Just before getting married, French young people go into town and do crazy things just like British young people. I was a bit shocked to see a future groom wearing a hangman’s noose round his neck ‘la corde au cou’ and another time there was a coffin as part of their props. The fun activities are celebrating ‘l’enterrement de vie de célibataire’ – the burial of the life of the single person. T- shirts may carry the motto ‘Game Over’ and the young man might dress as a prisoner wearing a ball and chain round his ankle. I think it is a sad concept to be thinking of marriage as being the end of all fun times rather than the promise of a wonderful new life together.
When I married, I thought I would never again use my unusual maiden name of ‘Loveley’, yet French administration wants to use it once more! ‘Nom de jeune fille’ is often requested. Letters arrive addressed to Madame Brodier-Loveley.
In 1935, Jack Buchanan sang that in England, when the clock strikes four, everything stops for tea. In France, when the clock strikes twelve, everything stops for lunch. When we were moving from one church building to another, there was a lot of work to be done. My husband and I went along to help. As it was Saturday, we hadn’t got up very early and arrived at about 11.30. We helped for a while, then tables were set up, bottles were opened, food appeared, and we had to sit down for one and a half hours, because it was time for eating! We needed to leave at 2 p.m. to do something else. We felt very guilty! Lunch is the main meal of the day in France. It needs a starter, main course, bread and cheese and often wine and must be followed by coffee. Panic will occur if even a simple lunch has no bread.
A friend gave us a book with an item from history to read for each day of the year. The entry for October 5th is about the Revolution in 1789 when the women of Paris decided to march to Versailles. ‘Il est 10 heures du matin et il pleut. Cinq heures de route, fait à pied en tirant à mains nues plusieurs canons. Vers 16 heures, après êtres passées par Auteuil et Sèvres, elles arrivent épuisées au château’. = ‘It was 10 o’clock in the morning and it was raining. A five-hour journey on foot pulling with their bare hands several canons. At about 4 o’clock they arrived exhausted at the chateau having passed though Auteuil and Sèvres’. Hold on a minute! If it was a five-hour journey why did it take them six hours? They obviously stopped for lunch!
French people cannot say to each other ‘I love you’. The word ‘love’ does not exist as a verb in French! ‘You are crazy’ I can hear you thinking, France and love go hand in pocket! However, it is true! ‘Je t’aime’ only means ‘I like you’. J’aime chocolat, les vins rosés, le jardinage, camembert etc’. I like all of those things. If a French person wants to say that they love you, the only way is to say, ‘Je t’aime très fort!’
I have been surprised to find how popular this children’s story is with adults in France. Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was voted the best book of the 20th century by French people. Quotations such as, ‘One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eyes.’- ‘On ne voit guère qu’avec le cœur: l’essentiel estinvisible pour les yeux’, are taken my some as life principles.
When we lived in the UK, it was a pleasure to hear the letters dropping onto the front door mat in the morning. Unless you live in a town house whose door opens onto the street, you will not have the excitement of hearing that noise in France. Blocks of flats have everyone’s letterboxes in the entrance hall. French letter boxes are usually placed at the edge of the property. A day in your pyjamas is not possible if you want to check your mail. The postman possesses a key to everyone’s boxes so parcels can be left in it. He only comes to the door if a letter needs signing for. Comparing the distance walked between French postal workers and British posties, the Brits walk further. Previous postmen used to ride a motor scooter along the pavement. Now, he/she arrives in an electric vehicle. So, I think the British postal worker deserves the Christmas Box! (See CALENDARS)
My husband hates to be late. I can’t understand why being late is part of French life. It was a shock for our daughter to find out that if you are late for school and the class has started, you could be locked out of the classroom. Schools are very firm on punctuality. So, when and why does the habit disappear later in life? In the town where we live there is the expression ‘the Reims 15 minutes’ – meaning that everyone arrives 15 minutes after the stated time. Apparently, arriving on time for social occasions in France is a cardinal sin and it is polite to be late! ‘Le quart d’heure de politesse’.
One distinct advantage of arriving on time is that there is no one there to kiss. Later arrivals are the ones who have to tour the room and greet everyone. It always seems very impolite to us Brits to have to break into people’s conversations, in order to ‘faire la bise’, then to have to leave that group in order to search out others that you have not yet greeted.
When was the last time your local council painted the lamp-post outside your house? Approximately 5 years ago, we were very surprised to see a cherry picker in the street and men painting our metal lamp-holder from top to bottom in a shade of green. Just recently we returned to the house and I asked my husband to remember what colour the street-lamps had been? He replied, ‘Green’. I told him to look out of the window. The lamp-posts had had another new coat of paint. This time it was grey. Two coats of paint in 10 years, is that good value for money from the 350€ we pay in Taxe d’Habitation each year?
Obviously, the French speak French and the English speak English. However, it is very interesting to see from Shakespeare’s plays, how little French has changed in 400 years in comparison with the English language. In Acts 3 and 4 of Henry V there are two scenes written in French (Scenes IV in both). Pistol, the English soldier says to a captured Frenchman, “Yield, cur”. We no longer use ‘yield’ but ‘surrender’. Nor do we use ‘cur’ for ‘dog’. The captured French soldier appeals to Pistol’s better qualities with, “Je pense que vous êtes gentilhomme de bonne qualité”. = ‘I think you are a gentleman of good quality.’ There is nothing in that sentence that cannot be understood by a modern French person. Pistol replies with, “Qualtitie calmie custure me. Art thou a gentleman? What is thy name? Discuss.” Language that is incomprehensible today. I will quote another exchange because ‘calmie custure me’ is debated as inaccurate by scholars.“Ô Seigneur Dieu!” says the Frenchman, to which Pistol retorts, “O Seigneur Dew should be a gentleman. Perpend my words, O Seigneur Dew, and mark: O Seigneur Dew, thou diest on point of fox, except, O Seigneur, thou do give to me egregious ransom.” In twenty-first century English we no longer use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ nor the ending ‘-est’ on verbs, and few would know that ‘a fox’ was a term for a sword! “Ô, prenez miséricorde! Ayez pitié de moi!” = ‘Have mercy! Have pity on me.’ “Est-il impossible d’échapper la force de ton bras?” = ‘Is it impossible to escape from the strength of your arms?’ The Frenchman continues in language perfectly understandable 400 years later. We have to thank the members of the Académie Française, which was founded in 1635 for their work of codifying the rules of grammar and the spelling of the French language, for sticking to the task so tenaciously.
Surprisingly there is a lot of New Zealand lamb on sale in France. Here is a fascinating little story for you which explains why. In 1985, the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior was in a New Zealand Harbour waiting to go and protest in the Pacific against French nuclear tests. French special agents were sent to sabotage the boat. Two bombs were placed aboard, one small one designed to not do a lot of damage but only to make people get off. Another more powerful bomb would explode a few minutes later that would sink the boat. Unfortunately, a Portuguese photographer returned to his cabin to fetch his expensive camera and was trapped and drowned in the second explosion. The French agents were soon caught. France had to pay compensation to New Zealand and Greenpeace. As part of the deal a certain quantity of New Zealand lamb is allowed into France each year without having to pay import duties or taxes. French lamb is mostly indoor raised. It never sees daylight nor runs on grass. Indoor rearing means antibiotics are regularly used. So, if you want free range lamb look for a NZ label. Lamb is traditionally eaten with pale green flageolet beans that have been dried and soaked. Mint sauce and roast potatoes would raise eyebrows.