mardi 10 juillet 2012

S is for Selling

How do you get rid of those infuriating sales calls? They seem to have tracked us down even here. I just answered the phone to someone asking for Madame Portay. He then offered to sell me solar panels as long as I was under 70. Well, at least I qualify in that respect. I told him, in a very BBC voice, that I couldn't speak French. (He didn't seem to cotton on that I'd understood everything he'd already said.)
There was a disappointed "Oh" at the other end, and we both put the phone down. That response seems to work rather well over here.

In the UK, one of the most successful replies was "I live in sheltered housing". Other friends had different ploys. I wish I'd the courage to respond, as one did, with "I'm really glad you called. I would like to talk to you about God". Another let a conservatory salesman ramble on for a while and "Ooo'd and Ah'd" about the marvellous structures on offer, then asked politely, "Does it matter that I live in a 4th floor flat?" End of conversation.

Gavin once decided to get rid of some rather persistent Jehovah's Witnesses by telling them that we were German. They left, only to return a few days later with three copies of The Watchtower in German. Unfortunately, I was at home alone at the time. And had to say "Ja" and "Nein" as they shouted questions at me to help me understand.

dimanche 1 juillet 2012

R is for Rupert

Rupert is a great friend of mine. He's also a very handsome Standard Poodle. The good news is that Rupert has decided to write his own Blog, about his life and times in France. I might have to give him some advice occasionally, as he's never done anything like this before. So it would be good if you could give him your support too. The Blog is:

mercredi 20 juin 2012

N is for Names

N is for Names

There are a lot of “ettes” around. We know a Georgette, a Colette, a Claudette, a Henriette, and a Huguette; we’ve also heard talk of a Bernadette and a Pierrette. Here, if you don’t end in an “ette”, the next best thing is to find two long names, or ones that don’t go that well together, and hyphenate them. Don’t be surprised to be introduced to a Veronique-Dominique or a Guillaume-Georges.

It happens with surnames too, so expect to see in the local paper the announcement of the marriage of Francoise-Annemarie Ferrero-Rocher to Christophe-Sebastien Renault-Megane.

Another trick is to hyphenate a man’s and a woman’s name, so it’s difficult to guess the sex of the owner when you see the name written down. We’ve come across Anne-Francois (male) and Marie-George (female). But then, a friend called Jean had to send a photo off to officialdom. She had it returned with a letter asking for an explanation as to why she’d sent a woman’s photo in with her form. Although spelt the same, Jean is a man’s name in France.

It goes without saying that our own names can pose a problem or two. For a long time, at a social club we went to, the members called us Govan and Dolly. It was always easier to answer than try to explain what your name actually is. Gavin generally fares slightly better in the name game, although he prefers not to keep answering to Kevin. When not Dolly, I’m often Dreen. I’m seriously thinking of choosing another name and hyphenating it. Any suggestions?

samedi 9 juin 2012

T is for Translation

What remains of it hairy? Your guess is as good as mine. By some slip of the finger, I managed to activate an automatic translator on my computer. The result was that my Mac began busily to translate everything it could find. It translated French into a sort of English and even did its worst by translating English into its own version of the
language. The results were particularly baffling on the news summary Orange gives me whenever I log on. So, apart from “What remains of it hairy?”, I was told “Italy, on the verge of suffocation”, “Goal it’s very exciting” and was also informed that “The striker will miss the chickens of the Euro because of a bad act”. What a shame. Then Marks and Spencer offered me the chance to buy “Pants cut off without pliers fine scratches”. Very fashionable, I’m sure.

When I logged onto Facebook I saw the word “Cat” everywhere. It’s simple, once you get the hang of it: Facebook was offering me the chance to “chat” with my friends. “Chat” is, of course, the French for “cat”, so that’s what I ended up with. Fancy a cat anyone? According to everything I’ve read, the ads and recommendations that pop up when you’re surfing the net are supposed to reflect you: your browsing and buying history and the profile the machine has built up about you. I’ll give it the
on-line shoe stores and even the anti-wrinkle cream ads that have started to appear since my last birthday. But I’m worried that it thinks I need an English-speaking rehab centre in Spain to help me deal with drink and drug problems.

Amazon is forever urging me to buy a Berlitz guide to Norway. I once went on a business trip to Stavanger, but that’s about the only connection I have to the country. Although I’m sure it’s well worth a visit, I’ve no plans to head there in the near future. Neither, despite Orange continually thrusting hotels in Budapest at me, does Hungary feature in my travel plans. I’m not sure either, why someone somewhere thinks I might be interested in hiring a coach in Sweden. I know I don’t travel light, but if I ever went there, I would probably be content with a Nissan Micra from Hertz. Facebook, on the other hand, thinks I should go to Barcelona. Is that before or after rehab?

vendredi 1 juin 2012

S is for Shopping

S is for Shopping

Shops can be a bit of a puzzle here. Go to any small, independent store — of which there are still many in any town — and the service is invariably second to none. Ask for something as mundane as a tin opener or as embarrassing as haemorrhoid cream and you’ll be asked whether it’s a present and if you want it gift-wrapped. Say yes, and regardless of the number of people waiting to be served, the assistant will produce a little box, a flourish of ribbons and maybe a pretty card, and wrap your purchase with a degree of flair and no extra charge. They will then bid you a friendly “au revoir”, as indeed will all the other customers who have been waiting patiently.

