Sun warms my skin and a breeze drifts along, just as unhurried as my husband and I as we stroll through the early summer day. I am three months into my first year in France and finally starting to get the hang of the slower pace of living in the little town of Épinal.
Magnifying the slower pace of living is the fact that I am also working on an independent writing project, and therefore my days are mostly free and flexible. That leaves plenty of time to explore the quaint corners of the town, and I’ve come to realize that this is an essential part of living in France—truly enjoying the simple pleasures in life. I spend plenty of time strolling or biking around town, stopping into locally-owned businesses for fresh-roasted coffee, artisan chocolates, and freshly-baked baguettes.
And on the topic of food, I am always impressed by the affordability and prices, both in stores and in restaurants. I find my groceries—even organic food—to be significantly more affordable than I was accustomed to in Michigan, and all of the local restaurants pride themselves in using fresh ingredients. Of course, that involves a notably longer preparation time in a restaurant, but the quality (and the presentation) is definitely worth the wait.
Another of our favorite activities in our little French town is to enjoy the natural surroundings and the historic and cultural sites within the city. We sometimes climb the hill up to the ruins of the old city castle, which sticks up from the earth like a thorn protecting its delicate rose. It’s where you get the best view of the town. There are also several nearby forests and hiking trails, where we enjoy getting lost among the emerald leaves and then emerging into fresh, open-air clearings flooded with sunlight. We make sure to visit the local museums, which are packed full of interesting history.
I also find myself impressed by the amount of cultural activities and events in a relatively small town. The summer serves up a wide selection of culture and entertainment, with local events like a festival of music, a festival of imaginary worlds, a city-wide exposition of dance and arts and comedy shows, and even an American night (characterized by a parade of semi-trucks rolling down the tiny city streets, a wide variety of carnival-type stands, and various line-dancing demonstrations). Even outside those major events, there is always some interesting cultural happening, like international musical performances and concerts, educational expos at the local library, and monthly bike rallies.
Living in a small and very French town helps me to understand and appreciate France’s deeper intricacies—the ones that only reveal themselves when you’re really steeped in the culture. I’ve learned the French art and passion for critiquing and debate. And I’ve learned to appreciate the extra care and time they put into things, from business meetings, to meals, and everywhere in between.
Even after only being here a short time, it’s easy to consider the provincial French town of Épinal “home.” Day by day, it teaches me a new perspective on life. The experiences I’ve had and culture I’ve absorbed are beyond compare.
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