Category Archives: Living in France

Cast Your Vote

I am not a political animal, never have been but until I moved to France I voted in every election. I did this mainly in thanks to the suffragette movement but also because I believe that unless you register your choice you have no right to grumble afterwards. I suppose I was brought up to vote Conservative and I did that right up to 2001 when I was swayed by New Labour. I voted for Tony Blair and Ken Livingstone and then left the country. In retrospect I now know that the latter was far wiser than the former.

I suppose I really believe that in the western world there is not a huge difference between the main factions. It seems to me that one party gains office for a few terms and after a while they begin to look sleazy and incompetent. The population then decides it’s time for a change and the other side takes over only to follow, more or less, the same path. The whole process then starts all over again, a sort of pass the constitutional parcel.

When I first came to live abroad I had no wish to influence the politics of a country that, quite honestly I had more or less finished with so I gave up voting. Now I feel that enough is enough, I want this lot out and I have registered for a “vote by post for a British citizen living overseas”.

It is very easy, quick and painless. Just log on to www.aboutmyvote.com , download and complete the very simple forms then post them off to the office of your last ward – voila.

Now, all this talk of politics brings me to that  bête noire of all sane people – political correctness.   Don’t get me wrong, I am a self confessed feminist but I concede that there are basic differences between the sexes just as there are national traits, which to my mind are irrefutable.

I know it is considered wrong but this week I couldn’t help comparing two families staying in our holiday lets, one German the other English. The Brits booked in the normal way by internet with no great ceremony and they stayed for 4 nights. The surprise came when our cleaning team went in to tidy up for the next arrivals. The place looked as though either a bomb had hit it or perhaps the family had been ordered to leave in a great hurry, probably at gunpoint.  There was no particular damage or disrespect of our property, it was just so untidy. There had been no attempt at all at trying to leave the place in some kind of order.

The Germans on the other hand booked by phone and were very precise with their enquiries. The man wanted a lot of information and was rather brusque. In fact I felt as though I was being interrogated even though I thought his questions entirely reasonable. I was to meet them at the cottage and he told me that he would arrive at exactly 5pm! On arrival they were very charming, paid up promptly and smiled a lot. It was on their departure that I was totally amazed, the cottage was absolutely spotless. OK we still gave it “the treatment” but it was interesting to note that there are fundamental differences in national behaviour. We should not generalise but on balance is it not true that there are good and bad qualities in all of us?

Pride Before a Storm

I’ve had a busy week readying up our holiday cottages for the onslaught of the tourist season so you can imagine that it was a bit of a nuisance for me to also have “Carte Vitale” trouble. The problem began in 2008 when we received a letter telling us that our cover would cease in October of that year. Apparently we were only granted cover because my husband worked for a French company for a few months in 2004, a privilege which was about to cease.

I will not bore you with a narrative of my numerous and frustrating audiences with various “fonctionnaires” but suffice it to say that I was very pleased when cover was re-instated.  Then in July of last year when I reached 60 I requested my form E121 entitling me to receive a “Carte Vitale” by way of the UK authorities.

One again I found myself being interviewed by the rather formidable Madame at CPAM in Montreuil this time though things were different. The ice had melted and I guessed this was because I was relieving The Fifth Republic of the expense of my medical needs and shifting the burden to the British Pension Service.

In due course I received a temporary attestation swiftly followed by a request for a suitable photograph. I thought I had plenty of time to visit the photo booth, after all I had the old card and I would of course get round to it eventually. Then came the crunch, my old card stopped working.

Thinking that this photo would haunt me for many years I quickly blow dried my hair and applied make-up hoping to be rewarded with an image at least resembling a human being. I jumped in the car and set off for Intermarche when suddenly the heavens opened up and I was in the middle of a force 8 gale.

On arriving in the car park I did my usual trick of sticking my umbrella out of the car door and pressing the automatic opening button but this time the brolly immediately blew inside out and smacked me on the nose. Not deterred I made a run for it, reached the closest entrance and came to a stop, it was closed because of the strong winds. I dashed to the second door – also closed, so by the time I got in the place I was not looking that great.

By this time I couldn’t have cared less what the snap came out like so I sat in the booth, followed the instructions and waited wide-eyed for the flash.  Nothing happened at all so I soon realised that the apparatus was out of order.

