Image by Nocturnales via FlickrFirst......secure 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 supermarket...at 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 things...so 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 is....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 Y........no 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 U.K.....so she'll have quite a bit of prey.
Are you going?
Well, I have to show my face...you know how it is.
Why didn't she ask you to help out? Your French is much better...no, 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 think...you 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.