Brazil is not responsible for the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. A country that requires triplicate copies of every piece of documentation must shoulder part of the blame. I took out a small insurance policy to cover me against any accidents my students might have in my home. It was 34 pages long! The insurance office also keeps a copy and a copy goes to their headquarters. Over 100 pieces of paper that no one will ever read! When I ordered a compost bin from the local council, the very helpful man installed it in my garden, then waited to be invited into the house. I wondered, ‘Why?’ He produced some documents for me to sign – in triplicate. One for me, one for the Town Hall, and one for the suppliers of the bins. Friends have an estate agent’s. I used to go there to teach their son. Behind the public office were stacks and stacks of boxes reaching up to the ceiling and overflowing down the stairs. They explained that they have to keep every document for ever. It was a fire hazard caused by French bureaucracy. The French call this overabundance of paperwork ‘paperasse’.
QUEUING. A queue is ‘une file d’attente’ but don’t expect to see one at a French bus stop where it is every man (or woman) for themselves! However, I was very surprised while queuing in a supermarket, that someone with a trolley load of goods turned and said, ‘N’avez vous que cette course? Allez-y’. = ‘Have you only got that amount of shopping? Go ahead.’ This happens quite regularly, so be sure to hold your two or three items so that the person in front of you can see them clearly. The most chaotic experience we had was when we went to our daughter’s school to see the teachers on parents evening. Outside the doors of 3 classrooms were a crowd of parents waiting to see one of the three teachers. There was no system, no orderly queue, we had to keep our eye on the new arrivals and try to work out who had come before us and who had arrived after us. We had never been to a school open evening that was so disorganised!
To have a degree in France is just the start of having qualifications. To get a good job students go on to take a masters which they feel is the minimum they must have. In the UK experience counts for more than certificates. Many French young people go to the British Isles to get their first job because it is far easier to be taken on if you are keen and willing in the UK.
In the UK we make purées for our babies when they have no teeth and cannot chew. On the other hand, it seems that it is a culinary art form in France. It must be lump free and just hold its shape. To be offered 3 different vegetable purées at one meal is not unusual. I wonder if French people think we are not up to scratch in the kitchen when they eat quite solid mashed potato in the British Isles?
PUPPETS. If you love glove puppets, marionettes and shadow puppets then Charleville-Mézières is the place for you! Every two years they have an international puppet festival that takes over the centre of the town. It is now in its 18th year. When we visited, we watched an old man tell the story of Little Red Riding Hood using props that were fixed onto the front of his bicycle. When he had finished he folded it all up and rode away! I assumed that nothing like it existed in the UK, but I have just found out that Beverley, near Hull, also has a puppet festival every two years. Beverley has 9,000 visitors and Charleville 150,000! Charleville not only hosts the festival it has a School of Puppetry.
For a country that is bankrupt, there always seems to be plenty of public money being spent. Since we moved to Reims 10 years ago, we have seen a new bypass being built, a new football stadium, a new east-west TGV railway line and station, a new tramway system, the old station has been turned round and a new frontage built, the old derelict market halls have been repaired and modernised, many old houses have been pulled down and replaced by modern flats, the cathedral has been cleaned and statues replaced and the canal bank has been made into a recreation area from the north to the south of the town. By contrast the town of Lowestoft, Suffolk, where I was born has been waiting for a third river crossing for nearly 50 years to relieve the crippling congestion.
Our town still has a facility where people without a shower or a bath in their house can go to wash themselves. There are 16 establishments in Paris where a 20-minute shower is free. The first one to open in the UK was in Liverpool in 1828, but none are still functioning today.
Having spent 10 years in the teaching profession and 20 years bringing up children, good pronunciation has been a significant part of my life. I used to make the children in my junior school class repeat, ‘We are going to Miss Thacker’s Maths class on Thursday’ until they had mastered the ‘th’ sound. I find it annoying to now have to miss the endings off most of the words in order to have good French pronunciation! I know that some words in English like Wednesday become ‘Wensday’ and that verbs ending in ‘- ed’ jump from the root to the last letter. ‘Altered’ is not pronounced ‘alter red’. I must now say ‘Jesu’ and not Jesus, and ‘vaniya’ for vanilla! But it works both ways. One of my students worked in London for a time and on arrival needed an underground ticket for Leicester Square. She politely asked for ‘Lie-ses-ter Square’ to which she got a ‘Huh?’ from the lady in the ticket booth. After three attempts the lady finally cottoned on and said, ‘Oh, you mean Lesta Square!’ We have to pass through the department of Aisne to get to our home. For quite some time I assumed it was pronounced ‘Es-na’. When my students tell me that English is difficult to master because of the many unsaid letters I write A-I-S-N-E on the board and then cross out all of the letters except the ‘N’ – all that is pronounced out of 5 letters!
A friend’s little boy heard that he was going to be studying ‘L’histoire de l’ar’ in school the next day. When his mother asked him, ‘How was school?’, he replied. Mummy, I understand now about L’histoire de l’ar. It is not, ‘L’histoire de l’ar’, it is L’histoire de l’ar! After some questions, she understood that he thought he was going to learn about the history of ‘lard’ (the term for bacon and pork products) when in fact he was going to be doing history of ‘art’. What he was actually saying was, ‘Mummy, I understand now about L’histoire de l’art. It is not, L’histoire de lard, it is L’histoire de l’art’. The unpronounced last letters can make comprehension difficult for even French children, teachers and parents.
Many guidebooks to France will tell you that ‘priorité à droite’ is something that you only find in remote rural places and that it is dying out. In actual fact the right of drivers who are in a side road to drive out in front of you is very common. Even new estates have roads that continue this practice. If people have more heart attacks in France, then ‘priorité à droite’ could easily be the cause. I was driving home through the town one rainy evening, thinking about the course I had just been teaching, when suddenly someone drove out of a side street ahead of me. I slammed on the brakes and was left with a palpitating heart and a cold sweat. I presume that the mayor’s office uses it as a traffic calming measure as, once you are aware of it you drive with caution when approaching side roads on the right. A road sign before the junction of a red warning triangle with a black X in the middle should warn you of this hazard.
French ex-prime ministers are given 2 police officers to protect them, a free furnished apartment in central Paris, two domestic staff, a chauffeur driven car and 65,000€ a year. Ex-prime ministers cost France 10.3 million euros annually. Lady Thatcher won a grant of £40,000 a year for ex-prime ministers, but no other perks.