Au Pair International is kicking off our Cultural Journey series where you will be exposed to the traditions, attractions, etiquette and cuisine of individual countries that participate in the United States Au Pair Program. Learn about the backbone that has come to define the culture of each country and be introduced to their au pair program participants that we currently have available for placement!
The first featured country in our Cultural Journey Series is France!
Home to over 65 million people, good fashion and good food is considered to be the epitome of what defines France as a country. This beautiful place has been called home by a countless number of poets, artists, actors, composers, and world-renowned chefs. From the talented Alexandre Dumas, Brigitte Bardot and Georges Bizet to fashion legends like Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Coco Chanel. The French culture has made a lasting impression around the world and will continue to be a prominent influence for decades to come.
Anyone that has ever had the pleasure of visiting France, or aspired to do so, is familiar with the rich culture and iconic attractions that bring in millions of tourists each year. Those destinations listed below are just a small glimpse of the inspirational and awe-inspiring sites to behold that grace the countryside of France.
Palace of Versailles – This former French royal residence and center of government is now a national landmark located in the city of Versailles. The estate was officially declared the royal residence in 1682 and has housed such occupants as Louis XIII, Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Louis-Phillippe. The palace boasts famous rooms like that of the Grands Appartements (State Rooms) and the Galerie de Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). It was in the Hall of Mirrors that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919.
Mont Saint-Michel – A World Heritage Site located on an island just off the coast of Northern France. It is believed that Aubert, Bishop of d’Avranches, founded a sanctuary on Mont-Tombe at the request of the Archangel Michael. The Bishop built and consecrated a small church on the island on October 16th 709. More buildings continued to be erected through the 19th century at which time it was turned into a prison. Mont Saint-Michel is currently an international pilgrimage site that attracts people world-wide.
Musee du Louvre – The Louvre can be found in Paris, France and is not only a historic monument but one of the largest museums in the world. It is home to over 35,000 pieces of artwork, sculptures, and artifacts including the Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, Liberty Leading the People, and Cy Twombly’s Ceiling. The museum is housed in the Louvre Palace which began as a fortress that was built in the late 12th century under Philip II. The Louvre attracts an astonishing 8.5 million visitors per year!
Eiffel Tower – The Eiffel Tower has become known as a French icon and the most prominent symbol of both Paris and France. This iron latticed tower was named after its engineer Gustave Eiffel and was erected in 1889 as the entrance arch to the World’s Fair. It is the most visited paid monument in the world and plays host to over 7 million people each year.
Christmas – Many old French traditions can be related to one holiday season or another. For example, holding a puppet show on Christmas Eve is a common occurrence, after which the children anxiously await the arrival of Père Noël (Santa Clause). Instead of the traditional American stocking, French children set out their shoes by the fireplace in the hopes they will be filled with presents by morning. Children also believe in Santa’s counterpart, Père Fouettard, who can be found giving out spankings to those children who were less than angelic during the year.
Easter – During the Easter season, children in France can also be found hunting the ever elusive Easter egg. Church bells fall silent starting the Thursday before Good Friday and will remain silent until Easter morning. It is believed that when the “Flying Bells” leave they take with them the grief and misery of the mourners of Christ’s crucifixion. They travel to Rome to visit the Pope and then make their return on the morning of Easter Sunday along with chocolate eggs which are hidden for children to find. As the bells toll for the first time it is tradition to hug and kiss those around you.
Bastille Day – Marking the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, Bastille Day is one of France’s most colorful traditions. Originally built as a medieval fortress, the Bastille eventually became a state prison. It was during the unrest of 1789 (on July 14th) that a mob approached the Bastille to demand the arms and ammunition stored there. When the guards resisted, the mob attacked and captured the prison releasing the seven prisoners held at the time. The taking of the Bastille signaled the beginning of the French Revolution and a symbol of the end of the ancien régime. The site had become associated by the people to the harsh rule of the Bourbon monarchy and was scheduled for demolition during the late 18th century.
Wedding’s – Made popular during the era of Napoleon, it is custom during wedding ceremonies to “behead” a bottle of Champagne using a saber. According to legend, Hussards (skilled cavalry men) under the general’s command started to celebrate victory by swinging their sabers and neatly slicing the tops from Champagne bottles.
Vacation – While the French Culture is home to many traditions, none are so envied here in the United States (or at least by this blogger) than that of the 5 week holiday! Yes you heard that correctly. Almost all French employees are entitled to 5 full weeks of paid holiday per year. And while they are blessed to live amongst the French countryside most natives can be found taking holiday elsewhere or skiing in the French Alps!
Whether preparing to welcome a French au pair into your home, or planning a trip to this culturally rich country, knowing proper etiquette can save you much embarrassment and ensure that your interaction is a pleasurable one. Listed below are but a few do’s and dont’s to know when interacting with the French.
- First names are generally reserved for close family or friends of your French guest/host. Plan on using last names and appropriate titles unless you are asked to specifically use their first name.
- As with most people, the French value their privacy. Refrain from asking personal questions unless you have established a clear friendship with your host/guest. While interviewing your French au pair it is quite appropriate to ask such questions that coincide with the intent of the program, however, be careful not to overstep your boundaries.
- Telling your traditional jokes to break the ice may not be appreciated by your French host/guest. Instead, try engaging in intellectual conversation or offering up a bit of satirical wit. You will find that sharing funny stories that stem from real life situations are widely accepted.
- Upon greeting family and close friends, the French often offer one another a kiss on both cheeks. If you are not among this set of people it is appropriate to shake hands with a quick light grip.
- When meeting your French host/guest it is highly encouraged to gift high quality candies, cookies, cakes or flowers that are beautifully wrapped. Try to avoid gifts of 6 or 12 (for lovers) and gifts of odd numbers; especially that of the number 13. In addition, refrain from gifting chrysanthemums, red roses, or wine unless it is of the highest quality.
For more tips on French etiquette and discouraged gestures head over to EDiplomat!
The Evolution of French Cuisine
Modern French cuisine is among the most delectable and pleasurable dining experiences any food connoisseur will partake in. Likened to a well orchestrated musical composition, French cuisine focuses its attention on the freshness of ingredients and enhancement of the individual flavors that make up its composition as a whole. Both pleasing to the palate and pleasant to the eye, it is indeed poetry on a plate.
Modern French cuisine has undergone several changes during its lifespan to evolve into what it has become today. This evolution began in the 17th and 18th centuries when Marie-Antoine Careme started the process of refining each dish to enhance its flavors. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, world-renowned chef Georges Auguste Escoffier worked upon Careme’s accomplishments to further refine the recipes and help establish a more organized way for French restaurants to operate. Designating individual chefs to specialize on certain elements of a menu, Escoffier paved the way for modern-day French Cuisine to become a well oiled machine.
Below you will find the links to some traditional French cuisine recipes. Whether a novice in the kitchen or an accomplished chef, these dishes will be sure to please your discerning palate!
French Au Pairs
Are you in need of affordable live-in childcare? Au Pair International is fortunate to work with some amazing French partners that help our host families to introduce the French culture to their children! Together we are currently featuring the following French au pairs who are seeking host families in the U.S.. Upon clicking on their photos you will be taken to their personal profile on our website. If you have any questions or would like more information on becoming a host family please do not hesitate to contact us!