Sunday, 7 October 2012

Meet the (English) neighbours

Whilst we appreciated Jacques thoughtfulness in inviting another English couple for tea, we did live to regret his action. At least twice a week when we are in the village, Stella finds an excuse to drop in, usually but not always accompanied by Richard, and takes charge of our living room for at least an hour. This always seems to happen just when Mrs S and I are planning to nip into Châteaubriant before the shops close for their obligatory two-hour lunch break, effectively putting us back three hours in whatever job we have on hand. There was even one occasion when we were on the point of leaving to catch the ferry and I had to run the gauntlet of every speed camera en route in my effort to make up the lost time. The time we tried saying, "Sorry, but we are just going out," and pulling the door shut behind us didn't work: Stella just pushed the door open and walked in anyway. We have now resorted to letting Stella sit in the living room while we just get on with whatever we were doing. Even if we are going shopping, we just leave, asking her to shut the door behind her.

Fortunately, we can leave the door unlocked in relative safety, the crime rate in the village being virtually zero. Since we have owned a house there, there has been just one crime. Another Englishman bought a house on the crossroads and left his trailer on the pavement outside. One morning he went out and discovered the trailer had been stolen overnight. The theft had, of course, been committed by somebody passing through and not a villager. As far as we could make out, the village spoke of nothing else for at least three weeks.

We never did meet that Englishman, or even learn his name. Jean-Paul did tell us that he bought the house in order to live near his daughter, who had married a Frenchman from a small town some thirty minutes away. Whatever his name, he eventually sold up, telling all and sundry that he was fed up with living in a village where nothing happened and he couldn’t even get a full pint of beer. Mrs S and I were not sorry that we never met him.

Or maybe I did. Chris and I were browsing the shelves in Mr Bricolage one day - our trips to France are never complete without at least two visits to the emporium, usually on the same day because we forgot something the first time. We were gazing in bewilderment and awe at the vast array of drawer knobs or something similar, when we were approached by a red-faced man who had obviously heard us speaking in English. From what he said, we gathered that he lived in France, but he obviously missed England and launched into a tirade about the things that the French did wrong, ranging from the overuse of olive oil to driving on the right. We tried to get away, but he found us again as we were hiding behind a ride-on lawnmower. In the end we left the shop without buying what we had gone in there for, and sat in the car waiting for him to leave. He must have latched on to somebody else as it was a full twenty-five minutes before he came out.

The next day we were in the supermarket in search of lunch when he caught us again. Chris "accidentally" ran the trolley into his shin and we managed to escape while he was hopping on his undamaged leg and shouting profanities in what sounded like Swahili.

I have never been able to understand why some Englishmen like that gentleman choose to live in France when they want it to be an English France, with thick-cut marmalade, Marmite and Heinz baked beans. Mrs S and I met more of them one evening in the village restaurant. We were, as usual, the only diners when Jean-Paul informed us that a party of six was due to arrive. He announced proudly that they were English, just as if they had travelled from Bolton or Bournemouth especially to eat at his restaurant. Contrary to Jean-Paul's assertion about the punctuality of the English, they arrived forty minutes after the time they had booked and sat at their table braying loudly about how they had managed to reduce the gardener's wages and so on.

Jean-Paul introduced us, explaining that we owned a house in the village, whereupon the woman with the most jewellery (and the loudest voice) immediately switched to her version of French to talk to us. One of the men pointed out to her that we were English.

"Well," she exclaimed, "I know that!" and continued to harangue us in execrable French.

It is not often that I wish the floor would open up and swallow me, but I did that night. One of the party complained about the starter he had chosen – an unusual but excellent salad that is a house speciality – and sent it back to the kitchen. Another complained that his lamb was pink – which is, of course, the way the French eat their lamb – and sent it back. Then there was something wrong with the wine. We pointedly ignored them when we left and commiserated with Jean-Paul, who offered me a glass of the rejected wine. As I suspected, there was absolutely nothing wrong with it.

I was telling Jacques about this the next day and saying that I felt I should apologise to Jean-Paul for the behaviour of my fellow countrymen.

"I shouldn't bother," said Jacques, in his usual phlegmatic way. "There are plenty of Frenchmen who are just as bad."


Our village restaurant, then decorated for Christmas.


Buck said...

I have never been able to understand why some Englishmen like that gentleman choose to live in France when they want it to be an English France, with thick-cut marmalade, Marmite and Heinz baked beans

I'm all TOO familiar with that mindset, what with spending nearly half of my Air Force career overseas. I met countless number of people who never left the base to explore the local area, and of those who DID do some limited exploring, they never ceased to whine and moan about how "primitive" or "different" the locals were. I found that attitude both inexplicable and supremely aggravating.

Uncle Skip, said...

The folks who bother me are the ones who move from one place, because for some reason they are less than satisfied, to another that appeals to them. Then upon settling in, begin complaining about how their neighbors operate so differently from their last residence.

#1Nana said...

We had similar experiences when we lived in Central America. When we were first there and homesick we talked to any English speaking person who ventured into our village. In fact, the bus drivers usually brought any English speaking travelers to our door. After we adjusted to life in Nicaragua, we had little interest in passing tourists who only wanted to complain about nobody speaking English.

the fly in the web said...

Our postman collects foreigners..a very hospitable man whose hospitality is all too often abused by the freeloading fraternity.

Brighton Pensioner said...

Thanks for dropping in, Fly (or should that be Costa?). Hope to see you again sometime.