languedoc-Roussillon (AWG)
- Americans In Toulouse (AIT)
- The American Library in Montpellier
- The American Embassy in France
- French Movies