Visiting friends for a prolonged period has been a pleasure. Not only have I been housed, fed and watered, I have been entertained and, best of all, included in their lives. There has been a lot of catching up to do.....their family news, the work on the house, the garden....but also a different society to observe. It's still French, but it does different things, sells different items in the bakery and speaks a different patois.
One thing never changes, however - the British colony. My friends have one too although why I should be surprised with the number of British immigrants to France I don't know. I suppose the presence of a large, self contained group of foreigners on French soil still surprises me as much as it must the French. My friends are not recluses, but they do try to keep out of the maelstrom of anglophone Christmas fairs, book clubs and quiz nights which abound in their region, just, as they say, to be able to do what they came to France to do, live quietly in a rural area. The presence of guests did not pass unobserved so they have had a number of Brits dropping in for a coffee to eye up the new arrivals and see what they could learn about my friends from a brisk examination in chief of the unwary guest. From the drift of the questions, there seems to be great interest in what my friends did for a living before moving to France and what they are living on now....I hope and trust that the enquirers went away as ignorant of both elements as when they arrived as my friends have managed to keep this information to themselves for all of the fifteen years that they have lived in the area, not seeing it as anyone's business except that of the taxman. Paul says that he has long had an urge to let it be known, by nods and becks here and there, that he lives on the profits of immoral earnings, which would, given the nature of his local colony, no doubt earn him great respect and an elevated place in the pecking order, but Jenny is not in favour of this course as she would inevitably thus figure either as a retired madame or as the 'fille de joie' who managed to hook the brothel owner. We all agree that, given the age of all concerned, she would not, at least, figure as a pole dancer as this was an unknown phenomenon in those faroff days.
It has been, in a perverse sort of way, interesting to compare their colony to mine....mine is a bit subfusc, really. Even the well known anonymous letter writer has been fairly quiet recently, apart from accusing a friend of being the author of this blog and threatening her with 'consequences' should she name or make mention of the activities of the said anonymous letter writer. Am I alone in finding this somewhat bizarre? You don't put your name to the letter but you assume the recipient to know who you are and thus to avoid offending you. As it happens, a fair swathe of the British immigrants could easily name the person concerned, who has been responsible for a great deal of pain and hurt in her time, but, as always, people are too frightened of the consequences to take her to task.
Round here, though, my friends have a different sort of set, arrived later than most of my lot, a bit louder, more keen to compete for pole position in the pecking order and thanks to their visits of inspection I have been able to appreciate the difference.
There are several 'self made men', a phrase which always conjures up visions of people with bolts through their necks and a certain lack of flexibility in the joints, proud of their achievements and keen to share their pride with others. By way of their monologues, I have learnt a great deal about running transport businesses, property empires and waste disposal enterprises, all of which leads me to wonder why, having had so much success, they have been content to downsize to the extent thay have in moving to France. Their wives are all running 'little businesses' to keep themselves from boredom, none, to my knowledge, declared to the authorities and there has been a great deal of indignation about a recently arrived couple who set up an IT business, all duly declared and in order, which is held to have usurped the position of the established IT person....who is not duly declared and in order. Clearly, a couple who do not know their place.
I don't get too hot and bothered about people working black...it is, after all, a French habit....but I find it a bit rich that those doing so complain of those who don't.
This part of the group pride themselves on their knowledge of food and wine, or at least on what certain items cost and, although I have not been invited anywhere for a meal, Paul and Jenny tell me that an entire evening can be spent describing how their hosts used only to drink Chrystal champagne until discovering Krug, all the while being served a sparkling wine made by passing gas through a tank of ordinary white. They can't make up their minds whether their hosts have come down in the world, or whether they, Paul and Jenny, are held to be unworthy of the Krug.
Others, lower down the pecking order, know their place....the people who do gardens, run the fish and chip van, look after holiday houses and suchlike. They provide a good source of gossip for the Krugers....so and so is drinking again, so and so's wife has left him, so and so hasn't been seen for weeks.....who in turn provide a good source of gossip for the lower orders....so and so is drinking again, so and so's wife has left him, so and so hasn't been seen for weeks.....each group gossips about the other and keeps its' own affairs to itself, unlike my local colony, where everyone gossips about everyone else regardless of percieved status.
Still, the two colonies share one characteristic...solidarity in the face of threats to the group vision. My friends know a couple who have lived in the area for quite a few years, retired teachers who bought a ruin, spent their holidays renovating it and kept themselves to themselves when they made a definitive move to France. They had to return to the U.K. last year when the mother of one of them started to have health problems and for various reasons found that they needed to stay longer than initially envisaged. Accordingly the wife came back for a few days, engaged one of the houseminders, showed her what was what and asked her to do a few designated jobs for which she was paid in advance.
They have just returned. Their radiators were not drained down in the sub zero temperatures of last winter and have burst.....the ceilings are green from the resulting deluge....furniture and white goods are missing....there are telephone bills for the period of their absence.....the electricity bills are surprisingly high for an unoccupied house.......and their garden, their pride and joy, is a wasteland.
Their first visit was to their houseminder, who got her retaliation in first by showing them a print out of her work sheets and demanding extra money for all the extra work she had had to do mopping up after the burst radiators. Not altogether surprisingly, they refused to pay. The houseminder is now waxing indignant throughout the colony...her reputation has been put in question......she did her best for ungrateful people whose work she only took on as a favour because they were in trouble....the storm is gaining in volume as it makes the rounds. Interestingly, there are few voices raised in support of the teachers and the general opinion is that they should have made 'proper arrangements'. I asked one of the visiting women what might be more proper than employing someone at an agreed wage to do an agreed job and received the reply that the teachers should be ashamed of themselves, taking advantage of poor X when they had comfortable pensions, etc... If there is a logic here, it escapes me.
However, the solidarity reminds me of situations in my colony.....caretakers taking anything but care of properties, even renting them out as gites on occasion, and the owners stigmatised as ungrateful whiners! The power of the group and the sanctions handed out to those who marr the group vision are phenomena which I wish I had the academic background to study as it deserves.
Stil, there are plenty of other things to engage my attention.....I shall be returning home soon and once recovered from the journey will have to see how many plants have survived the unexpected cold snap....I wasn't expecting frost for a while yet. Still, at least I haven't paid someone else to neglect them.