I rented a car this week and ventured outside of the Paris capital to catch a glimpse of the seaside before it is invaded by vacationers. On the way there, I was amazed at how close the country is to the city. Whatever direction you might take on your way out of the French capital, in less than a 30 minute drive, you will start seeing endless fields of grain, corn or other crops bordered by green pastures and grazing cows. The cows might be white or brown or black and white depending on what direction you take, but they will always be there watching you watching them.
The surface of France is 48% rural and France is the top agricultural country in the European Union. It is a star producer of wheat, sugar, wine (of course!), milk and dairy products (over 300 kinds of cheeses), fruits, vegetables and poultry. But, as I was driving along the magnificent countryside, I was wondering – where are the farmers? I didn’t see a soul in any of the fields I passed. And then, on Monday evening, I got my answer. They’re on TV.
It was a coincidence, really. In general, I do not watch reality television shows in any country. But it was raining and that was all there was to do in the sleepy seaside town I landed in – and I had been thinking about farmers all day. It was destiny throwing me some crumbs of entertainment, which I totally enjoyed.
The show is called “L’Amour est dans le Pré”, which literally translates into “Love is in the Meadow”. It’s a spin-off from the original UK series that is called “Farmer Wants a Wife.” You must admit that the French title is a bit more glamorous than the British one, a clear tribute to France’s romantic reputation. When you think about it, farmers would most certainly need a little help in the love department. The daily schedule for agricultural workers is pretty hectic. They wake up early; go to bed even earlier and spend most of their day with machines and animals. Their routine leaves little time for dating so it’s only natural that they turn to reality TV for a little help in the matchmaking department.
It works like this. The farmers are introduced to the public in January and would-be wives and lovers send in letters, actual hand-written letters, in which they pour out their hearts in the hopes of being one of the ten candidates who are chosen in the first round. Then, there is a televised speed-dating session in which the rural bachelors and bachelorettes narrow it down to only two candidates who subsequently get to spend a week on the farm. The week is really “up close and personal” – sometimes both candidates are there at the same time, which could make for colourful entertaining.
This year marks the 10th season for “L’Amour est dans le Pré ” and the first time that a gay farmer, Guillaume, joined the love search party. However, he didn’t last long. He made it through the speed dating part but got cold feet soon after and abandoned the show…much to the dismay of his handsome would-be partners.
This summer’s show is now down to 12 farmers – 10 men and 2 women.
It has just started and there already are serious internet forums about “Who is Your Favorite Farmer?” This year’s “crop” (no pun intended) is a handsome one with various interests. They breed cows and horses; raise pigs; make wine and cheese and range in age from 25 – 64. They are fun to watch and the scenery that goes along with the program is gorgeous. “L’Amour est dans le Pré” has a great track record too. Out of the 111 farmers whose search for love has been documented in the past nine seasons, 60 of them are now living with a partner; 14 of them are married; and 32 children have been born and 2 more are on the way. Love statistics speak louder than words.
“L’Amour est dans le Pré”, with its record-breaking 6.3 million viewers, is second only to soccer in popularity. After watching just one episode, I can totally understand that. And I know that I will be looking really closely the next time I drive by a meadow. You never know what might be hiding behind a haystack – especially a French one.