An article I read recently in the weekend T.V. supplement of the daily regional newspaper Le Progrès reveals some of the reasons so many of the 83 million annual foreign visitors fall head over heels in love with France. But when we fall in love we tend to turn a blind eye to everyday reality. My italicized comments are intended to bring things back nearer to earth . French Parks. Aynur, 48, a nurse from Turkey. I’ve noticed that French towns have well-maintained parks with statues and fountains. They’re so clean that you can sit on the grass – so convenient for people who don’t have a garden. Watch out all the same, Aynur. Generally speaking, the French are an undisciplined lot, and tend to let their dogs do it anywhere … so I’d advise you to look carefully before placing your bottom on that beautiful, clean grass. French Calm. Maika, 27, a sales assistant and Rachel, 27, a web editor from Spain. We find the French aren’t as noisy as the Spanish. It’s very pleasant when you’re sitting in a café or restaurant. At home people talk much more loudly – especially in the evening over an apéritif. Sometimes you can’t even hear yourself speak. In my own experience, when it comes to hearing ‘em before you see ‘em, there’s nothing much in it between the French and Spanish. Personally, when it comes to loudmouths, I find Italians are the worst of the lot. French Cheeses. Urszula, 25, a museum curator from Poland. How lucky you are to have such a great choice. At home there are only a few cheeses, and they’re all a bit bland. The family I was an au pair girl with in Lyon introduced me to goat’s cheese, Comté and Roquefort Blue. Yum! Yum! I also like your ritual of all dining together. At home people eat alone in their little corner. Yes, Urszula, I would agree with you about French cheeses. But the downside is that, as General de Gaulle found out to his cost, how do you govern a country which has two hundred and forty six varieties of cheese? And I didn’t realize you Poles were such an unsociable lot. Provence. Paolo, 55, a department head, and Stefanie, 53, a housewife from Italy. We were enchanted by this region. The villages are charming and the countryside is unbelievable. And the lavender fields are just magic. France is really a very romantic country – even more so than Italy! Yes, yes, Paolo and Stefanie. You make it sound like two teenagers falling in love for the very first time. But aren’t you both old enough to know that once you’ve lived together for a while the charm can begin to wear thin? French Bookshops. Kuang, 22, a student from China. I’m really impressed by the number of small bookshops in France. There’s a lot of choice at all prices. I really love books on art, illustrated by numerous photos. My suitcase is already full of them. Hurry up, Kuang, because all those bookshops are fast disappearing. More and more French people are buying them on Internet. Apparently, it’s much cheaper. French Confectionary. Katherine, 19, a student from the U.S.A. I worship French cakes and sweets, especially eclairs and macaroons – they’re so delicious. What I find astonishing is that they’re so refined and light without being too sweet. It makes a change from cheese cakes. Go easy on that sugar and cream all the same, Katherine. We don’t want you getting as overweight as most of your compatriots. French People. All, 39, a doctor from Australia. Some friends told me the French never stop moaning. Personally, I find it’s the opposite. We’ve visited several towns in France, and each time people offered to help us when they saw we were a bit lost. And the shopkeepers are really so pleasant. Perhaps you’ve been lucky so far, mate. As a general rule, the French are not always noted for being over-helpful to bewildered foreigners, or being convinced believers in the principle that ‘ the customer is always right’. And they do love protesting. Look at all those street demonstrations. French Weather. Nigel-Mohammed, 41, a Managing Director from Trinidad and Tobago. Here the sky changes from one day to the next. You also have as many hot days as cold with rain and wind. It’s so varied! At home we have a tropical climate with a temperature of 30° C all the year round. Mind you, the tourists love it. Come off it, Nige! If you’d had to endure the kind of summer we’ve just had you’d be glad to get back to that horribly monotonous 30° C temperature you get all the year round back home! French Bread. James, 29, a school manager from England. What a delicious smell you get when you walk past a bread shop! It really makes you want to step inside and buy everything. The person who invented the baguette was a genius: it’s delicious – even though there’s nothing inside. The bread you get in England has no taste to it. It’s true the baguette has a light and airy crumb, but you seem to be saying that the ‘nothing inside’ tastes delicious. Or is it just the crust you like? And James, not all English bread is as tasteless as you’re trying to make out. Small bakers do exist. Why not try a nice, crusty, home-baked country loaf? Old French Buildings. Amelia, 36, an interior designer from Singapore. At home the buildings are mostly modern skyscrapers which have far less charm. In France you have the impression you’re travelling back in time, and each town has its own style. The other thing I love is blanquette de veau. Hey Amelia, you might not know it, but not all the French are still living in the Middle Ages. They do have modern skyscrapers, too! I agree with you about the blanquette de veau, though – provided the calf hasn’t received too many growth hormone injections. Believe it or not, a friend of mine once bought a joint of veal from his local supermarket, only to find a syringe embedded in it!