Sunday Mail Column for Sunday 11th July 2010: the one about France

I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to Bastille Day on Wednesday. I know it’s hard to tell from that little photo of me on the right but I’m completely besotted with everything to do with France. I love the language, the architecture, the fashion, the history. This obsession began in school. My grade five class was taught French once a week by Madame Strugnell – a petite woman with a chic white bob and a warm smile. Madame Strugnell created the most magical sixty minutes of my week in 1982. She had me at “Bonjour”. Ever since, I’ve been a bit of a Francophile and have yet to meet a pain au chocolat I didn’t like.

In March I met a fascinating couple – Paul Hughes and Bridget Evans. Get this:  they live six months of every year in the small town of Annecy in the French Alps and six months in Brisbane.  So they live these split lives in two very different cultures.   Paul is a former international cycling coach while Bridget has spent more than a decade as an international racing cyclist. Today they run a company called “Practice Bicycle” which offers biking holidays – for all ages and levels – in France and Italy during the European summer (go to for more info).

I got talking to Paul and Bridget about the mental adjustment they have to make when they return to Brisbane every September after six months in France.

“It always takes us a few weeks to get back into the way of life in Brisbane,” says Paul to me over email from his apartment in Annecy. “Most of this adjustment is positive but what jumps out at us is that everyone is in a hurry in Brisbane and seems to have very little time to say hi or stop for a coffee and swap stories!   In France, they look for any excuse to have a chat but in Australia you can almost feel the atmosphere of stress because everyone has somewhere else they need to be.”

We seem to spend a lot of time talking about the negative impact other cultures have on our “Aussie way of life”. Remind me what the “Aussie way of life” actually is?  We’re working longer hours than anywhere else in the world.  Most of us have the family/work balance totally out of whack. We get annoyed when the person in front of us at Coles wants to chat to the checkout operator. We have road rage, trolley rage, car park rage and pram rage. Do we really have it so right here? There are many cultures – Asian, Middle Eastern, South Pacifc and European – who have a greater focus on family, community and volunteering. Instead of being fearful about what immigrants are doing to our “way of life” – perhaps it’s time to stop and see what we can learn from other cultures instead? Over a café au lait and pain au chocolat, of course.

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About Bec

Over the past 25 years Rebecca Sparrow has earned a living as a travel writer, a television publicist, a marketing executive, a magazine editor, a TV scriptwriter, a radio producer, a newspaper columnist and as an author.

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