All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Kippered in France

KippersImage by Walt Jabsco via Flickr

Roaming the supermarket, I don't pay close attention to the 'sell by' date on the packaged goods. The 'packed on' date is more important with eggs, though I'm lucky enough not to have to buy the anaemic offerings masquerading as such as the hens still provide, despite long passing their own 'sell by' date - the date at which the battery farm sold them for one euro apiece, poor bald creatures that they were. It took them days to come out of the shelter I provided for them...days longer even to try walking over the grass...but I knew they would be O.K. when they started catching insects. Beady eyed descendants of the dinosaurs, I am very fond of them.

However, returning to the supermarket shelves. I have never been obsessive about 'sell by' dates, as some of the yogurt in my 'fridge would bear witness, but this was another lesson France had in store for me. I had been eying the turkeys in a local outlet one year, which were marked as having a last day of sale of 29th December. Keen to get a bargain, I was at the door before opening time, slalomed round the pensioners' trolleys as the bell rang and arrived at the poultry counter. No turkeys. Well, not whole ones. Not with that ' sell by' date. Just lots and lots of turkey portions, all dated 4th January. The same thing...with slightly different dates.... the next year...and the next. Conspiracy theorist I may be, but by the pricking of my thumbs, I think someone is chopping up the unsold poultry into portions and extending the date of sale. The coincidence of date and transmogrification is too much.

Cheese - the sort sold packaged on the shelves - also has 'sell by' dates and here they are a boon. I like the little logs of goat cheese and, thanks to inadequate stock control, the local supermarket frequently has loads of them in its 'last day' section on the chilled shelves. Their idea of last day is my idea of 'well, it's just starting to get ripe', so I load the trolley and transfer the lot to the salad section of the fridge, where they can fester until ready. Given the increasing difficulty of getting ripe cheese on the cheese counter itself, these little logs are super. Especially when half price.

I was subject to censure once when raking through the 'last day' bin...I had found a load of Isigny butter and had collared the lot for the freezer when a disapproving woman spoke up.

'That butter is for everyone.'
'Did you want some?'
'No. I don't buy outdated food.'
'Then just call me Mme. Everyone.'

She mooched off to complain at the checkout that the foreigner was monopolising the 'last day' bin. Getting no joy there, she came back to complain to this time I was at the fish counter...that we foreigners only came to profit from France.

I had a vision of D day landing craft swinging their doors open on the beaches of Normandy, unloading the British hordes to scavenge in the 'last day' bins of French supermarkets across the Hexagon in order to deprive honest French women of their half price butter and cheese...never mind the booze, get the butter! As a vision, it was lacking something. Reality, probably.

It must have been one of my better days, as I did not detail for her just how difficult it would be to profit in any way shape or form whatever from France.....and it must be a better day today too as I don't propose to detail it here either...but I did suggest that she got a grip.

'Who was I to tell anyone French how they should behave in their own country?'

The better day feeling evaporated with the speed of a pint of beer in the hand of a thirsty fast bowler in the days before degenerate energy drinks sapped their will to nail the batsman to the stumps.

I suggested that since I was paying taxes to support families breeding like flies which neatly avoided French firms having to pay reasonable wages to the ordinary worker, since I was paying to support a health and social security system with enough gaping holes of waste to support several third world countries and since I wasn't allowed to vote for the self satisfied cretins who ran the whole shebang, I rather thought that I could say what I liked. And to whom I chose. And when.

This being France, this is not strictly accurate...functionaries of all sorts are protected by law from receiving the full and frank opinions of the governed, but since she wasn't wearing a kepi or a tricolour sash, I thought I was on pretty safe ground.

She turned away muttering and flushed with the healthy release of pent up fury I indicated to the lady on the fish counter which kippers I would like.

She lifted them up for approval.
A fine coating of mould embellished the fleshy side of each.
Wordlessly she put them back.
Wordlessly, I passed on.

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  1. you are too funny.
    I hope the book comes out someday.
    Debunking the French Dream.
    It must be quite an experience for a French person to get reamed out in their own language from a foreigner!

  2. Zuleme, Frances, over at France and the Unknown has been encouraging me...and I have started to compile material...but I'd probably lose more in being sued than I would gain by publishing!
    As to the language..yes, you're right, she wasn't expecting it thus the collapse of stout party, I think.

