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Saturday, july 29, 2006

Different habits in France

Finally it rains. The windows are wide open. It must have cooled down at least fifteen degrees Celsius. The French have a beautiful word for heat wave: canicule. The heat is so suffocating that it gives you the feeling of being locked up in the boot of a car. Thát we did not have here, but in the surrounding departments, like Hérault, Gard and Lozère they did. We experienced this once in the Hérault and it was devastating. The lovely Gard where we initially wanted to buy a maison en pierres (and for that matter eighty million other interested persons), now fears a large and permanent drain on tourism due to the yearly returning harsh demands against spilling water, such as refreshing the level in swimming pools, watering the lawn and garden.

Well, we´re just in North-Aveyron, but we do not suffer a canicule and are being treated to fresh rainshowers every now and then.

Deirdre, Halldor and Ruud admiring the large hailstones.

In the background I can hear a French TV station. It is about Leonardo da Vinci. Last week we had to buy a new TV, because our Dutch set doesn’t work here. After Ruud linked up the new TV, we crept together on the coach in order to zap lazily over all the channels. But with only three stations, we finished zapping rather quickly.

When we didn't have a TV yet, we regularly watched DVD's on the laptop

Live here is different, that´s for sure. When you go on holidays, you’re like a visitor in the zoo. The host land is the monkey and you watch amazed and amused to the cute critter behind bars. But when you go to live in that holiday country, you step in the cage yourself and everything changes. Even though we are unfamiliar with the habits, we live here, we have a French license plate on our French car and we have mini rights and duties like the French have. We suddenly changed our view of the country and its inhabitants, and they see us differently too.

The French that live here don't understand it. Arrived last week? How nice, on holydays I presume? Live her? Got any relatives down here? No nothing of the sort, but why are you here then? If we tell them that in the Netherlands on a surface approximately four times the size of Aveyron there live sixteen million people they look at you in disbelieve, that cannot be true?

The Aveyron
The Aveyron is one of the least densely populated area's of all departments in France (270.000 inhabitants on a surface the size of Friesland, Groningen, Drente, Overijssel) and it is draining, like wise as so many other agricultural area's in France. There are many elderly people and few young, one can even see that in town here.

The Aveyron (12), at some places the lowest population density with 7 inhabitants/km2

Just a little down the road near our apartment there is a youth pub with the meaningful name Le Hagard (The savage or something like it). On the fourteenth of July there was a sign with the text: “fermée à cause du 14e juillet et de grosse fatigue” (closed because of the 14th of july and enormous fatigue). Ah well, it is mainly attended by rough looking French workers, way past there puberty. I don’t dare to go in there, but Ruud would probably fit in very well. At first there would drop a thundering silence, after which they'd greedily inform about his height, because 2.02m ("en toutes proportions?") that’s unprecedented here.

Ah well, they can be so surprised that we moved with all of our belongings to here. I’d wish to send all them French for a week camp in a suburb of Utrecht. En let them eat unripe nectarines or pears from the local supermarket. And they would have to travel Monday morning by train to Madurodam and eat the cold apple pie that has been sagging behind the glass since seven in the morning. And the worst task of all would be to find a place to picnic between the dog turds and pit bulls. Yeah sure, they'd turn back screaming and grant every Dutchman asylum for free, with or without family.

Compare this dull single form apple pie... this suggestive, erotic French pastry, and judge for yourself which one would you choose... all right, the apple pie, but admit such a pastry looks very cheerful

Meanwhile we do the best we can to understand the people here. I mean, they are relaxed and social, granddad and grandma are visited almost daily by children, grandchildren, the family ties are strong. It┤s for a good reason why the number of deaths caused by the heat wave of 2003 were lower in the Aveyron compared to the rest of France.

But there are certain things that really make you notice you're living in a different country. The first thing one would do in the Netherlands was to register at the city hall, of course, and so did we. But that's not the system here, because in France you don't really exist until you got an electricity bill or a phone bill or are registered on an electorate list. They don't register people in France. For us to be acknowledged and participate in long term reductions, we need to be fiscally residents. We thought that was not too difficult, since we are writers and should directly be recognized as residents, as is written in French law. Yeah, everybody knows, except for the tax department.

The bureaucracy in France is completely bonkers. It goes like this.... one day you decide to clear up a few things and go to the tax department yourself. You go to the floor where you're expected to report, but then it appears your on the wrong floor. Next you go the right floor, where once again you hear that you have to be on another floor. When you arrive there, it appears you don't need to go to another floor, but to a totally different building.

In that building you can trace about the same route, but at least you can stay within the building. And then... finally someone that can help you, they give a six page form to fill out and sign. O dear, o wait... you are a writer, but then you shouldn't be here at all, you will have to speak to Mr. Holt. Oui mais... ah never mind, it's is no use to contradict.

The form is not shredded or crumpled, o no, it is neatly folded and put aside in the tray ┤cancelled mail┤. And this Mr. Holt, where can I find him? He is not there now. When is he in? Only on Wednesdays between three and four. So there you are on Wednesday between three and four. The clock tics away the seconds while you wait and wait, because Mr. Holt is already in conversation with somebody else. And then finally, five minutes before time, it's your turn. Now it should succeed. Ecrivain? (Writer?) But than you need a this or that form. Yes, but I have to get that from the Netherlands. Yes, so.? And so it meanders on and on, till one time, it has to succeed one time, at least we hope./p>

The bureaucracy with it’s strict division of tasks has as consequence that nobody, really nobody, gives more information than necessary, because suppose you might say something that your superior should say. One really has to find out, inform and question everything by himselve. Maybe the servant on duty knows what your looking for, but suppose he says something, someone else should have said, and suppose that this someone says something he should have said...

When you make payments in France, you will encounter a method of payment which in the Netherlands only your landlady of 80 once used: cheques. Cheques are holy, everyone uses them, literal for everything, and more even for payments between persons. And don't think you can write an uncovered cheque, "bounced cheques", here are faux pas or "totally not done", you will get blacklisted and treated as a criminal. It is a form of sacrilege, he who writes cheques, has to have sufficient balance, final.

But you do get used to it very quickly, because, whether you pay rent, a meager amount of 12.50 at the supermarket, or an amount with four zero's at the notary, you get addicted to using it, because with a wad of cheques, your pen and a big fat signature, you have the illusion of being in fairyland, where next to prunes even money falls from the trees.

This willow hasn’t given us any money, but off course that’s why its a weeping willow.


posted by Ruud at 01:01

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July 2006
- Different habits
- The house
- Vermin
- Neighbors
- Arrival in France
- Departure
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