Now I was on a mission; I got in the car and drove to Berck where there is a shop that will do the job for you. The professional was available immediately and sprang into action. He told me to take off my earrings (fair enough), take off my glasses (why!) and lift up my fringe (now wait a minute).  At this stage I was wondering where it was leading but I did exactly as I was told and sat on the stool. I gave what I thought was my best QVC smile (I used to work for a UK shopping channel) when he said “vous devez fermer la bouche Madame” and quickly pinched his lips together with his fingers. This sent me into a fit of uncontrollable laughter and we had to wait several minutes before I had composed myself.

After all that was the photograph a nice one – no of course not I’m 60 years old and can never really look good again but I did learn a valuable lesson. As the old saying goes, never put off till tomorrow what you can do today – you never know it might rain.

Body Maintenence – Human and Car

Being a big fan of our health service in France I have been, up until now disappointed that I could not find a good dentist. The main problem for me has been that the French professionals I have encountered seem reluctant to carry out a good de-scaling.

I began to think that maybe we Brits are a bit too fussy about our mouth hygiene and contemplated crossing the channel just for dental care. But then I heard that it’s almost impossible to be treated in the UK under the NHS, that private fees are very high and even if one is prepared to pay it’s difficult to get appointments.

I was becoming quite worried and dreading a toothless dotage until Monday of last week. When “bingo” I was treated by a woman who in my opinion is the “be all” of dentistry.

Tucked away in a charming courtyard in Montreuil is a very skilful woman dentist who runs an efficient and clean practice. I arrived a little early which was just as well because there was a questionnaire of my health history to be completed. The friendly receptionist was helpful with some of the terminology so the whole thing was done in a just a few minutes.

I was then escorted through to a bright and hygienic room which was filled with what looked to me like equipment from NASA. The diminutive young woman inspected my teeth and in less than 20 minutes she had de-scaled my lower jaw and eliminated one or two stubborn marks. She gave me a prescription for a panoramic tooth X-ray to be carried out at the local “radio” clinic and made a further 2 appointments after which she assured me, my teeth would soon be in very good condition.

I left her office feeling that I had at last paid due attention to this part of my body that had been neglected over the last few years. Further, I was very happy to think that here was one more thing that is better here in France than over there in the UK.

Which brings me to car servicing, you see our run-about is a Smart and most dealers here are loathe to touch them. Only Mercedes and Mitsubishi will take them on and having tried agencies of both brands in the Pas–de-Calais I am really not impressed. That’s why we take our Smart to Maidstone; the Mercedes agency there is efficient and surprisingly reasonable. The staff are pleasant and they loan us a courtesy car which enables us to do our shopping. OK, job done you may think but a small part of me is still a bit niggled that here is one thing that I just can’t find a solution for in France. Perhaps the answer is to buy a French car but then the Smart ForFour is made in France. Is that not “curieux”?

Wheels and Deals

Wheels and Deals

Well that’s the gardening started, although I still have a long way to go before I can call it tidy. I managed to dead-head all of our hydrangeas, get most of the paths swept and even de-weeded some of the flower beds. My usual helper wasn’t available but his replacement turned out to be an excellent worker with a lot of common sense. I felt exhausted after two full day’s hard graft but really pleased with our progress. I was however somewhat troubled by the sight of 67 large rubbish sacks full of garden clippings. They were blocking our garage and as my husband wanted to start his boat building this weekend (that’s another story) I had to think up a solution fast.

The problem was exacerbated by a current diversion on the road to the rubbish tip and the thought of negotiating those “petit chemin” whilst towing a trailer was not something I was looking forward to. I made a quick calculation and reckoned it would take around 11 journeys so I decided to hire a van.

It was not the huge extravagance that you may think. Whilst shopping the previous week I had noticed a good sized van in the supermarket car park with a sign on it advertising  a hire cost of 12 Euros for a half day. Intrigued and a little doubtful I enquired at the Intermarché reception desk and the woman assured me that this was indeed the price and I could collect it at 2pm on Friday. It would be mine for 5 hours and the only extras were the cost of the fuel and 18 centimes per kilometre.

My husband was immediately enthused, he seized the opportunity by ordering large sheets of marine ply to be collected from Leroy Merlin. I then suggested that we use the occasion to dispose of a few other household items that were clogging up our store room.  There was that old double bed, empty paint cans, a patio door frame and the odd defunct electrical appliance.

