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, 16 October 2010

What to do when France is on strike...

Description unavailableImage by Nocturnales via Flickr your transport.

There is one sure rule to follow when buying a car in France.
Always buy one with a diesel engine.
That way, when farmers or lorry drivers or Uncle Tom Cobley and all block the refineries and the petrol pumps run dry at the supermarkets, you can always fill up from your central heating tank.


I wouldn't worry too much.
The customs are too busy hanging about on the roads into France from Italy and Andorra in the hope of confiscating the knock off  Gucci handbag you bought on your holidays to be on the lookout for red diesel in your tank...and anyway, it's not worth their while to run checks as they would probably find most of those concerned to be farmers who cannot be touched under any circumstances, so, in my book, it's a gamble well worth taking.

Just remember to fill your central heating tank at the first signs of public unrest.

This will not help you, unfortunately, if you wish to leave the country from Charles de Gaulle airport which has currently managed to run its supplies down to almost zero....I can't see your pilot being very appreciative if you drive your car 'airside' and offer him a syphon and tube with the injunction to get sucking.

Try to avoid big towns.
Union leaders know they exist, and will doubtless soon have endless convoys of lorries circling their ring roads until they run out of the fuel they have been blockading in the refineries and just happen to break down on every major intersection.
By keeping clear of the cities not only will you avoid the lorry drivers, you will also avoid those streams of self righteous teenagers bunking off school for the day who have a tendency to get annoyed when you won't put some money in their collecting tins to pay for the post demo booze up.

Stock up at your local all your local supermarkets...for when their supplies of food run out.
The French have never managed to master 'just in time' stocking at the best of times and a strike of transport workers is no time for you to be testing their capacities in an emergency situation by looking for an aubergine for your imam bayeldi recipe.
History will tell you that the French do not excel in emergencies.
There is no handbook to follow.

So, having secured your supplies and locked the cap of your central heating tank against those who walk by night with tubes and jerrycans you can sit back and watch it all on the television like the majority of the French because, despite all the placards and shouting, physical involvement in protest is decidedly limited.

Why aren't they all out with their billhooks and pikes?
Because billhooks and pikes are no longer used by union members...and it is the unions who organise protests as part of the unholy tripartite process of negotiation with the bosses and the government which has bedevilled France since the last war.
The unions who represent a tiny proportion of French workers.

Think about it....why don't the unions send their lorries to blockade the employers' organisation HQ?
Or government offices?

Because they're all in this negotiation together, that's why and poodle does not eat poodle.

The schoolkids do not understand this...they think it's all about fairness, or jobs, or abstract they annoy the unions mightily by trotting off to stand outside MEDEF...the bosses' HQ, not understanding that they are thus introducing a snake into the jolly game of ladders that the grown ups understand.
If you have a twisted sense of humour, take a look at the facial contortions of a union leader congratulating the youth of France for their involvement while all the time wishing them at the devil, because their lack of understanding of the realities gives government a chance to change the pattern of the ritual negotiating dance.

If, however, you find that counting demonstrators on the television does not induce a well earned siesta...what else is there to do to forget that the country is at a standstill?

You can trust the British to some up with a solution.

A friend has telephoned me with the news that, over in Ste. Mere Maquerelle, Mrs X - translator truly extraordinaire - is starting a 'salon'.

Salon du the, salon de beaute, salon de toilettage...?
No a salon.
A proper salon.
A regular gathering where social, literary and artistic affairs are discussed....usually presided over by women.

It is a French invention, dating from about the seventeenth century and coinciding with the dominance of the royal court over the nobility....bringing them from their independence in their own chateaux to dancing attendance on the monarch at vast expense.
Having assembled these people, something had to be done to amuse them, so, apart from endlessly rehearsing ballets and suchlike, people would gather in the houses of ladies with literary pretensions to pass an evening exchanging allusions.....the salon is credited with civilising the French nobility, teaching them to spit out witticisms rather than phlegm and keeping them off the streets.

Now, I note that my friend saw fit to telephone me with this news rather than send an e mail.
E mails are fine, but no 'smiley face' can substitute for the whistle of incredulity or the sharp intake of breath that really juicy news deserves...let alone the evil cackle.

So why does Mrs. X's venture deserve a telephone call?

Well, she is after my time....I moved from St. Supplice before she moved into Ste. Mere Maquerelle....but I know the company she keeps, and still hear the local gossip via the friend who 'phoned me.
Mrs. X is one of the local 'helping hands'...that is to say hands which help themselves to the money of those they assist in the British immigrant community by looking after holiday homes, gardening, translating, etc..(.here.)
Unlike some areas, where there seem to be battles for dominance, the Ste. Mere crowd seem to have got their act together and sorted out a pecking order so that everyone gets some chance to have a go at the later arrivals, (here), so this 'salon' must have majority backing.

So what's she planning?

Well, said my friend, I've got the flyer here.
It says she wants to recreate a French cultural institution to help expats assimilate better to French culture even though they don't have good French. It's to explain cultural references to them in a light hearted social atmosphere to help them to integrate better.

So there'll be French people there?

Oh no! She thinks that might discourage people from coming if they had to speak French.

That's never on the flyer.

Yes it will be an all expat affair, to encourage participation!

So who's going to be helping people to understand French culture, then?

She is...with, according to the flyer, other 'local community leaders' like smiley face could substitute for the wild outburst of mirth at this point.....Paul the Perv......cries of 'No!'.....and The Performing Elephant.

Shrieks! Howls! Groans! How can laughter hurt so much!

I decline to further identify Y, Paul the Perv and the Performing Elephant...they are well enough known in their vicinity....but suffice it to say that their  joint and several knowledge of the French language and culture would not inspire confidence.
Not that they need the confidence of others...they supply their own in abundance.

