2 July 2008

France without the French

Last night I was dutifully cutting my terraces at the front of the house with my new lawn mower. It shows you just how sad a life I now lead that when my old mower decided not to start after yet another winter left rotting and neglected on the top terrace, I could not wait to go out and buy a new one. It’s like driving a brand new car – it’s smooth, uses half the petrol and I thought was quieter compared to the old one.

Down here in the scorching south, it’s a legal requirement to keep your land well cut during the summer months to reduce the fire risk, so there I was at about 8.30pm cutting away when I noticed a figure one terrace up watching me, hands on hips. I stopped the mower and said good evening (in French). He then proceeded to go and on and on in French until I stopped him. The rest of the ‘conversation’ then took place in Franglais until the Anglo Saxon bit at the end.

'I’m sorry', I said, 'I cannot understand French when it is spoken too quickly'. 'Do you have a problem with the noise of my mower', fully aware that you’re supposed to stop machinery noises in the evening but I wasn’t too sure of the time limit. Turned out it was 7pm, however in 90 degree heat the only time you can realistically work is morning and late evening.)

Off he went on another rant as if I hadn’t said a word. I stopped him again. This time he said he could not speak English. And then he started again. All I could comprehend was that it was his view that I created lots of noise with the parties and the frequent music which is a complete load of sweetbreads.

I stopped him again and asked him, 'do you have a problem with the mower?'

Well, to say that he started on again like a demented parrot would be doing a demented parrot an injustice. I said I was sorry about the noise but that it was cooler in the evenings but I would stop now.

Off he went again. However this time I let rip as best my French would allow me.

I said it was about time he cut his grass and maybe if he did a little bit of work around his house it would look better. I’m not at all sure if he understood a word I said cause he went off on one of his tirades again. At this stage I did not know what to do so I thought a bit of Jack Nicholson would do him good. I started laughing hysterically and clapping my hands with my eyes wide open staring at him. I called him a stupid old French tosser (we’re in English now) and told him to **** off and leave us Brits alone.

He went off up the hill and I went for a stiff drink and a cigarette.

Now those of you with tendencies to diffuse confrontational situations with diplomacy and reasoning, just would not survive in rural France. A French neighbour is generally a pain in the ass – they keep their distance, are sometimes pleasant but beneath the surface lurks that arrogant French pomposity that eventually will bubble to the surface and explode all over you. I have come to the conclusion (and I’m sorry to be generalistic) but every Frenchman over say 65 is a complete and utter idiot.

This is not the first time I’ve had a run-in with this old fool. Once before he shouted down about me cutting logs in the afternoon and I shouted back that he was only in his place 6 weeks a year but I lived here all year and we needed to cut logs. His only English then was the shouted statement – ‘You Engleesh are all zee same’. I don’t know where he learned it from but he’d patently forgotten it last night !

My other French neighbour started off ok. He was very grateful to me for rescuing the terraces from the jungle they had become (because they border his land) and even gave me some of his fertiliser but our relationship started to get a bit rocky when he objected to the sort of trees I was planting – what’s wrong with palm trees ? He said they looked stupid and that I should plant olive trees. I said we lived in an exotic part of the world and every Englishman (ok I’m Scottish but let’s go with the flow on this one) wanted palm trees around his house. It did not go down too well but we continued to talk occasionally.

Then my builders started getting too close to his boundary (it should be OUR boundary but boundaries are sacrosanct to Frenchmen) and he used to stand and watch them (hands on hips) and berate them if they spilled so much as a grain of cement on his side.

The final straw was when I had a Polish labourer working for me doing odd jobs. He did not speak any French and very little English so I was rather upset when I returned to the house one day to find my neighbour shouting and screaming in his face about some stones he had taken from a bit of scrub land at the end of the lane. When I enquired about why the stones were so important he said something about ‘stopping the boars’ but whatever he meant didn’t mean anything to me. I offered to put the stones back and said my Polish friend has no English or French but as last night, he started again to shout and scream at him, waving his arms in that menacing way.

I’m afraid I resorted to my Anglo Saxon again and told him to get off my land.

Since then we have had a nodding acquaintance but even that may now be a thing of the past if the two old French tossers up the hill got together last night for a drink !

Oh France would be a magnificent country – all they have to do is get rid of all the French !

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