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The French vs the American Way of Better Living. Dispatches from Deauville

Community is key to longevity. Can we learn something from the French approach to local social interaction?

There are several levels of human connection that we all crave as humans. There are our close friends and family members, but equally important are the large number of people we interact with in our day-to-day. One of the commonalities of any global area of longevity is living with exactly these sort of connections, the level of which may not be entirely intimate, but close enough that they know your name, will help you with your car if needed, and there is reciprocity. You both care about each other in a casual way that transcends the transactional. These are the interactions that have been most impacted by Covid, and that no amount of Amazon or Door Dash can replace.

As a 50+ American living in France, I have noticed many specifically French, perhaps European, habits and customs that seem to enrich and improve the lives of the 50+ individuals around me. Let’s look at some of these so you can consider whether some of these lifestyle and social choices could be adapted to your everyday existence.

The French create and maintain connections in their community daily

Community is in many ways an “old world” value. Historically, we were dependent on the family and neighbors living near us for food, shelter and trade. Now, like people all over the globe, Europeans have benefitted from many aspects of globalization, and today in France you are likely to meet someone whose children or grandchildren live or work in the UK, or even Asia or the United States. However, certain aspects of community living persist.

The French create and maintain connections in their community daily whether it’s shopping at local shops where the butcher/baker/dry cleaner addresses you by name, or regular visits to the gym or the hairdresser. There is a notion of continuity, or loyalty, if you will, where clients shop consistently at the same butcher or greengrocer or florist. Madame Dupont is a regular client and depending on her order, the butcher may be aware that her grandchildren are in town and suggest Saucisses de Francfort (the delicious Alsatian equivalent to hot dogs). There is an exchange, social interaction. She feels like a valued client, while he maintains his business in the most agreeable manner.

The 15-Minute City

While Americans tend to spend most of their time isolated in their cars, and often shop at large supermarkets, even in America there is definitely a movement toward the “15-minute city.” Popular in France, this is the concept that one should be able to work, shop, and have leisure activities all within a 15-minute radius of one’s home – and that may be on foot or on a bike, but does not include transport by automobile.

So where do you shop? Do you know the name of the guy at your local deli? Have you investigated new local farmers’ markets or independent shops? You may be pleased to find better quality produce at smaller markets as their supply chain gives them greater flexibility to acquire riper produce. While it may be more “convenient” to order online, is convenience the only or the most important criterion? How many steps closer are you to 10,000 if you walk to the nearby shops? Think about the possibilities as you sip your café au lait

1 COMMENT

  1. Meredith, how nice it would be to have a 15 minute city. If I lived downtown St. Petersburg, FL, I could walk to the Saturday market, restaurants and cafes. There is nothing in 15 minutes distance to shop, but maybe I could get to my local publix in 15 minutes by bike, quite sad. My parents live part-time in Ecuador, and I am envious of my moms daily visit to the food and flower markets. I have spent some time investigating moving overseas for many reasons, community, slower pace and financial. I hope once I retire I can paint and sell more art. Thanks for the great read!

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Meredith Keeve
Meredith Keeve
After 25 years in Europe, Meredith Keeve now lives in Deauville, France. Having worked in magazines in Paris, London and Warsaw, she has recently written for the French Lingerie Federation and the web site FabAfterFifty.

 

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