But there can't be many new arrivals these days?

Oh, there's not been much of an exodus here, you know, and there are quite a few holiday home people coming over for good now they've sold up in the she'll have quite a bit of prey.

Are you going?

Well, I have to show my know how it is.

Why didn't she ask you to help out? Your French is much, no, of course, I'm getting slow in my old age, that's just why she didn't ask you!
Anyway, you can have some fun.

Not what I call fun.

Yes, just can ask her what things mean...tell her you've heard this phrase or whatever and ask what it means.

No, she'll twig I'm pulling her leg and you know how vicious she is.
But I could take Arthur. He doesn't care what he says to anyone.

Good idea. And she'll take anything from Arthur because he wears tweeds, carries a walking stick and has a big house.
Let's make a list.

Right.....Limoge (sent to Limoges).

And......mettre en placard....(put in a cupboard).

And what about beaufs, bobonnes and la bouffe?......(French archetypes and their food).

What about Groland?
Well, that will do to start with....get Arthur on the job.
Oh, but what I don't understand is, what's in it for her?

Well, that's on the flyer too. There is going to be wine and nibbles...done by Sophie...and there'll be a 'participation' of twenty euros.

In that case get Arthur to ask her what 'niq ta mere' means too.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. The more I learn about France and French politics the more I think Allo Allo is a documentary.

  2. This is all for my benefit. We're coming to France next week, or at least we'll be trying to. Last time they sent snow, this year they're sending strikers. Don't know why I bother! I'm so glad you commented on the student element in the strikes. A friend posted of Fessebook about her child's involvement in them like it's something to be proud of. They don't have a clue these lyceens!

  3. P(V)LiF, and it's not as if their system of education is going to give them much by way of clues either.
    Would you mind making a public announcement of your future descents on France about one month ahead so everyone else can cancel their travel plans?

  4. Hilarious story about the salon Fly!

    And as far as having to suffer France on strike...I bet you can't wait to get away!

  5. Really, Fly! Language! :D

  6. Let's see, still two hours to get to the supermarket/fill the van with diesel (and order a fuel delivery for tomorrow) - thanks for the tips and insight.

  7. My eldest bunked off on Thursday to join in the fun. I was furious and I doubt he'll be doing that again considering the bollocking and the punishments I gave him.
    He went to his KungFu lesson in town yesterday afternoon and the trams had stopped running in the centre. "There's nothing for it, I can't get home, shall I join the manif?" he said provocatively. lol I told him to get walking. :)

    The expat communities are something else, aren't they? I have managed to avoid them and just seen bits and bobs from the outside which is exactly where I want to stay!

  8. 'Community leaders', gah. We seem to avoid that sort of crap round here, thankfully.

  9. Ayak, I wonder what ghastly expat community I will find in Costa Rica!

    nodamnblog...apologies for sullying your innocence...

    Amy, we've lived through so many of these things it is like second nature...but keep your tank locked once it is filled up.

    Sarah, amazing how kids who can't walk a step to get to school can suddenly find the energy to march through the town....
    I'd like to be a fly in the wall at these 'salons'....except I'd lose my grip and fall off laughing. 20 euros...cheeky bitch.

    misplaced person, they do seem to have an exaggerated sense of their own importance....but then, if they don't award themselves status no one else is going to do it for them!

  10. This sounds like soooo much fun! Though I think I could probably get better entertainment for 20 euros... or maybe not, come top to think of it. Not with wine included :) <- smiley face will have to do

  11. Mark, you could offer music instead of payment....

  12. I suppose, but they might pay me to go away :)

    And while I'm here, let me thank you for the reference, some time back, to this fascinating blog. Not only does it stretch my French comprehension, but I find its insight into French system fascinating. I can only hope it won't prove to be useful too.

    Cat, pigeons?

  13. Mark, too modest!
    Maitre Eolas is a superb see things from the inside with him, don't you?

    He writes well too....though the nitpicking grammatical corrections of some commentators make me smile...and makes matters very clear.
    And he makes me laugh...and not only when he translates from Facebook!

    I'm so glad you enjoy it.

    The latest is fascinating....and demonstrates, for me at any rate, that France is basically a police state.
    Thank goodness for Maitre Eolas and his kind who try to keep it at bay.

    Just keep his number if you get caught with red diesel in your tank.....and blame it all on me!

  14. Each time I read your blog I give silent thanks that ours is now a maison secondaire and I can feel even more detachd about the catastrophe which is the untold truth about French day-to-day life

  15. French Fancy, it is a catastrophe, isn't it?
    So many nice people in thrall to a God awful system...

    Nice for holidays, I agree!

  16. Great blogpost.

    Tomorrow's going to be another day of strikes and my wife will have to suffer the agonies of travelling (or not) on the bus, RER and métro (yes, she needs all three to get to her work on the other side of Paris). I've been there, done that for over 10 years when I was in fulltime employment. So frustrating.

    At least i filled up the car last week. Perhaps I should go to the supermarket tomorrow and stock up on essentials?

  17. Dumdad, your poor wife! I really feel for her!
    Commuting is bad enough at the best of times....

    I think there's a factor people are ignoring with these strikes....the school holidays are coming up and the little perishers won't want to be bunking off from that!

  18. We filled up the motor last Friday. Hoorah! We witnessed queues at the pumps today when we went out to continue our economy drive but I do have a friend in the UK who is offering to send food parcels if need be... but how would they get here??

    I would love to be a 'cafard a la coin' at Mme X's salon - listening to the twittering classes that have recently arrived (with no disrespect to tweeters)

  19. Trisha, food parcels from the U.K.! You'd never be allowed over the threshold of Mrs. X's salon if people found out about that....!
    If the idea takes off I bet there'll be more Mrs. Xs getting in on the act so the phenomenon may yet be wending its way toward you.