dimanche 12 septembre 2010

E is for Everyday Conundrums

On n’avance a rien — We’re getting nowhere

Sometimes it’s the little things that make life difficult.

Route barré

You’re driving to a place you have driven to many, many times. Suddenly you see it — a sign saying ‘route barré’ [road closed]. The resulting ‘deviation’ takes you through several industrial estates, a quarry and the southern part of Belgium, before depositing you a kilometre further along the road you left several hours earlier. Sometimes the ‘route barré’ sign will have some exceptions listed — if you are an hgv delivering something, you can go through; if you have an ‘T’ in your name or were born in December… You get the picture. But, somehow, I am never allowed past.

Lost in France

Getting into any town is quite easy. Simply follow ‘Centre Ville’ [town centre] and voila, find somewhere to park, go shopping, have a meal or explore. Getting out of a town you don’t know is not quite so straightforward. You can’t go back the way you came because of the one-way systems.

You drive off and come to a roundabout: one exit leads to the hospital, the next to the municipal rubbish dump, then there is ‘Toutes Directions’ [all directions]. Actually, there are two exits for ‘Toutes Directions’ — one is for ordinary traffic, one for heavy loads. Don’t worry about that, after about 50 metres they both go exactly the same way. You follow either of the ‘Toutes Directions’ signs for another couple of roundabouts, then they disappear, to be replaced by two exits that lead to places you’ve never heard of, another goes to Paris (despite it being 700 kilometres away) and, finally, there is ‘Autres Directions’ [other directions].

You follow that. You come to one last roundabout. There are signs to lots of new places, but not the one you want. You go round the roundabout twice more. You spot your destination — in the opposite direction to the way you were heading. You turn round. You start again.

We’re closed

You’ve checked and you’ve double-checked. The shop you want to go to, 50 kilometres away, is definitely open on Wednesday afternoons. You set off and arrive to see a large sign ‘fermeture exceptionnelle’. There is never, of course, any explanation as to what exceptional circumstance caused this closure. So you go home and try another day.

Do not pass go

The French seem to like blockades. Fishermen blockade the ports to protest at fish quotas; lorry drivers blockade the roads to protest at fuel prices; milk producers blockade distribution centres to protest at wholesale prices.

It can be inconvenient if you get caught up in one, but don’t worry. At around midday everyone disperses and heads for the nearest café. We did think of blockading Calais when we were having such problems getting a phone installed. But we didn’t want to miss our lunch…

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