The joy of the lunch voucher (chèque déjeuner)

French lunch cheque information

At a job interview, I asked about employee benefits. “Optional health insurance, flexibility, etc. etc. Oh and restaurant vouchers.”

Having never been employed by a French business before, this benefit was a new one for me. I’d seen people handing over vouchers in the past, but never really known anything about them. After the job interview, I laughed them off as a token voucher system that businesses only have to supply if they don’t provide onsite lunch options.

French lunch cheque informationWhen I received my first voucher book, I started to understand their value. Some 22 vouchers landed on my lap in a book resembling a cheque book. Each is worth 7€, and they can be used at most restaurants and supermarkets (normally just one or two per meal/purchase). Although you won’t get change if you spend less than 7€, you can split a meal between cheque and real money.

Basically, I’m now walking around with 154€ tax-free in my handbag each month. The novelty lasted a month. I felt totally French, asking if an establishment would accept a chèque Déjeuner and then ripping off the little piece of paper and handing it over.

The novelty soon wore off when I received my first pay cheque. It turns out I’m paying for about a third of the cheques, so they’re by no means a freebie. As long as I use around 51€ of the cheques per month, I’m no worse off. My boss is paying the rest, so it would be a pity not to use them up. So far, I’ve had no problem spending the lot. It’s just too easy.

For anyone starting a new job in France, the carnet des chèques déjeuner (book of vouchers) is issued at the end of your month, when you’re paid, so you’ll have to wait up to a month (like I did) before receiving your first book. You receive one cheque for each day worked, so if you work just five days before your first pay cheque, you’ll receive a carnet des chèques déjeuner with five vouchers in it.

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Confusing road signs

French roadwork sign La Clusaz

Some road work was done at the end of my street here in Saint Jean de Sixt a few weeks ago. Luckily, the French road workers put up some signs to help the locals with the diversion.

French roadwork sign La Clusaz

Go left or go right — do whatever you like really. How French!

My only question is: why bother with either sign?

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Practical information from a festival

I was a tad shocked to see what practical advice the High Five festival website was giving me:

High Five Festival Annecy

“How to come” seems a bit personal for a ski and snowboard festival in Annecy.

It’s truly commendable that the High Five Festival has gone to the effort of translating their French website into English. Too many event websites simply don’t bother. Next step: a native English speaker!

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Food trucks — Annecy style

Food trucks have arrived in Annecy!

Apparently, food trucks in Annecy are unlike those in other places. First of all, let’s talk school holidays. I started a new job during school holidays in France. Entire businesses close during August simply because everyone goes on holidays (I’ve written about la rentrée in the past). It was no surprise that food trucks on a business park were scarce during August. Given Annecy is heaving with tourists in August, popular lakeside spots would no doubt be more profitable. Yet they weren’t there. Many of the local food trucks close in August too. Despite throngs of people at the beaches willing to part with their money, the food trucks aren’t allowed to trade on public property, making beach-side sales somewhat difficult.
Annecy food truck copyright Le Franco Phoney

The food trucks trickled back to where I work a few weeks ago, and I’m relieved that many offer vegetarian alternatives, saving me from having to make my own lunch every day during my disorganised mornings. Last week, I found the food truck that sells south-east Asian food. I was thrilled when the staff said they could do pad Thai without meat (yum!), especially as the only other menu option was meaty. Alas, my colleague wanted the meaty dish and was told they had sold out. Seriously, sold out. They have TWO dishes and they’re a food truck and they’d sold out of one. At least their ingredients must always be fresh! Had my jaw not already hit the ground, the next statement would have made it land with a thud: “You should book ahead,” the food truck lady said. BOOK AHEAD. Yes, apparently, in Annecy, the correct procedure for visiting a food truck is to order your meal before turning up.

On the upside, they take lunch vouchers, but that’s a story for another time.

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Accidental caring

Last Thursday, I found myself in the pretty Jardins de l’Europe in Annecy, wheeling and dealing on a mobile phone while police watched on with loaded guns. This is one of the famous areas of Annecy, right by the lake, between the Pont des Amours (Love Bridge) and the large sightseeing boat docks. So what was I doing?

