To my surprise, I discovered that Southern France is just like Australia, or at least just like the parts of Australia I love best: hot blue skies, dusty red earth, dry yellow fields and trees and plants that fulfil exactly the same functions as the eucalyptus-scented flora of Australia, though their scents are different. The coast has village after village exactly like the trendy beachside suburbs in large Australian cities, the cafÈs, parking slots and houses exact parallels, though Riviera beaches are skinny and mean compared even to Melbourne’s city beaches, and noone would dream of going to Melbourne for its beaches. Inland Provence has ancient villages piled high against hillsides, but the interiors, the gardens and the cuisine are modern Australian: terracotta tiles, space, herbs, relaxed meals and delicious food.
At SÈgriËs a friend from Queensland was surprised that I found Provence so similar to Australia. She’s used to a tropical Australia, while my Australia is drier and, of course, the stuff of dreams of home more than everyday routine. When my sister arrived (born an expat as I was) she echoed my words without having heard them: It’s amazing! It’s just like Australia!
There are differences, of course. There are fields of lavender, Roman ruins and tiny villages every few kilometres. There is incredible rudeness as well as genuine friendliness and charm. Quite often waiters will roll their eyes at your impertinence in existing, especially if you don’t completely understand the menu. But if you speak French and ask questions that the person you’re talking to can easily answer (Is it “une glace” or “un glace”?) they’re almost certain to be friendly rather than rude. There are no Swedish tourists. In fact, though the CÙte d’Azur is obviously tourist-infested, almost all the tourists from from other parts of France and you can spend days at the beach and in restaurants without hearing any language but French.