  3. Offensive busy-bodies are sadly universal.

  4. I have never understood that bizarre sort of "nationalism" wherein people think that just because something's in their country it belongs to them- like migrating birds or rivers (or in your case outdated food!)

    How odd that she should think that it should be "kept" for poor French people, or if they can't come in time, then thrown away (by French in France!) instead of being used by anyone who gives a sou!

    Ah, as my father in law used to say, "Buy them books, send them to school... they chew on the covers."

  5. Pueblo girl, it was a bit of a bolt from the blue, I must say. I suppose, given the love affair between the French and their bread, that it was just as well it wasn't the day when I pick up the outdated bread for the chickens!

    truestarr, I'd never heard that comment before, but it made me laugh a lot.
    You get much more antagonism to foreigners expressed these days compared to my own first days in France. I put it down to jealousy...when it turns out that the heap of stones they sold you for what they thought was a fortune has been turned into a lovely house, and sold on at a profit. The glee with which the press regard the plight of British with money problems returning home is quite distasteful....and very overblown.

  6. I have long had an idea for a book from my insider's view of the human cat fight over a local animal shelter. It would probably get me sued too, though I would certainly change names to protect the guilty.

  7. Zuleme, the more I talk to people who observe a lot but worry about being sued if they disclose what they know the more I think that the libel laws protect a lot of very unpleasant people and allow them to continue their harmful ways.
    Not to speak of what happens to whistleblowers in employment...

  8. I really miss the "last day" bins/shelves they have in UK supermarkets. They just don't have them in Turkey. In fact the last day is just ignored by shopkeepers anyway...everything just stays on the shelves regardless of date. It used to bother me when I discovered I'd bought something out of date, but not anymore. I just eat it and hope for the's usually OK!

  9. I was trying to think what words I would have had to search for in my out of date brain to say what you said and I think you must be far more fluent than me. Bloody cheek the woman had.

    The only time I encountered a similar type of thing was when I was rushed in to a two bedded hospital room as a third bed. I was an emergency admission (kidney stones blocking the liver)and this old vache started on about foreigners taking up space in hospitals. It is a mark of how ill I felt that I did not take her on.

  10. Ayak, yes, you're right...I don't remember seeing them in Turkey. Mark you, mother often picks up stuff at the corner store which is well out of date. As may be imagined, she comments on it and inevitably receives the reply
    'That is why it is so cheap,madam.'

    French Fancy, they think we get it for nothing. They have no idea that the UK pays for about eighteen months which gives you time to get into the system at which time you pay through the nose for their inefficient way of operating.
    I get somewhat annoyed about these ignorant old bats trying to tell me how I am living on their backs when the obverse is the case. It has, however, honed my French.
    I bet she can sing 'Marechal vous voila' as well.

  11. You are right about the threat of being sued helping bad people keep going. The animal shelter story in my community is a long tale of personal vendetta and ridiculous power struggles which have almost closed the place several times. hmmm. Maybe I'll start my book just for the heck of getting it all out.

  12. Zuleme, do be careful...people unpleasant and self obsessed enough to put themselves above the needs of harmless animals won't hesitate to have a go at you. Your only defence is to declare yourself bankrupt and dispose of all your property...then there'll be nothing for them to get! Crumbs...are there still debtors' prisons, though....?

  13. As a general rule, yoghurt can safely be eaten unless it is growing hair. Any kippers with hair are unsafe regardless of sell-by dates.

    The butter-monitor was what we might call "une chienne dans la mangeoire".

    Publish and be damned.

  14. nodamnblog, it was something that had never occured to me before...why do we have idiot sell by dates on the cheese and yogurt and none at all on fish...where it is far more vital!

    I'm probably already damned...all that remains is to publish!

  15. What gets me is people who promote kindness to animals and then are cruel to their fellow human beings.
    And the latest shelter director will be getting 70,000 a year. As heard on the grapevine of course.
    At least the animals are being cared for. Even if the SNAFU fired the person who really really cared about the place, raised the money to build it and had the respect of the community for her dedication.
    Nothing they did was illegal but certainly nasty.

  16. Zuleme, people get jealous, then they convince themselves that 'in the interests of the person running the show' some 'outside professionalism' needs to be brought it and before you know where you are, the place needs to raise money for salaries mthat the original founder would never haqve accepted.

    Seen too many 'horse rescue' farms in my time.