Rewind four months when I was invited to a meeting completely by accident. A different local Wendy was supposed to be invited, but Facebook’s autocomplete stuck my name in there instead, and everyone at the meeting was as surprised as I was. The meeting was to discuss ways to help kids who had been living on the streets with their families in Annecy for up to five years while their parents awaited papers allowing them to stay and work through refugee status. Nothing happens quickly in France, and 14 families were surviving on the goodwill of charities, a temporary shelter they had commandeered and a couple of adult refugees who had been granted the right to work who were sharing their money. Annecy has given them no assistance, despite the law saying they must at least provide shelter. This has kept me busy, and is one of the reasons I haven’t written my blog for such a long time.


Rewind to last Wednesday, when I ended up at the beach with some volunteers and ten of those kids so they could enjoy a day at the beach. The kids splashed and played and ate ice cream (I admit that being the Ice Cream Lady instead of Toilet Accompany Lady was more attractive). Skiidy Gonzales kindly donated a van and driver to transport the kids, and as I waved goodbye from the curb at the end of the day, they blew me kisses. They were happy, like kids should be.

And then Thursday came along. At 7am, police entered the refugee’s only shelter and ordered them out at gunpoint. Kids cried and a lady was knocked to the ground. They were overly forceful with the families, but I didn’t know any of this because I was still curled up in bed, sleeping soundly, like many of us.

comfortingI found the refugee families, who had sought shade from the 35° heat at the Jardins de l’Europe, that afternoon. The kids’ faces lacked the carefree smiles of just a day earlier, and they walked with the weight of the world on their shoulders. Would they be sleeping on the streets again tonight, after enjoying the comparative ‘luxury’ of their shelter, where they happily shared bedrooms and showered in cold water, because it’s still better than no shower at all?

After many phone calls, emails and verbal discussions — and always being watched by armed police — we managed to temporarily house everyone. It was not an easy task, and by no means a solution, and the local department continues to ignore the demands of local charities, lawyers and citizens to do the right (and legal) thing to at least provide shelter. Of the 14 families, two were sent to Lyon to face a judge (both families have been freed and have returned to Annecy), two with small children have been rehomed (hooray!), a family with an autistic son was put directly on a plane back to Pristina, and a few remain under some sort of house arrest. All remaining families are at a constant risk of living on the streets between temporary accommodation, but due to their legal refugee situation, they can’t leave the area. They’re basically stuck.

As much as I normally love to write about how much I’m baffled by some aspects of French culture, today, I’m saddened, frustrated and worried for the gentle kids who, through no fault of their own, are dreaming of stability and security instead of ponies. My involvement in this entire situation came about by the wrong Wendy being invited to a meeting. I hope I’ve made a difference, but there’s still so much to do. We need more accidental Wendys.

If you’d like to learn more about what’s been happening in this financially loaded part of France, visit the Lake Aid blog.

If you’d like to help these families through grass-roots charity, where every cent goes to them, you can donate here (we desperately need funds – even if it’s just a few euros!).

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Lisbon review: rock gods, film stars and glorious food


The proximity of countries here in Europe continues to impress me, and I’m on a mission to explore at least one new country every year. So, last week, I ‘popped over’ to Portugal. Back in Aus, the only thing I knew about Portugal was Nandos and its peri-peri sauce. One short flight later, I found myself at Rock in Rio Lisbon, which just happened to coincide with my visit, and starred some of my favourite artists. I fell into bed at 4am after seeing various acts including Hollywood Vampires. Yes, that’s Johnny Depp, who looked relaxed, given the death of his mother and the domestic violence accusations, as well as Alice Cooper, Matt Sorum from Guns and Roses and Robert DeLeo from Stone Temple Pilots, along with others. After coconut sweet bun treat the following afternoon upon waking, I was off to explore the rest of Lisbon.

lisbon-cakesMy friends and I were impressed with Lisbon’s cleanliness; the welcoming people; and the architecture, where public squares abound with patterned tiles underfoot and statues towering above. Mostly, we fell in love with the food. Over five days, we didn’t have a bad meal or cake stop (yes, we split our cakes to sample each one, as pictured). It was a personal food fest and I was grateful for the wide variety of meals on offer — in stark contrast to the stodgy cheese and potatoes of the French Alps.

Best of all was the tile painting lesson! We found Marie Caroline on Facebook, and she agreed at short notice to visit our apartment one evening to teach us about the traditions of Azulegjos tiles. My friends and I selected two designs each and painted them with Marie Caroline’s expert and patient guidance. She even offered to post our tiles to us after she’d fired them, and sent a follow-up message the next day wishing us a safe trip home.

