One way to get me back to the gym...
Why are the French so fit?
Among the many questions that we’ve talked about in France is the question of why there are so few people with problems of obesity. You don’t as a rule see fat people out and about on the streets and in the cafés: the men and women of France just seem to be generally fit.
The obvious first suggestion is exercise, and while it’s true that people in France are more likely to walk to a local bakery than drive to a supermarket, that doesn’t really explain all of it. French people do cycle around town, but unlike the spandex-clad mountain bikers of North Vancouver they do it at a leisurely pace, in street clothes, and without a helmet. It’s a handy way to get from Point A to Point B, not a street race.
Gyms in France are nice, but not as heavily used as those in Vancouver, and seem to be relatively free of the giant-muscled barbell pumping guys that you see on the West Coast. Again, it’s about general fitness, not competing in the IronMan competitions.
So if it’s not exercise, what is it? It’s food of course.
Although you can find McDonalds and Burger King in France (a brand new Burger King opened literally this week on the outskirts of Alençon), they’re the exception, and really only exist in suburban shopping malls. Eating at one is an oddity, or a special occasion, not a daily thing. And, if I’m honest, the McDonalds’ food in France just seems a bit healthier than in North Vancouver.
What stands out as well is the relative lack of drive-thru patrons. Yes you can do it, but it’s rare to see a car at a window picking up McNuggets.
The reason for this seems to be one thing: French people don’t snack while they do other things. They don’t eat while driving. They don’t eat while shopping. They don’t eat while walking down the street. I’m willing to bet that they don’e even generally eat while watching TV.
I put much of this down to the French lifestyle choices around food. Although you can buy packaged foods, it’s the exception and people prefer real food and sitting down around a table with family. That’s easy to do when work weeks are capped at 35 hours, and when most businesses close from 12:30 pm to 2 pm for lunch each week day. Because you have the time to shop at the market, cook a nice meal, and then just relax and enjoy it, you’re more likely to do so.
The lack of a frantic rush from A to B to C to D leaves people time to eat well.
And because the norm is to eat proper meals, at proper times, people just don’t snack. It just isn’t part of the culture. Somehow that keeps people from being fat.
Meanwhile, it’s the last week of September, and that means cartloads of boxes of wine rolling out of our local supermarket. Yes, it’s the season for wine sales!
PS, for those in Canada, we routinely pay under 5 € for bottle of decent wine, and even the boxed wines are pretty good.
Interestingly what I haven’t seen in France are openly drunk people staggering down the street, or obviously drunk drivers on the road. Wine and beer a part of everyday life, and the tables outside of bistros and tabacs are always full of people having a quick glass, but somehow it doesn’t translate to overt drunkenness.
Aside from the occasional group of late night students of course….