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.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Normal service will be resumed....

Men Working Tractor and Threshing MachineImage by Wisconsin Historical Images via Flickr
Summer is over, and life returns to normal.

Families are storming the aisles of the supermarkets in search of school notebooks with pages divided into little squares...which I feel somehow accounts for the way the French think...firmly within the box with the lid nailed down.

Having returned from their holidays, the railway workers are going on strike shortly, but this might be preferable to what happened recently while they were still at work when some bright spark managed to mix up the front and the back of the train at Lyon station so that those going to Milan ended up in Zurich and those going to Zurich ended up in Milan.
Fans of Fawlty Towers will not be surprised to hear that the train came from Barcelona and that the driver knows nothing.

A person somewhat detached from reality drove into the courtyard of the President's residence, the Elysee Palace, at four in the morning...only it wasn't the usual person somewhat detached from reality who is still on holiday in the south of France taking a break from presidential duties.
Let no one blame the gendarme responsible....considering what he must see passing him on a daily basis - ministers, politicians, foreign dignitaries - a car with a flashing light must have appeared quite innocuous.
Even at four in the morning.

Gypsies of Roumanian origin are being returned to Roumania, whence they will return to France in due course, thanks to the open borders of the European Union and the services of Eurolines.

Gypsies not of Roumanian origin are being moved from noticeable encampments to less noticeable encampments  so that they 'cannot be found' by tax inspectors reluctant to enter into dialogue with the owners of top of the range cars, caravans and chainsaws.
This must be part of the campaign to reduce government spending as I calculate that for every tax inspector entering a 'travelling people's' encampment - here - you would need to add the services of a platoon of riot police; the tear gas and rubber bullets associated with same; the services of ambulance, fire brigade and hospital personnel, the cost to the social security system of the resulting time off work of all those enumerated above and, last of all, the big expense - the fees of the spin doctors who will present the fiasco as a success for the law and order campaign.

Austerity is the watchword..not that any politician dares use it...but, as usual, it is more do as I say rather than do as I do.
Having announced big cuts in ministerial budgets and arranging to sell off quantities of government property to pre-selected bodies, the President still sees fit to maintain his official residence off the coast of the south of France even though he actually spends his summer hols with the in-laws at Cap Negre nearby.
However, he did use the fort to have a meeting with his Prime Minister and two other colleagues recently....either to justify hanging on to the place or because he was ashamed to have people visit a house with sewage disposal problems.

Out in the sticks, though, local government has been listening.
The big end of summer event locally is a fete with demonstrations of old farming machinery..... real 'Walter-Gabriel-falls-in-the-threshing-machine' stuff....and tractor agility competitions.
It attracts a lot of farmers, and anything that attracts a lot of farmers attracts a lot of local politicians, anxious to court their votes.

Wherever you have politicians you have speeches and this fete is no exception.
First up is the deputy....the member of parliament.
He belongs to the opposition so has no access to the gravy train. Thus his speech is full of promises about what he would do if he could.
Next up is the local member of the Conseil General...the county councillor.
He belongs to the majority political party, but the opposition controls the county council and the regional council, so his access to the gravy train is extremely limited too and his speech is thus a mirror image of that of the deputy.....just reverse everything.
Then we have the leader of the Pays.......a body which claims to represent the local communes. He wants to know what the first two speakers are going to do about all the things that they have carefully not mentioned in their speeches.
Finally we have the maire of the commune which houses the fete and we turn at last to serious matters.

'Who is going to pay for the vin d'honneur?'

Now, in rural France, people are willing to put up with the endless speeches. They are the tax you pay for access to the table full of glasses and the racks of bottles and casks behind......the vin d'honneur.

Normally, for this fete, the Conseil General provide the wherewithal, but, as the maire points out to the audience who are by now in a state between open revolt and cardiac arrest, this year, it has decided it cannot afford to do so.

After a great deal of extempore oratory from the floor the maire calls for order and announces that, exceptionally, the commune will pay.
Clearly he has prepared his coup well in advance as minions promptly appear with tables, paper covers and boxes of glasses while others push in trolleys with the casks and bottles and the usual rush of the gadarene swine begins, to the hum of approval for the maire's respect for rural tradition.

For once, the politicians do not circulate, but make a discreet departure, shaking hands with the beaming maire.

I am not so sure that the inhabitants of his commune will be so happy when they get their local tax demands next year, though.

The funding of local authorities has changed under the Sarkozy regime and the Taxe Professionelle - the tax on businesses - has been abolished. Unfortunately, this was one of the main resources of income for local government, so while business rejoices home owners tremble.
After all, when in search of revenue, the easiest thing is to go for assets which cannot be property.....and it has been estimated that the average homeowner will be paying about 200 euros extra on their property tax bill next year to compensate for the loss of the Taxe Professionelle.

Not content with that, the local land registries have been geed up to make a re-evaluation of property values with a view to raising the tax base and, accordingly, I have received a form H1 with an annexe to form H1 which requires me to enumerate the number of shower trays and washbasins I possess and to venture out with a tape measure to confirm the extent of my outbuildings.
Among other things.

I have a source at the local Land Registry.
Deep Thirst.