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With a happy heart, a tanned face and a suitcase full of pastel de nata custard tarts, I returned to waterlogged France. I’m already planning a trip to Porto!

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Quorn returns to Haute Savoie!

Quorn placement in Annecy Carrefour

A little while ago, I wrote about how vegetarian food is often stocked next to the meatiest options possible. Carrefour have gone one step further, with their placement of Quorn products, which were recently reintroduced in France after a long absence.

Carrefour recently created their own brand of vegetarian products, and it seems they don’t want any competition from such a successful brand as Quorn. At least, that’s only reason I can come up with when I see where the Quorn products have been placed. Imagine the worst place possible. Is it next to the black pudding like Intermarché’s vegie burgers? Nope: that would be an improvement.

No, Carrefour Annecy are stocking Quorn products in the deepest, darkest corner where vegetarians fear going. In the back corner, there’s a meat section for minced meat, leftover lumps of meat for pets, hotdogs and more. Sandwiched between the smoked meats and halal meats (more offensive to any vegetarian than typical meat, as the animal probably suffered, being fully aware rather than stunned before bleeding to death), is Quorn. Just check those signs: “MEAT”, “MEAT”, “SMOKED MEAT”, “La la la vegetarian rainbows and unicorns”:

Quorn - Carrefour Annecy - stocked with meat

Quorn placement in Annecy CarrefourYes, hiding among packages of blood and flesh is a vegetarian range of products, including Quorn sausages, hamburgers, fake chicken breasts, pepper ‘chicken’, sandwich slices, fake chicken pieces, minced ‘meat’ and more.

I’m not convinced that meat lovers frequenting this dead end of the supermarket would be enticed by a piece of textured mushroom that never clucked, mooed or oinked. Nor can I imagine many vegetarians just happening to walk by such a broad variety of dead animals, let alone looking closely enough to notice this bizarre placement of Quorn meat-free products! Alas, this is France, where a waiter once insisted that chicken was not meat when I objected. And so, I expect Quorn will continue rubbing its fake shoulders with the salted, real shoulders right next door. Yum yum.

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Sacre bleu, mais merde…ZUT!

France has announced its Euro 2016 football anthem, and nobody is all that happy. The anthem, sung by popular French rock band Skip The Use, is a cover of a song by American band, Kiss. Their hit from the late seventies, ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ You’, has been transformed into ‘I Was Made For Lovin’ you, My Team’. Yes, really.

Here’s the original if you need a reminder:

And here’s the French version of the song:

The YouTube link is full of negative comments from the French, not happy with the use of the langue anglais, and non-French, not happy that a French band has ‘Eurotrashed’ a song that many are still fond of.

I’m not happy either. I’ve enjoyed seeing both bands play live. I love Kiss: I grew up with their music and have lots of memories entwined with their songs. Skip The Use had a hit a few years ago which sounds much better than their latest offering:

And now, a song I love is being used for a sport that requires fan segregation to prevent violence, sung by a band who have mutilated it with strains like they’re pushing out a baby.

Apart from it being a bit weird that the French have chosen a song that is more than thirty years old to get their fans excited, a whistled version of the song was used by supermarket giant Carrefour until 2013 (replacing the theme song from ridiculously old US sitcom, ‘Happy Days’).

The song was regurgitated into a jingle by La Foir Fouille on TV, radio and over their shop loudspeakers all day long (here’s their most recent advert):

Everybody got bored with it. And somehow, here it is again, rehashed in the most dire format possible.

Anyone who knows the Kiss lyrics understands that the song is about singer Paul Stanley ‘loving’ (having sex) with a girl, giving it all to her, in the darkness…so much he wants to do. Somehow, the French football people thought it would be a good idea to use the same lyrics to represent the French football team. Coincidence, thoughtlessness, or pure sexed-up Frenchness? I’m actually surprised that the music video isn’t filled with naked footballers and fans. Actually, that would be more entertaining. Let’s hope France do better at football.

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The world’s grumpiest hitchhiker

Learning how to speak French can be challenging, especially for those who move to France knowing only croissantun, deux, trois, and merci, like me. Everyone has their own methods to improve their language skills, and mine began with driving. I started with the number plate game (before the departmental numbers got smaller on the new number plates). Then, I started reading aloud the departmental numbers on the number plates, and soon enough, ridiculously long numbers such as quatre-vingt-dix-neuf (99) were rolling off my tongue.

