Bonjour, mes amis! It’s been too long. Last you heard from me, I was struggling with the French language so much so that I was told that I ‘speak French like Donald Trump’. Guessing that is a put-down!
We’re now six months into our French experiment – and STILL struggling with the language (albeit slightly less). In fact, just the other day I had another embarrassing moment in the same store. I breezed past a sign which stated (in French) that no one could purchase alcohol on that day because of an event going on nearby, and I proceeded to grab two bottles of wine and try to check out. When the same store owner decided to make a big deal of it, the entire grocery store staff and all of the customers seemed to descend upon us to witness the hilarity that ensued. I won’t delve into the details, but safe to say I almost became the first person with an unsuccessful wine-purchasing attempt in the history of France.
I’ve learned not to be embarrassed by these situations anymore – ridiculous things happen when you live in a foreign place that doesn’t favor English, especially if your name is Nate. I mean, just look at this photo below and tell me something ridiculous wouldn’t happen if I were to proceed into this establishment.
But enough about my tendency to run into an awkward #natestory around every corner…let’s get to the good stuff.
The Amazing Car-Less Lifestyle
If I were asked what the biggest difference between living in France and living in the US, I would probably say something like ‘quality of food’, ‘taste of food’, or just ‘BUTTER’.
But if you were to ask me the biggest difference in day-to-day life between our specific experiences in the US compared to our life in Montpellier, my answer would change – it is the ability to easily exist without a car, and our joy in doing so.
Here are the ways we get around (in order of preference) and the places we go with each.
Terra and I joke that we can tell where someone is from based on how much they smile out in public. Americans are well known for having a smile plastered on our faces at all time (myself included), the French don’t smile much (until you get to know them, of course), and the Germans don’t smile unless they are riding a bike (you have never seen an ear-to-ear grin quite like a German on a bike).
When it comes to biking we are squarely in the German camp. Terra has an e-bike; watching her glide up hills is fun (and a bit frustrating as I peddle my heart out, to be honest).
Our bikes are a means of pleasure as well as the way that I get any significant amount of goods back home. For the latter, look no further than this photo below. And yes, you should be impressed that I got four planter boxes, a 20L bag of soil, a bag of briquettes for the grill, and, most importantly, an order of beef lemongrass (see the handlebar) home on my bike from a considerable distance.
I am constantly on my bike to get stuff, whether it’s food for Cammy, planters for our garden, or my special store where I keep getting yelled at (but the butter and coffee is worth a 15 minute ride and a possible chastisement).
The joy-riding aspect of our bike adventures is even better. Terra and I are constantly biking to the beach and checking out new beach towns or restaurants.
Why do we like it so much? We get exercise, connection, fresh air, sunshine, and delicious food and drink all wrapped up into one afternoon.
The remarkable things about riding in Montpellier are 1) there are a ton of bike lanes, and 2) auto drivers are actually aware of bikers and give bikers a large berth. Most of the biking we do is off-road entirely on a path devoted entirely to bikes. Blissful!
Sometimes, however, it’s simply not possible to bike. Our next mode of transport is as old as the human race – we use our own two feet! On an average day we walk 10-15 thousand steps, and this is on top of all the biking we do!
Montpellier is a walkers’ town. Almost all of the downtown area is closed off to motorized vehicles (other than motorcycles…don’t get me started on those). I’m not talking about a few city blocks – you could wander the streets all afternoon and not encounter cars.
If we’re too tired or hot, or we don’t want to spend a lengthy amount of time walking, we can always walk in combination with taking one of the many trams in Montpellier. The tram system is unbelievable here – it runs frequently, goes all throughout the city and to the outlying towns, and most importantly for summer, is air conditioned!! And did I mention it’s only one Euro per ride?
Taking the Train
It is remarkably easy to take the train to different towns throughout the region (such as Nimes and Sète), and if you’re willing to be flexible, it can be cheap as well. This method of transport has taken us to remarkable places, like the Coliseum in Nimes pictured below.
Although you should never try managing four 50+ pound bags and a dog between two people in second class. (#thingswehavelearned) But of course we’re glad we brought her!
Uber’ing or Renting a Car
When all else fails, or we want to get somewhere fairly remote, we call an Uber. We resort to this occasionally, and it helps us get to places that we otherwise couldn’t. We have to be careful to pick places that aren’t too remote, however, as it’s possible that an Uber wouldn’t be able to pick us up on the return trip! (In fact, that happened to us in Arizona – a #natestory for another time.)
Technically, I fibbed a little bit when I called this our ‘car-less lifestyle’, because when we want to go on a roadtrip (as we did with Terra’s mother), we rent a car. And as a result we are able to have experiences like the one pictured below – visiting the Château de Chambord at dusk!
What Does it All Mean?
So why does this lifestyle resonate so much with us? I’ve listed a few reasons below:
- We’ve noticed that the less we drive, the more we are actually moving with people; there isn’t the separation that one experiences in individual cars. We are all getting to our places together – and yes, that means seeing the weird dude that insists on riding his bicycle backwards, making eye contact with the homeless man with his dog, and nodding to the lady who runs the Thai stand. It means avoiding dog poop (no one picks it up here!), smelling weed, and trying to not get run over. As corny as it sounds, we feel more a part of our community, and we love it.
- This lifestyle keeps us fit and in shape. I don’t need to go to a gym to keep fit if I walked 15,000 steps and biked to get some food for Cammy. We certainly don’t find ourselves needing to buy a gym membership (well…that is until we go on a croissant binge).
- Living as car-less as possible is better for the environment, plain and simple. Also, I’m certain traffic is bad for everyone’s health. I haven’t honked at anyone in 6 months!
Prior to our move to France, we were pretty proud of ourselves for getting down to one car in the US (as two or three cars is the norm). It’s a difficult comparison though as the US is well behind the curve when it comes to transportation infrastructure and, in general, the culture is very geared towards vehicle ownership.
We certainly can’t all get rid of our cars, but wouldn’t it be great if each of us could slow down our busy lives just a little bit and walk or bike instead of driving all the time? We have found it to be nothing short of life-changing.