Today is July 14…also known as Bastille Day, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille in Paris on this date in 1789…3 days into the French Revolution. To any and all French readers, Joyeaux Fête National! Vive La France!
In honor of Bastille Day, I thought I would discuss a few of the ways in which our French cousins lead healthier, happier lives than we seem to here in the US. I’m sure we’re all familiar with the famous French Paradox study which showed that despite eating lots of butter, cheese, and meats and drinking (at that time) more wine than we did, the French were NOT dropping dead from cardiac disease and cancer, and didn’t have nearly the same rates of overweight and obese citizens as we did. How was that possible?
Well, while I’ve never lived in France, I have visited there while I lived in Germany and I noticed a few things. Even in the Quebec region of Canada, people live a very different way than they do here…and it shows in their health.
Let's talk about some of the differences.
1. Walking. It’s just a part of everyday life. People tend to live nearer to where they work, and either walk there or walk to public transportation and then on to the office from the nearest stop. Kids walk to school, people walk to markets, and cafes. On the weekends, people are out hiking in the countryside, or strolling around town running errands. You’ll see families outside together playing in parks. Moving around everyday is a normal part of life. Yes, there are gyms and exercise classes, but there is also a lot of casual walking and biking as a utilitarian part of life. We need more of that.
2. Food. God yes the FOOD! It’s a big part of life in France, enjoying good food. But it’s done differently than here. You don’t see people eating every minute of the day; carrying their food around and munching in the car, or little kids always with a bag of snacks in their tiny hands. The French sit down and enjoy what they are eating. Or they stand at a counter and sip their coffee, or their wine or whatever. And oftentimes they are also chatting with a friend. Think about how we eat…breakfast hastily eaten at home or on-the-go during our stressful morning commute. Lunch eaten at our desks while we answer emails or have a meeting. Dinner should be our time to relax and connect with our loved ones and friends, but for too many of us it’s a either a drive-thru box, on our way to somewhere else, or a delivery meal eaten in front of the TV. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather sit at a table and hear about my daughter’s day than eat a pizza while zoning out to some “Must Watch” program.
3. Booze. This is big one….I think here in the US we have this idea that the French are all swilling wine all day long…and in fact that is very far from the truth. Yes wine is very big deal. Yes they are very invested in their wine regions and designations…and no, that stuff you buy from California is NOT Champagne. However, wine is seen more as food…its part of a meal, part of the experience of being with family or friends. I’ve met very few French folk who announce their plans to ‘get wasted’ as they head to a soirée. I’m not suggesting there is no heavy drinking in France, but we have them beat hands down over here. Maybe we could become a little more French in our approach to alcohol. A little more discerning perhaps.
4. Vacations. The French actually take them. WHAT? Yeah, I know, it’s a crazy idea. French workers are guaranteed thirty days of vacation a year. That’s paid vacation. Many get even more than that. When is the last time you took a vacation? I know many of us don’t get paid time off, but for those of you do, have you used it? Taking time away from work and all of its stresses is an important part of living a healthy, balanced life. Even if you can’t manage a trip somewhere exotic, you can make the most of a stay-cation by being a tourist in your own region and day-tripping to all those cool places you never get to enjoy. Give it a try.
5. Adulting. Seriously, I know how much it sucks some days. But our entire culture is youth obsessed to the point that being an adult and enjoying the perks of that are completely ignored. Being a kid wasn’t all that great when we were actually kids. We had little control over our lives, and no power, having to rely on our parents and teachers for everything. Now as adults we hold the keys to our own happiness. That’s pretty cool! It’s a great thing to be able to make our own decisions about every aspect of how we live—from our clothing, to our jobs and where we live, and everything in between. Let’s own that power and revel in it. The French seem to get this intrinsically. While youth has it’s own beauty and is respected, it is not fetishized like it is here. Being a mature person isn’t seen as being a detriment. Women of a certain age are not considered invisible or without value. And people continue to enjoy life (all aspects of it…wink wink) no matter their age. Growing up, and growing old are wonderful privileges denied to too many…don’t waste them longing for (or emotionally prolonging) a youth that has passed.
With all of that said, I’m off to enjoy some delicious wine and tasty treats with friends and my love. I hope you enjoy your day as well….
Let me know if you implement any of these ideas in your own life and how they work out.