Hitchhiking in the French AlpsOnce I’d perfected numbers, I moved on to hitchhikers. The lack of regular public transport around in the Alps means that people hitch between villages often. Even Candide Thovex picks up hitchhikers, so who am I to drive past someone in need of a lift? Besides, hitchhikers are a captive audience, making them excellent victims to practice dodgy French skills on. Most hitchhikers are happy to get to their destination without having to wait any longer by the side of the road, even if it means being polite and patient with the driver massacring the French language.

I’ve learnt loads of small talk from hitchhikers. I’ve chatted about the common stuff like “Vous habitez ici?” (“You live here?”) right through to cultural conversations comparing France with Australia. I hope most hitchhikers have enjoyed the exchanges, even if some cringed as soon as they heard my accent. As my French has improved, I’ve used hitchhikers less for language practice, but I still pick them up out of habit and kindness, especially in bad weather.

Last night, I picked up the grumpiest hitchhiker I’ve ever met. He needed to get to Le Grand Bornand, where I was headed, so he jumped in. I broke the silence by asking in French if he lived there. He grunted like some teenage angsty boy despite being older than that. I tried again, asking if he found it quiet between seasons. Another grunt. I added that in summer, it’s lovely and he didn’t even bother grunting. I was glad Le Grand Bornand was just a few kilometres from where I’d picked him up. I contemplated stopping the car and telling him to get out, but we were already at the village entrance. When I parked in town, I sang a purposely cheerful “voila” but he was already half out the door. I followed up with a melodic “au revoir” (“see you again”) and he grunted one more time.

I wanted to shout after him: “You rude s**t. I hope a tyre splashes mud up you next time, you ungrateful w**ker. Screw the ‘au revoir’ — unless you’re standing near some mud.” The words just weren’t there in French, which means either I need to continue learning French with hitchhikers, or I need to learn to shrug it off with a good old French “bof“.


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Le Petit Journal

Back before cable TV stations, France had the usual satellite stations which offered evening shows with audiences. You know the sort, where French people clap (to the wrong beat – this drives me nuts) to familiar songs between segments, laugh at pre-rehearsed jokes and watch slapstick humour. The audience for some reason always sits behind the presenters and the guests.

One day, a new TV station called Canal+ came with its own decoder box so that only subscribers could watch. They left some shows unscrambled in an attempt to gain more subscribers, and it no doubt worked.

Le Petit Journal French TV show on Canal+Today, Canal+ still has segments left unscrambled, and one of those segments in Le Petit Journal. It’s my favourite French TV show. I’m a little bit in love with the twinkling eyes and cheeky smile of presenter Yann Barthès, but I’m more in love with his sharp wit and the show’s modern approach.

Rather than interview aged popstars about their new cookbook, this show has its eye on current affairs, such as the US elections, the Brexit (candidly interviewing Boris Johnson on a train last night, asking him what he thinks of European Parliament president Martin Schulz, who was of course in the studio watching and listening), providing a French perspective with an injection of humour.

Le Petit Journal looks at France with equally sharp eyes. When French prime minister Manual Valls talked about being zen, there was an entire segment showing how unzen he can really be (here’s just a snippet):

This is a show that makes learning about French culture a real pleasure. It’s entertaining, thought provoking and educational all at the same time, and even if I don’t understand every word, it’s certainly improved both my French and my awareness of French culture.

Le Petit Journal French television emissionIt’s not all positive though. There’s still a section of Le Petit Journal where French men dress up as women and pretend to be all girly in the office (why can’t they just get women to act as women and kill the cliché stereotypes for an even stronger segment?), and there are still aspects that shock me, like an illustration of a woman’s wide open legs morphing into a cat’s head. Bizarre, ‘arty’ and apparently entirely appropriate for an 8.30pm audience.

Despite those pitfalls, I love this show, so I’m sad to hear rumours that the new head of Canal+, Vincent Bolloré, is thinking of canning Le Petit Journal because it’s too expensive. There aren’t any further details at the moment, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rumours never become reality.

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About me

Wendy Hollands writer in Annecy, France

I'm an experienced professional writer based in the French Alps. I enjoy learning French language nuances, winter sports and travel. Read more...

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