What’s more French than cheese? Of course, there is cheese all over the world but in France, some cheese shops have a cave d’affinage, a maturing cellar, underground, so that their cheeses ripen in the best possible conditions. By ageing them - managing their bacterial flora with temperature and humidity - they turn each cheese into a unique product.
“It's about keeping our patrimony,” says Christophe Lesoin, owner of the Beaufils cheese shop in northern Paris. “We need to keep doing this kind of maturing in our shops; otherwise we'll end up with only big companies making things that taste the same.”
Store manager Emmanuel Carbonne says that working with cheese producers gives a sense of the entire food chain.
All over the world midwives help women give birth. But in France some also follow up afterwards to help new mothers get back into shape. This process is called rééducation périnéale, reeducation of the perineum, the muscles around the pelvis that are stretched out during pregnancy and labour.
“I work with two fingers, not far in. There are different movements. I teach the women how to contract, to use the different muscles,” explains midwife Anna Roy.
“If you don’t reeducate the muscles, you can get incontinence and have pain during sexual intercourse. And men say that during their sexual relations, it’s too loose. The reeducation is for the women, but it’s also important for their love life, too."
It’s an important part of her job but, she admits, it’s not her favourite: ”It's really boring! But it's important for the women, so I do it.”
- French (not German) bassoonist
The bassoon, the largest woodwind instrument, has a split identity: most bassoonists play German instruments but France has its own. The instruments are made with different woods and they are played differently. So the result is a different sound.
“With the French bassoon you have a clearer, more precise sound. With the German system you have a bigger, more intense sound,” says musician Antoine Pecqueur.
“I think it’s important to keep the French bassoon, because there is a bit of a risk for the world of classical music: it's the standardisation of the sound. It's like globalisation in politics. I think it's better if they are specific sounds in each country.”
The split came in the 19th century when Germany woodwind makers started making instruments that could play louder, to be heard in bigger concert halls. Today French bassoonists tend to play their own but some musicians play both, choosing the right instrument for the right piece of music.
If you buy or sell property in France, get divorced or inherit something, you will have to spend time with a notary. Unlike a notary public, who takes oaths and authenticates signatures, a French notaire is a civil notary, who can draft legally binding documents.
They have a monopoly on property transactions, which notary Jérôme Le Breton says keeps a lot of disagreements out of court.
“Unless they have to face litigation, we don’t go to court," he explains. "Notaries are trying to prevent that sort of thing. And it's quite efficient. If you ask judges, they would probably say that there is a large reduction of court cases in France, as compared to a country such as England.”
Notaries are lawyers by training but they must take over a licence from someone else. This used to be done unofficially from father to son, though things are changing. More women are joining the profession, which has been open to women since 1948, although Paris’ first female notary was only licensed in 1977.
Scribes have been around for as long as writing has existed. Although France has a nearly 100 per cent literacy rate, the practice of ecrivain public has been coming back: a professional license was established 10 years ago.
Agnès Navalho has a unique set-up: she writes administrative documents for people with very low incomes, in the MobilÔScribe, a mobile office set up in a minivan that she parks near her clients.
“It seems paradoxical, but you need to listen," she says. "They know their own problems, but I don’t. So I listen and ask questions. And then I get to the writing. The content comes from the person and I take care of the form."