Deep Thirst tells me that the panic is on. Apparently, there hasn't been a re-evaluation for years with the result that old houses which had been given a minimum of wash basins and shower trays in the 1970s are taxed at a higher rate than houses which acquired their washbasins and shower trays later.
I know this to be true.

Despite reporting that I had converted a two bedroom house to a four bedroom house in the 1990s, I was still paying less property tax than did my neighbour with a two bedroom house which had been assessed in the 1970s. No one in that period was interested in the property tax...they had the Taxe Professionelle.

However, this being rural France, while the panic might be on, the panic is selective.

Deep Thirst informs me that while I have received an H1 and its' annexe, as have the Americans who bought the place at the other end of the commune, the notaire who managed to sell the Americans the house together with two fields which did not, as it happened, belong to it, and who is busy converting the stables and outbuildings of the chateau in the next commune, has not and will not be the happy recipient of an HI and annexe.
Neither will farmers.

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  1. Fabulous post Fly.

    I just love your dry humour. This is definitely one for the book!

  2. "tractor agility competitions" - I have a mental image of tractors straining to touch their toes and finding it impossible... which may of course be a good image for the whole economical debacle.

  3. Ayak, you just could not invent rural France!

    Steve, yes, it would make a good image, you are right.
    The sight of the more modern ones waving their antennae about makes me think of crustaceans in a synchronised swimming event.

  4. Who had to pay the taxe professionalle? Love the train story!

  5. Zuleme, business paid the TP...I did when I had holiday cottages.

    The train thingy made me laugh, so accustomed as I had been to having to be sure to get into the right half of the train when I was commuting to and from London.

    Do you know the Fawlty Towers sketch with Manuel, the waiter from Barcelona? Who knows nothing?

  6. An excellent round up of La Vie Francaise. We have been warned re the local tax and that EDF are putting their prices up to pay for the 'green fuel' and it's subsidy.

  7. Brilliant post. Much enjoyed by our visitors who are confirmed francophiles. Thank you.

  8. Lesley, the bit to watch out for on the H1 is the bit about the uses to which your outbuildings are go the undeclared gites with their en suite bathrooms...

    Rosie, glad your guests enjoyed it. It's a great life in rural France if you don't weaken!

  9. Every day that I receive another letter from the government...yesterday it was a scary letter regarding paying my income tax which I don't pay because I have no income in France, and today another request for another paper in the continuing saga of getting my French driver's license....every one of those days I must remember to not falter... show no signs of weakness...or I will be eaten by the wolves! Great post, Fly

  10. Delana, It does quite depress me at times...just deal with one thing and another envelope appears in the post box.....
    Glad you enjoyed it.

  11. We've just had a letter from the pooh police-
    'Where is your fosse septique?'
    'When did you last have it emptied?'
    'When was it installed?'

    Haven't a clue, as we live in a really old house in the middle of the village with no attached land. Enquiries amongst our neighbours are met with a Gallic shrug and muttered comments about 'une communal'.

    Oh well, they are due to descend for a visit at the end of the month. I hear the rumble of the tumbril and the creak of the guillotine as the blade is hauled to the top of the frame!!

  12. Jo, check your acte de vente at once and see what it said about drains.

    Ours are lying low at the moment.

  13. Oh I have missed you, Fly. I had to laugh at the day out involving farm machinery. We had this sort of thing going on all the time near us - in fact not far away was a museum of old machinery - yes, that would be a riveting day out I am sure.

    One week in the UK and the only thing so far missed from France is the light traffic on the roads. Mr FF misses 'home' far more than me but then he has not spent much time in France this year.

  14. French Fancy, have to live full time in France to see the advantages of leaving it,I feel...
    So pleased that the move went well and lovely to have you back in circulation.

  15. FITW ..... it don't say nuffink ! That was the first place I looked.

    I think I'll leave all the talking to the significant other .. he can only say 'Hello' 'Goodbye' and 'How are you?' in French. That should cover it!

  16. Jo,....ah well, I see you had the privilege of dealing with a traditional know, one of the ones who protect your interests...
    Would it open a can of worms if you were to talk to the secretary at the mairie?

  17. Fly, another post that makes me miss La Belle Vie not one little bit! I was following a septic tank emptying lorry the other day that had printed on the back 'this tanker is full of political promises'!

  18. P(V)LiF...the French are so chauvanistic because they have no point of comparison.

    In the U.K., mother aged 95 is having a hip replacement followed by a knee way would she have this in France where age is all.

  19. My dearly beloved and I wish to buy/build a home together but he is looking ahead and says that housing will be taxed ever more, so the wisest thing is to build small. I still have my boys with me for a few years yet though, so we need to build for them too.
    The future doesn't look rosy for house-owners.

  20. Sarah, I agree, it doesn't. Just wait for the removal of tax exemption on the sale of the principal residence.
    But what is one supposed to do? Buy a caravan from a Rom?

  21. Hi Fly,
    Yes we do know and love Fawlty Towers and Manuel from Barcelona. And in our rural life we have the Fryeburg and Sandwich Fairs. Cows, chickens and tractor pulling galore.
    And all the dreadful food you can imagine.

  22. Zuleme, oddly enough the food at local fetes varies from the dreadful, on stands with greasy merguez, to the good, in the tent where local volunteers do it all, from washing the snails to frying the chips.