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A Typical Sunday in France

Several of my friends have asked what a typical day in France is like. The description depends, of course, on the day of the week. I’d be hard-pressed to describe a typical day during the week except to say that it is unpredictable.

New friends and my neighbors pop in unexpectedly—something I find quite delightful. I don’t mind being interrupted in whatever I’m doing, and I’m always happy to fix a pot of tea or put on some coffee. (However, I have yet to find the courage to visit my neighbors without an invitation.)

Although there is no typical weekday, I can easily describe Sundays. Indeed, it is a rare Sunday when we do not go to visit our extended French family or they come to visit us. By extended family, I mean my son and his wife, their two teenagers, the teens’ two other grandparents, an aunt and uncle, a teenage cousin, and me. Sometimes other relatives are present as well.

Whether we get in the car and drive to Russan, a little over an hour away in the country, or the family visits us in Montpellier, the ritual begins with hugs, the dog jumping and barking, everyone talking at once, jackets and coats being tossed everywhere, and the smell of food cooking.

The conversation focuses on the week’s events, both personal and political, while the host puts the finishing touches on the midday meal. Volunteers set the table, open a bottle of wine, and retrieve chairs from wherever needed—the patio, upstairs, etc.—so that everyone has a seat at the table.

With the war in Ukraine going on, the political discussion is taking more and more air time. But whatever the political situation, we never talk about jobs and work. After all, Sunday is a designated day of rest.

Wine is served with the first course, which might be a vegetable, frequently a beet-orange-radish salad but sometimes a dish of chilled cooked beets with onion in a salad dressing. Fresh bread, a requirement, is used to wipe up the juices from the plate when the course ends.

Beet and orange salad

From observation, I’ve concluded that the plate must be perfectly clean before the next course. But try as hard as I might, I can never get my plate as spotless as my French family members do.

The next course, typically the main course, might consist of beef bourguignon (last Sunday’s menu), grilled salmon, stuffed tomatoes, or roast capon or some other regional specialty. The entrée is typically served with rice or potatoes. Again, bread is served as part of this course, and wine glasses are replenished.

The third course might be simple greens. Or, if this course is skipped, guests might move directly to cheese and bread. Last Sunday’s choice of cheeses was an aged cheddar and a blue cheese raclette.

The fourth course is the dessert. A French apple tart is frequently served, but crème brûlée is also wonderful as is a poached pear with a special sauce.

Apple tart

The final course is strong coffee in small cups with a bit of chocolate. (I never make it to the final course. I usually quit after the dessert.)

Two hours later or so, the amount of food I’ve eaten—even without wine—is sufficient to put me in a food coma, yet my eating companions seem enlivened by the dining. A one- or two-hour walk—at the beach if we’re in Montpellier or in the nearby hills if we’re in Russan—is in order.

I’ve not made it very far with my walking companions. Sunday afternoons after a big meal always suggest a nap to me rather than an ambitious hike. But perhaps I’m showing my age!

When I excuse myself from the beach walks, my extended family members watch me disappear into my home. If I looked back, I doubt that I would be able to tell if they were feeling jealous about my upcoming nap or pitying me for missing their outdoor adventure.

Either way, we are all happy with our choices.