As is the habit with such things a simple idea just snowballed and the afternoon turned out to be a very busy one indeed. We made several trips to the décheterie and then proceeded to Merlimont where we met the only disappointment of the afternoon. Not all of the our timber order was available and by the time we had found that out we had just one hour to get our purchases home and then back to Intermarché before curfew.

Anyway we made it – just, I was delighted to get rid of the garden rubbish in one fail swoop and we disposed of a lot of our old junk. The cost was an absolute bargain at just 30 Euros for the hire and that sum would have been lower if we had been able to follow our usual route without an annoying detour.

So all in all we are very content with a job well done and at this moment my husband is working on his boat in a clutter free garage. I am though, somewhat perplexed as he has given no explanation of this industry. It has been raining over the last few days; do you think it could be a command from a superior being?

I’m off to pack a few things just on the off chance.

Oh No! It’s That Time of Year.

I looked out of the window this morning and realised that I could no longer put off the dreaded onslaught of spring gardening. Oh how I hate the concept of working outdoors; I find the whole gardening business tedious, uncomfortable, mucky in the extreme and thoroughly boring.  Perhaps this attitude stems from the fact that I was brought up in the concrete jungle of London and as such am missing something.

You see, I never intended to make gardening part of my retirement, when we first moved to our present house in the heady days of 1.45 to the Pound, we employed a local man. He came to work in the garden at least once a week leaving little for us to do. Then Sterling slumped and like everyone else we looked for ways to economise and guess what the gardener was the first to go.

At first both my husband and I tried to ignore the untidiness of our two and a half acres hoping that the Pound would rally. It didn’t of course instead it sank lower and lower so eventually we fell into a division of labour which gave him the mowing of the lawns and me the flower beds and the paths.

My first experience was clipping the heads off the hydrangeas. Being a gung ho sort of a gal I thought that it would be a few hours work and then – “job done”.  No such luck we have more than 70 of the blasted things and it took me almost 4 days. I then knew that I needed help fast and it had to be cheap.

RES came to the rescue. This is a superb system that is, in my opinion practical and very, very French because it is simple and it works. I know of two offices, Fruges and Montreuil, it’s government run so I guess the workers are civil servants but they do not seem to have that “fonctionnaire” mind set. Basically the helpers are from the dole queue, they cost between 14 and 18 Euros per hour depending on their level of skill. In my experience they are good workers, honest and reliable with the added bonus of being insured, legal and available on an ad hoc basis.

RES send an invoice monthly and then at the end of the tax year (for certain jobs) you get half the cost knocked off the bottom line of your income tax bill. It is this part of the system that makes them affordable. You can choose from a plethora of workers including gardeners, cleaners, carpenters and painters.  You can even request the same person each time as I do with Jean-Luc my garden buddy whom I have got to know quite well. He corrects my French and teaches me new words so I am getting more out of it than just a willing worker.

I have got used to the hard graft of gardening and whilst I will never enjoy it I get the satisfaction of a good job done and I use up some calories too.

Climate Fear!

penguinsAt the Manoir du Moonlight the heating oil situation is giving cause for concern.  The winter has been so prolonged, with temperatures rarely above +50C and often below freezing that unless the weather warms up soon our private heating oil well might run dry sometime before May.

The long cold winter has left Professor Moonlight in some confusion.  He is not a believer in man-made global warming. Indeed he is convinced we’re in for a period of 20 or 30 years of gradual cooling, so he is not surprised by this long cold winter, but he is now torn between feelings of smug satisfaction that nature seems to be bearing out his forecast, and the icy fear that in the near future he may be proved all too correct!

The Professor is now looking into the possibility of moving to North Africa which he reckons will soon be empty, as its current inhabitants all seem to want to move to Britain.

Ex-pat Pronunciation

I find it very amusing the way we expats pronounce French names when we are speaking English, it seems to be very personal.  Take shops for instance, I am a member of the half and half group giving  Champion a sort of “shompion” sound.  Intermarché comes out as “antermarshay” and Picard definitely does not have a d at the end.  However almost universally we Brits over-anglicise Leroy Merlin. Perhaps that’s because we seem to know him; for me he is so very familiar. He’s a real “cool dood” living in Loughborough Junction driving a Jaguar XJ6 with a sound system that absolutely fills the boot (which is of no consequence as he wouldn’t be seen dead in Sainsbury’s).

