UTILITY BILL.

You can’t do anything in France without an electricity or a gas bill! It proves where you live. For any administrative procedure you will need to present one and hand over a photocopy of it. When I looked at what asylum seekers needed, the site listed passport photos, identity papers and for those who have lodgings ……a utility bill!

UNIONS 

My husband had a student who was doing a sandwich course that included twenty weeks in an industrial setting, working on a project to improve some particular aspect in a factory. The student said that he had never before had to choose his words so carefully. If he implied that better efficiency might have the effect of reducing working hours the unions would call a strike because reducing hours meant losing jobs. I often tell my students that France needs a Mrs. Thatcher. She stopped the unions being so powerful by insisting that strikes would be legal only if voted for by a secret ballot and more than 50% of the workforce was in favour of a strike. The power of the shop stewards to call for a walk-out was over. Unions had to be democratic. In France their powers have never been curbed. There have been transport strikes because the new trousers of bus drivers were too tight! There are the continual air traffic controller strikes. I have taught air traffic controllers and have asked why they are going on strike. Often, they don’t know! I always ask the bus driver, why there is going to be a strike, I just get a shrug of the shoulders! On the other hand, the unions have won tremendous advantages for their workers. In French pay packets there is often a 13th month. If you haven’t saved for Christmas it doesn’t matter as your salary is doubled each December. Some companies give a double salary just before the holidays! There are also restaurant vouchers, subsidized travel tickets, outings and paid days off for weddings and funerals, Christmas presents for your children, birthday presents for you and more. If a company has more than 50 employees there must be a union, yet overall only 7% of French workers are members of one. I recently read that one of the most powerful unions receives 1% of the income of a big energy company. Money always equals power unfortunately. When I heard a French union leader say that ‘compromise’ was a dirty word, it was enlightening.

UNIVERSITY.

University in France is very cheap compared to the UK. Fees are only 500-600 euros per year. At the end of the first year there is an exam. Those who fail it either have to leave or start the year again. About 15% of youngsters give up at that point. There are grants of 100-200 euros per month depending on your family situation. If you fail the exams and quit, the money has to be paid back. That seems to be a good motivational idea. Lecturers really are lecturers with hundreds of students in front of them taking notes especially in the first year. There is very little interaction with the professors.

TWELTH NIGHT.

In the UK January 6 is the time to take down Christmas decorations. In France it is the day to eat ‘Une Galette des Rois’, a puff pastry tart filled with almond paste, eaten in honour of the visit of the Three Kings to the baby Jesus. The inside used to contain a real bean, ‘une fève’. Nowadays the beans have been replaced by little ceramic models. Some represent the nativity characters, but the latest children’s film inspires new figures every year. The person who gets the bean in their slice gets to be the king or queen for the evening. The way to make sure that no one cheats is for the youngest person present to hide under the table. They call out the name of the person who will be given the next piece of tart that is cut.

T.V. PROGRAMMES.

Don’t worry that you will miss your favourite T.V. programmes if you move to France. The rights have been sold over here. We regularly watch David Suchet in Poirot and Inspector Barnaby in Midsomer Murders. Many programmes have a French equivalent, The Great British Bake-off becomes ‘Le meilleur patissier’ with the same challenges and the same format. Britain’s Got Talent becomes ‘La France a un Incroyable Talent’. Countdown becomes ‘Des chiffres et des lettres’. Who Wants to be a Millionaire becomes ‘Qui veut gagner des millions. How Clean Is Your House – ‘C’est du propre!‘ had two very disapproving French ladies finding incredibly messy homes and recommending Worcestershire Sauce to clean brass objects. But the French voice-over guy gives Wor-ces-ter-shire four syllables! Spitting Image became Les Guignols. Flog it and Bargain Hunt type programmes look for valuable antiques, Location, Location, Location, becomes Maison à Vendre. The presenter of which, Stéphane Plaza, appears so regularly on TV programmes in the same genre that he now has his own chain of estate agents. Gardener’s World is Silence ça pousse’ .Supernanny has a French double so has Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare. Our Gordon Ramsay is replaced by the equally big, butch straight talker but with a hidden heart of gold –  Philippe Eschebest. It’s called ‘Cauchemar en Cuisine’. Jamie Oliver’s programmes here star a chef called Cyril Lignac. Cyril’s restaurant in Paris is called Le Quinzième ‘the fifteenth’ and Jamie started restaurants to train new chefs and called them ‘Fifteen’.  How weird is that?! Who is copying who?

T.V. LICENCES.

The sum of 137€ is automatically included in your Taxe d’Habitation for a T.V. licence. It is assumed that you own one, unless you tick the box (with a cross), to say that you don’t.

TRIPE.

French peasants were poor and often starving. Dishes like ‘Tripes à la mode de Caen’ which use the four stomachs of a cow and a calf’s foot were necessary when food was scarce. However, the continued popularity of these dishes makes feeding our guests on typical regional fayre very difficult. People would wonder if they had outstayed their welcome if we fed them on andouillette de Troyes, a sausage made almost exclusively from pig intestines. The town of Sainte-Ménehould, which is less than an hour away to the south-east is famous for its pig’s trotters in breadcrumbs. Les pieds de cochon have to be cooked for between 36-48 hours to make them edible. Think how much fuel would be saved if no one bothered to eat them! Tripes/abats are words that encompasses all of what we would call offal. It is not uncommon to see not only the liver, kidneys and heart on sale but heads, feet, tongues and brains. I love to make chicken liver pâté. The livers are often sold in vacuum packs alongside packs of gizzards – gèsiers. I bought a packet once and we tried them on the barbeque. My brother will try any food, but he had to give up chewing tough lumps of internal organs made even tougher by barbequing. The closest a British family would come to eating offal is probably steak and kidney pie.

TOILETS.

There is a dislike of having a toilet in the bathroom. I picked this up from one of those TV shows where five ‘Chambre d’Hôte’ owners take turns to stay in each other’s guesthouse and criticise it. One home had what looked like a perfectly acceptable British style bathroom with a toilet in it. Marks were deducted. The reason being that it was not very pleasant to look at a toilet while bathing. Bathrooms do not often contain toilets. Toilets are generally in a separate WC with no sink. If you wish to wash your hands then it’s either, search for the bathroom or use the sink in the kitchen. Many modern, newly built flats have no hand basin next to the toilet.

TILL RECEIPTS.

I keep them all. If you have a problem with any item you have bought you will not get anywhere if you don’t have the proof of purchase, even if the product is marked with the store’s name. My stories of good customer service in the UK are met with gasps of astonishment from my students.