In the fourteen years I lived in my house in Maidenhead, Berkshire, I cannot once recall anybody official coming to the door for any sort of government programme. OK – the police were there quite often and of course the Jehovah’s Witnesses would call now and again and there were the pizza delivery guys and then the gypsies trying to flog stuff they’d stolen from my neighbours, but there were no government callers, either local or national.
In France it’s different. You get calls from the government wanting to inspect your septic tank (fosse septique). EDF (the electricity company) wanting to check that you are using electricity the correct way, and then of course you get the Marie (town hall) and police turning up when you’re building to ensure you’re adhering to the building and planning regulations. Recently we had a woman climb into the jungle to give me my census forms and then she came to the house the following day to ensure we’d filled them in correctly! And she didn’t let me go until I’d told her all about the neighbours, when they’d be in, etc. The local council guys come round every summer to make sure your jungle is not too dense and if you have the temerity to light a fire in the garden, the spotter planes buzz you to ensure everything is in order. The firemen call round once a year just to show off their muscles to bored housewives and to sell you a calendar. The postman pees in the lane beside the post boxes and then expects you to buy a calendar from him as well. Invariably the calendars are the same!
It’s just another indication that the state in France is alive and well and employing everybody they can find on government business.
For my part, apart from when these organizations accost me in person and I cannot escape their attention, I ignore their letters and phone calls.
At a party over Xmas, I was talking to one of my friends who’d also received the ‘fosse septique’ letter sent to every household and being the good citizen he thought he was, he’d actually called them up and arranged an appointment for them to inspect his septic system.
A largish report landed on his doormat a few weeks later with recommendations for remedial repairs and a date by which the repairs had to be undertaken and a further date when the ‘government inspector’ would be back to ensure the repairs had been carried out. It was all going to cost a couple of thousand euros. And all because he’s a good citizen – unlike me!
He was staggered that I simply ignored the letter, and in fact, all letters and they just seem to forget about me. Of course, if we all ignored them it’d be a different matter!