Seriously though, it is a tricky business if we completely pronounce names in the English fashion it seems arrogant but if we say them as they are meant to sound we are in danger of appearing “know it all” or even prissy.

I suppose this dilemma stems from the days of the “Grand Tour” which was the traditional exploration of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class young men of means. The practice flourished from about 1650 until the advent of large scale rail transit in the early 19th century making travel easier and more accessible. Before then I think these privileged young men came back peppering their language with foreign phrases and idioms baffling those less fortunate souls who had been left behind. This is how the air of mystery and self aggrandisement began and it has been perpetuated, mostly by a tribe of somewhat effected individuals whose grasp of French extends only to a few odd phrases.

Take lingerie for instance pronounced by some as “lojeray” and used to describe fancy underwear. This is quite wrong the word should sound like “lanjeree” and as well as being an old fashioned word for undergarments it can also mean laundry room.  The upside of this one however is that it does throw a new, rather laughable light on UK department store signage.

Personally I am particularly irritated by the Nestlay brigade, oh, how they love to refer to their chocolate emphasising the acute accent, when even the British distributor refers to the brand plainly as Nestles. Then there is the “ mal de mer mob” imagine them reporting a fault on the telephone line to France Telecom or getting the right kind of treatment at the dentist.

All in all I have decided to just say what I am comfortable with and to hell with those who judge me by my pronunciation. After all what is important is that we try our best to help ourselves to make our lives here run smoothly, without expecting the French to learn English.

Join the French Resistance to EU Officialdom!

From: French Annette

Scandaleux, tout simplement.  Envoyez ceci aux Européens que vous connaissez !!!

La retraite à 50 ans avec 9.000 euros par mois pour les  fonctionnaires de l’UE a été approuvée.  Cette année, 340 fonctionnaires partent à la retraite anticipée à  50 ans avec une pension de 9.000 Euros par mois.  Oui, vous avez bien lu!

Afin d’aider l’intégration de nouveaux fonctionnaires des nouveaux états membres de l’UE (Pologne, Malte, pays de l’Est…), les fonctionnaires des anciens pays membres (Belgique, France, Allemagne..) recevront de l’Europe un pont d’or pour partir à la retraite. Pourquoi? Et Qui paie cela?

Vous et moi travaillons ou avons travaillé pour une pension de misère, alors que ceux qui votent les lois se font des cadeaux dorés. La différence est devenue trop importante entre le peuple et les “dieux de l’Olympe” ! REAGISSONS par tous les moyens en commençant par divulguer ce message à tous les Européens.

Françoise Holterbach C.C.A.S. Mairie de Guebwiller
03.89.76.80.61 – poste 215 f.holterbach@ville-guebwiller.fr
Mélanie BARTHLY Service Marchés Publics Mairie de Guebwiller  03.89.76.80.61

Too many buildings allowed in flood zones?

From www.english.rfi.fr

French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised an investigation into building policies in France’s coastal regions on Monday, as he visited the areas devasted by Storm Xynthia. Sarkozy also pledged 3 million euros of state aid to help victims of the high tides and gale-force winds.

The government must “shed light on this unacceptable and incomprehensible tragedy as a matter of urgency,” said Sarkozy during his tour of the badly hit region of Vendée on France’s west coast.floods

“We are going to reassess building policies so that a catastrophe of this nature does not happen again.

“We cannot compromise on safety.”

The extent of the devastation caused by Storm Xynthia has drawn attention to the number of building permits granted in areas of France known to be at risk of floods.

Since 1999, 100,000 houses have been built in the 27,000 square kilometres of the country considered vulnerable to flooding.

French legislation forbids construction only in the most exposed areas. It makes no prevision for the demolition of buildings erected before the law came into effect in 1995, even where new construction is banned.

France must “tighten the rules” on building in flood zones, said Secretary of State for Ecology Chantal Jouanno on Monday.

“There must not be any construction in areas behind sea walls,” she insisted, adding however that the government is in a “perpetual battle” with people who accuse it of wanting to block development.

As well as residents of coastal regions, France’s seaside industries have also been badly affected by the high tides and fierce winds.

In addition to the 3 million euros for storm victims, President Sarkozy announced a separate aid package for oyster farmers on France’s Atlantic coast.

Salt farms in Guérande, Brittany, that produce gourmet fleur de sel have been flooded, while farmers across France have seen their crops destroyed by 150-kilometre-per-hour winds.

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