Image by that_james via FlickrDeterminative sign of the penetration of the British into French life.....the Irish tinkers find it worthwhile coming over to perpetrate the tarmac scam.
The gendarmerie are investigating the case of a person who agreed to have his drive tarmacadamed...you know how it starts.
'Good morning to you. We are working in the area and we're just finishing up and we have a bit of tarmac left....then we noticed your drive could, not being rude, you understand, do with a bit of improvement, and as we have the tarmac it won't cost you much...'
Well, the client agreed, the drive was not laid with tarmac but with what was described intiguingly as 'British gravel' and the whole thing cost a fortune. The disgruntled client legged it to the gendarmerie and, amazingly, it was open and they agreed to accept the complaint. Other rumours, had, it appeared, come to their ears of the activities of the black gang running under the name of ....as reported...'Construction Dany O'Donaghue'. Typo, or an attempt to transcribe Danny with an Irish accent?
I think I can save the gendarmerie a lot of time - just check the 'Irish' pubs in the region.....the ones where they set fire to the bar at the end of the evening..... as the usual habit of the black gangs is to make a killing and not return to work until the killing has been, in the best sense of the word, liquidated.
A further sign of the recognition of the British presence. Those awaiting the flight from Poitiers to Stansted were astonished to see a light aircraft buzzing the airfield and releasing lots of leaflets. These proved to contain disapproving comments on Segolene Royal...Socialist party candidate at the last Presidential elections...and Martine Aubry, General Secretary of the same party. I know that Royal is President of the Poitou Charente regional council...thus Poitiers and its' busy airport is a prime target...but wouldn't you think it might occur to 'cellule sdf75', the supposed originators of the stunt, that most of the people waiting for a flight to the U.K. would be British and, for the most part, ignorant both of French language and French politics?
The indignant and maligned can form a line on the right.....I'm just thinking about most of the expats I encounter.
The resistance of the expat to the French language is quite astonishing. Local authorities set up courses, some of which are amazingly good and some of which degenerate into gossip shops, but it always strikes me that the average expat has no real motivation to improve. There are enough British in France now to allow people to form a social life independent of French, and a lot of people thankfully do just that. I think lack of confidence in learning languages is at the bottom of it, rather than the old imperial attitude of speaking English very loudly, and the age of some of the people coming over is another factor. I am not a good language learner at the best of times and when the brain is poised on its' skis for the downhill slalom it is not the best of times for new acquisitions. I notice that a few services have been set up to deal with your French paperwork and sort out your problems generally, so even that imperative to learn French has been removed. Whether they are any good is anyone's guess...I don't use them so I don't know...but I've seen a few self styled translators in my time and the results would make your flesh creep.
There has always been the exploitative expat around. It started with estate agents and carries on these days through financial advisors and service providers.
The next queue for the indignant and maligned may form on the left. There are reputable people doing all of the above and there are the others. It is of the others I speak.
Years ago, when the trickle started to become a flood, French estate agents used to 'employ' British negotiators to deal with their compatriots. Employ was always a misnomer...they were not employed and worked on commission...as do many to this day....nor were they registered with the professional bodies. Not that being registered is any guarantee of honesty or competence, it's just that French estate agents are warier these days and like to shrug as much responsibility as possible off onto their subordinates. Some of these first negotiators were well meaning people anxious to earn a bit on the side while some had ambitions.
There was one very amiable gentleman operating in my area in those days, when estate agents had a habit of dropping a bunch of keys and vague directions into your hands and letting you loose on their properties. He reformed all this. He accompanied all the foreign clients and took a mental inventory of the contents of the empty properties.....he never had to buy wood for winter, he emptied the wood stores of the properties on the firm's books. Choice furniture and ornaments would likewise be transferred to his custody...here, you must remember that French and British aesthetics differ, so while the family would have removed anything of interest to them, that left quite a lot of scope for the British collector.
His best coup came on the sale of a rural property which featured a run down house for renovation, stone outbuildings and a large Dutch barn at the back of the property. The client liked it, but, having used up his holiday entitlement, left a 'procuration', a power of attorney, with the agent to represent him in the sale process. Not a problem with the purchase, but when the proud owner came over on his next holiday, he found that he was no longer the proud owner of the Dutch barn. It had disappeared.
He eventually tracked it down to the yard of a local farmer, who seemed intent on covering his entire farm with metal structures. The farmer had bought it from the negotiator, who, when upbraided by the client, explained that he thought that the Dutch barn spoiled the property and was an eyesore, so he had got rid of it.
Not a penny of compenation was forthcoming.
There was a lot more going on than met the eye with this chap. A lot of clients seemed to have entrusted money to him for reasons which they were never keen to divulge when eventually, the gendarmerie were goaded into taking an interest in his activities and it appeared that very little of this was ever recovered, but the victims stayed quiet. I still wonder what all that was about!
Another pair had a different style. They left the card for their holiday cottages in the estate agents' offices, paid a little commission for recommendations, and had the victims to themselves, offering help as long term residents...well, longer term than the victims, anyway....guiding them to likely properties where another commission would be generated for the successful introduction, and, over drinks in the evening, as if by chance, the local builder, plumber and Uncle Tom Cobley and all would drop in, preparing the ground for the renovation contracts, when yet another commission would change hands.
There were any amount of these chancers about, but, how, I ask, as an innocent potential buyer, would you have avoided their toils? Watch out for your friendly neighbourhood expat exploiter is not one of the warnings I have read in the books preparing you for your move to France.
These days there is some protection in that a lot of people buy near friends or family and have a readymade back up system in realising their dreams of starting a new life outside the U.K., together with, as I say, the readymade social life to cushion the shock of change. The danger is that it cushions it so well that they may never really get to know the country in which they have chosen to live.
Sometimes, when I open the post, I think that that might not be such a bad idea!