Some of the garbage we produce becomes plant food. Just look at this backyard strawberry in January! Vive le compost! As for the rest of the waste, we are working on it! Read on....
le déchet (day-shay)
Le meilleur déchet, c'est celui que l'on ne produit pas.
The best kind of garbage is that which is not produced.
-"déchet" entry from French Wikipedia
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE... by Kristin Espinasse
I am hunched over our kitchen sink tossing the contents of our trash bag from one side of the évier to the other. Chicken bones, cheese wrappers, orange peels, a pair of shoes with holes in the sole, coffee capsules (la honte!)....
Up close and personal, our poubelle is easily under examination. Now to figure out how to quit making so much trash! If rummaging through the garbage seems extreme, you should have seen me reading. Burning through the Zero Waste Home ebook left me hungry for more. So I read every post on Béa's Zero Waste blog, which made me even more affamé! (At which point I devoured all the readers' comments, at the end of each blog post.)
Saperlipopette! What's come over me? If not regret for decades of wasteful living! But guilt only ads to all the heaps of trash, and besides, the author of Zero Waste Home would not have us feeling bad about ourselves--or trying to attempt the impossible (zero waste IS an impossibility, but we can all further reduce our consumption).
Tossing the chicken bones back into the garbage (and chucking the orange peels into our compost bowl beside the sink... while still debating about the shoes and the coffee capsules), I am disheartened yet reminded just how far I've come--this, thanks to living in Europe. When you live in France you are automatically waste conscious. Here are three ecological practices you'll find in the Héxagone. (Please add more from your own observations):
NO GARBAGE DISPOSALS
The first thing I noticed when I moved into a French home was the absence of a garbage disposal. Just where did the fruit and vegetable peels go? And where did we empty our plates? Watching my host family scrape parts of their plates into a bowl and the other part in the trash, I must have hesitated when my turn came to cover the dry contents of the garbage with the saucy remains of my boeuf bourgignon (and, here, another difference comes to mind: there is much less left on a French plate when it comes time to empty it! The French even coined a verb: saucer = to sop up the sauce on the plate, with bread. Smaller portions, sympathy for the cook, and a respect for food leave little room for waste--even if modern day France is changing in all three regards).
"How much tidier it was to empty it down the drain!" I must have thought, back then. And I remember putting "garbage disposal" on my wish list as a new bride. Thankfully we never got around to getting one, and I gradually adapted to all the trash processing. The day I began my own garden, bingo! BLACK GOLD!, I could appreciate what all that compost was for! (Now if I could only find a way to use the chicken bones and mussel shells in the garden, without attracting our resident sangliers!)
FEWER CLOTHES DRYERS
Another memory of my host family is my French mom's way of doing laundry. She had one of those handy étendoirs which she kept in la salle de bains or near the fireplace, depending. Because we lived in Lille, in the freezing north, it took forever to dry clothes "the old-fashioned way." Oftentimes, my pants were still damp when returned to my room. I wondered if the undry clothes would grow mold within the neat and tidy pile in which they were delivered? Best to trust my French laundress and be very grateful! After doing my own laundry and cooking for years, it was a luxury to once again be logé, nourri, et blanchi!
When I moved to France for good, in 1992, Jean-Marc and I bought a clothes dryer following the birth of our two children. It helped with all those little baby outfits. But when le sèche-linge broke down, by the time Jackie and Max were 7 and 9, we never bothered to fix it, and naturally returned to our clothesline for a two-in-one check-off: laundry dried (check), a meditative moment outdoors (check!)
Before I had the chance to work for myself here at home (thank you so much for reading my blog posts!) I worked in three professional offices. The one thing the engineering company, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Swedish-owned vineyard had in common was a lights off policy. With enough natural light streaming into the offices, there was no need further brighten the room, except if a bathroom didn't have a big window, or when we worked till closing (many office workers are still in the bureau at 7 p.m. or "after dark" in winter.)
From bring your-own-bag to the supermarket to those timed light-switches in French bathrooms (that often go off, leaving you in the dark to search for papier toilette)... I could go on about French ecological habitudes, except that to do so would take away from another precious resource of yours and mine: precious time!
Thank you for taking 10 minutes out of your day (more, when you take the time to comment!) each time you read one of these posts. I appreciate this very much! I join you in trying to find a better balance in life--one way being to eliminate the superflux! I leave you with the following quote by a famous Polish composer (and partner to Georges Sand. I wonder if his words influenced her writing?):
"Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art." -Frédéric Chopin
La dernière chose, c'est la simplicité. Après avoir joué une immense quantités de notes et de notes, c'est la simplicité qui sort avec tout son charme, comme le dernier sceau de l'art.
vive! = long live!
un évier = sink, kitchen sink, wet bar
la honte! = for shame!
la poubelle = trash can, waste bin
affamé(e) = hungry, starving
saperlipopette = my goodness! see blog entry
le sanglier = wild boar, wild hog
la salle de bains = bathroom
le sèche-linge =
l'Héxagone (m) = synonym for France
une habitude = habit
Wish to speak French fluently? 30-Day French will teach you everything you need to know to speak French on your next trip to France with 30 lessons based on real-life conversations. Click here.
I have been trying to simplify my life since the day I moved to France. Twenty-two years later, and it sometimes feels like I am only beginning. But when I stop and look around I begin to see the bones of authenticity. And even as my home is cleared... I want to be outside, nearer and nearer to the birds.
Pictured above: the permaculture garden I am building while my husband continues to plant his vineyard. See more pictures in this gallery--and a short clip of Smokey!
A Message from Kristi: For twenty years now, support from readers like you has been an encouragement and a means to carve out a career in writing. If my work has touched you in any way, please consider a donation. Your gift keeps me going! Thank you very much.
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety