In the UK, we have more than 6,000 charity shops. Often High Streets are overflowing with them. Oxfam alone has 750 outlets. Charity shops help recycle our old possessions while at the same time feeding the poor in many countries or paying for research into deadly diseases. The only one that has successfully established itself in France is Emmaus, but you won’t find any charity shops in the town centre. Empty shops in the UK can be rented cheaply as a landlord would rather have a low rental than have an empty shop that could be vandalised. VAT is not paid on donated goods. Emmaus shops in France are found in out-of-town locations on industrial estates where rents are lower. Clothing bins are to be found in supermarket carparks. The better quality clothes are resold, others are sent to poorer countries, but a lot of clothes, depending on the charity, are shredded to make loft insulation.
Our house overlooks a cemetery. We have been told that this could be a problem when we wish to sell it, as French people can be very superstitious. This could explain why cemeteries are well hidden from view, often behind high walls. Let me give you an example. When I was researching the life of my great-uncle George Tinsley Loveley, I was looking for the civil cemetery in a village on the Somme where he was killed. Every village has a cemetery. I looked on the village website, I looked on maps of the village, I typed it into search engines – nothing. In the end, I went onto Google Earth® and ‘walked’ around the entire district. One country road had a hedge on one side with a tiny layby at one end. I showed it to my husband and said, ‘I think the cemetery is behind that hedge.’ When we visited the area, we drove along that lane and sure enough, there was the cemetery I had been looking for, well hidden behind some greenery. French people visit their family graves much more than the average Brit – they have to. If graves slip into disrepair, they are reclaimed by the municipality. Any bones are moved to a communal ossuary and the grave space is used for a new burial. Many modern grave concessions only last for 30 years, so there is no ‘rest in peace’ for the average person. However, if you die during a war for your country, the grave is marked with a little tricolour metal disc which means that no one will ever dig up your bones! Graves are usually visited at least once a year to be cleaned and polished. People often make the journey during the October half-term and leave flowers for All Saints’ Day on 1stNovember. Whole families arrive with buckets and brooms to do the annual clean up. However, there are some people who visit the family grave every day and one friend goes both in the morning and again in the afternoon!
See also an article i had published in the Telegraph Expat section.
Children read Asterix and Tin-Tin, but French adults are seriously into comic books too. The market is enormous. Over 800 are published each year and more than 21 million are sold annually. ‘Les Bandes Dessinées’,which translates as ‘drawn strips’, is used to describe them rather than comic books.They are read by professionals and the middle-classes. In fact 40% of French people regularly buy them. A friend of ours has written one about the history of champagne. I think a British person would say that the last comic they read was when they were in junior school.
Black cats are supposed to be lucky in the UK, but in France a black cat is unlucky.
I don’t know anyone who has a wall to wall carpet in their house in France. People might have a big rug in the sitting room, but that is all. We had to fit a new bathroom as soon as we moved into our French house as the previous owners were in the process of changing it when they needed to move. To cover the old flooring quickly and cheaply, we bought carpet tiles. This has drawn remarks from our French friends. It is just not done in France; but we prefer warmth under our feet when we have to get up during the night! You know what I mean?
Just before moving to France, I was a frequent stall holder at a local car boot sale. No such thing exists in France. They are illegal. However, every town and village has the right to organise an annual Brocante. The alternative name is a Vide-grenier as it gives everyone the opportunity, once a year to ‘empty’ their ‘attic’. By typing ‘Vide-Greniers’ into a search engine, you can find your department and up comes a list of every brocante that is happening in your area the next Sunday. Prices for a table are very reasonable, usually less than 10€ for 3 metres. The downside is that they start at unearthly hours on a Sunday morning. For a start at 8 o’clock, people have to get up at the crack of dawn! There are sometimes surprising finds. Friends saw a hamster cage on sale and upon closer examination found that it came complete with a hamster! They couldn’t let the poor creature sit in the sun all day, so they bought it as an act of kindness.
Many parts of your personal information have a lower case letter and not a capital. Month of birth – janvier; where you live – rue/allée/impasse/avenue Aristide Briand; nationality – anglaise; religion – chrétien.Plus, days of the week are not capitalised either.
If you work a full day for a company over a certain size, they are obliged by law to give you a midday meal. This can take the form of a meal voucher ‘chèque déjeuner’ of around €9 or they must provide a restaurant. These are unmarked and often in the basement of the building. Just watch where people are disappearing to at midday.
There are 8,500 km of navigable waterways in France. Canals are still used to transport grain and goods. Champagne is sometimes transported by barge as it is harder to hijack a barge than a lorry. One barge replaces 15 lorry loads of merchandise. If you want an environmentally friendly holiday, a canal barge ticks all the boxes except one. Sewage is discharged directly into the river. There are very few waterside facilities for it yet in France. The England and Wales have only 2,270 miles of rivers and canals for your pleasure. But, did you know that Birmingham has more canals than Venice?
You will never be short of a calendar in France. From November onwards people knock at your door holding calendars of various qualities. It is illegal to ask for, or to give, a ‘Christmas box’ to tradesmen, so they turn up with a calendar, for which you give a donation. It was our first year in France, and one evening I was alone in the house. I heard a knock on the door. When I answered it, there were three men standing there who just said, ‘Poubelles’! I could not understand why they wanted my dustbins at that time of night. They repeated it, another couple of times before disappearing down the road. I was completely mystified. As I mulled it over, I vaguely remembered a passage from the book ‘Living and Working in France’. I got it out and started hunting through it. Eventually, I found the passage where the author explained about tradesmen and Christmas boxes. He wrote, ‘If you do not want your rubbish spread out in the street for the next year, give a donation and get a calendar’. I was very worried until the next bin collection, but my rubbish was taken away as usual and I realized the author was writing tongue in cheek! Not only the dustbin men, but the postman and the firemen, will call holding calendars and expecting at least 5€. I wonder if they would like a pot of homemade marmalade instead?