Go to a large store or hypermarket and the story is different. The assistants at Lerclerc in Montauban are the rudest and most unhelpful I have ever encountered  — and I used to live in London, remember. On one occasion, the girl at the checkout watched as we unloaded a full trolley. As soon as it was empty, she pointed wordlessly to a sign we’d overlooked: 10 items or less. There was no-one behind us, but we had to transfer everything to the next checkout. As our stuff was rung through, our tormentor sat happily filing her nails.

We don’t go there very often. However, yesterday we ventured in as we needed something specific. Bad mistake. As Gavin was waiting to pay, I went to go to a seat opposite the checkout as my back was hurting. The girl had hysterics. I wasn’t allowed to move in case I absconded with the trolley of as yet unpaid-for provisions. No matter that I could have been caught pretty easily and Gavin was there as a hostage should the gendarmes need to be summoned.

All this, of course, presupposes that the shop you want to patronise is actually open. You can check and double check its hours, then arrive to find a “fermeture exceptionnelle” [exceptional closure]. And if it closes for lunch between 12 and 3pm, don’t even think of entering after 11.45 or before 3.15. We rushed to a local supermarket the other day just before it was due to close for lunch. I waited in the car park while Gavin dashed inside. As I sat there, a member of staff pushed a button to bring down the barricades. A lot of arm waving and shouting managed to halt the operation and prevent me from spending a couple of hours marooned there, with Gavin stuck outside clutching several tins of cat food.

lundi 28 mai 2012

A is for Animals

A is for Animals

Let’s be honest, Henri is not the most attractive cat on the block. He’s completely black with a large, odd-shaped head. He turned up in our garden about 18 months ago. As he was wearing a collar, we assumed he had a home and was just out for a stroll. As time went on, the collar got ever more shabby until one day it disappeared altogether and was never replaced. We concluded Henri was a stray.

We don’t know what his real name is. We started by calling him “Intruder”, but then Gavin felt that wasn’t very friendly, so he became Henri. Henri pops round several times a day for something to eat. He comes into the kitchen and will even let Gavin stroke him. He then gives him a little squeak or a few soft purrs, but he won’t let me go anywhere near him. Our cats, Angus and Kandy, tolerate him but that’s as far as it goes.

Last winter, during the week when temperatures rarely rose above -10 Centigrade, Henri spent a few nights on a cushion in the lounge. But as soon as the thermometer rose again, off he went. We often see him patrolling up and down the road. He doesn’t seem to want to move in, he just likes to know there’s somewhere he can go for a meal. Problem is, of course, when we go away we put our two in Gill’s cattery. Last time, we had to ask a friend to come round every day to put something out for Henri.

On the subject of animals, I now have a bit of a dilemma. I started knitting an Aran scarf in our Stitch ‘n’ Bitch group. And very stylish it is too. But somehow I seem to have promised the finished item to George, one friend’s five-year-old grandson and Rupert, another friend’s Standard Poodle. I’ve been told both are eagerly awaiting the finished product and have been assured that it’s “just Rupert’s colour” and “George is looking forward to wearing it”. Good thing really that it will take me another couple of winters to finish it. I’m sure at least one of them will have forgotten all about it by then.

Then, the white rabbit from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland featured in a test I have just taken online. I discovered, courtesy of Staples, that, should I choose to do so, I would be able to read War and Peace in 20 hours 30 minutes. Since I have yet to read Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson for my English book club (brilliant title incidentally) and Pars Vite et Reviens [Leave Early and Return Late] by a lady called Fred Vargas for my French one, I think I’ll give Tolstoy a miss for the moment.

To complete this animal miscellany, everyone around me seems to be acquiring chickens. Today I met three that have recently arrived from Normandy to take up residence in a friend’s newly-built hen house. They journeyed there in a sturdy wooden box. Other people acquire their hens as chicks from a local market but have sometimes ended up with cockerels. Not much good if you want eggs for breakfast.

Now, anyone who followed the saga of the travels of my passport will be interested to learn that after it left Brussels, it took a little detour to Lyon before reaching Toulouse and then being despatched here. And now I have just received an email claiming to be from FedEx telling me that there’s a parcel waiting for me in Fort Worth, Texas. It’s apparently too big to be delivered free of charge, so I have been instructed to download a document which I should then take to the Post Office. I’m sure that will please the staff in our local Post Office in South West France. If I don’t do this, I have been warned I will be charged $9 a day for storage.  All things considered, they can keep the package. Something tells me it’s yet another scam… Still, it makes a change from bank workers in the Ivory Coast wanting to give me €10 million to set up a charitable foundation on their behalf.

mardi 22 mai 2012

P is for Passport

P is for Passport

I needed a new passport, so I had the requisite grim and unsmiling photo taken and sent everything off to the British Embassy in Paris. A couple of weeks later I received an email with the news that my passport had left the embassy, through the auspices of a nice-sounding lady called Nicola, and had been entrusted to the care of DHL. I could, if I wished, track its progress. I wished.

My passport started by having a little night-time tour of Paris. I wasn’t too jealous as I’m going to Paris myself in August, probably without the passport. It left Paris at midnight to go to — Leipzig. That puzzled me slightly as I think Leipzig is nearer Prague than Toulouse — its stated destination before coming to me. It stayed in Germany about four hours before heading off, at six o’clock this morning, to Brussels where it arrived at 15h09. I like Brussels, so no problem there, though it did seem a rather backward move. When I last looked, it was still there, so I thought it would spend the night in Belgium. Then, at about 17h45 there was a ring at the door. You’ve guessed it. It was the passport. All I can say is that it must have covered the 929km from Brussels to St Antonin with amazing speed. Still, I don’t have to worry about renewing it now until 2022 — and I have nothing but praise for the British Embassy in Paris and DHL.