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.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

What Madame does not understand is...

plates!Image by jima via Flickr
I was clearing out the crockery cupboard last week and found that the bottom plate in the pile of Limoges porcelain was cracked.
Goodness only knows...earthquake, perhaps?
I'll recycle it as a plant saucer, but it seems a shame...those plates have been keeping my food hot for a long time...plain white, a bit out of sync in places which is why they were seconds and put out as not worth decorating, but they suited me well.

Any thoughts of ignoring the cracks and using it for food were quelled at once by a vision of my maternal grandmother's expression at such a heresy.
She was very hot on cracked china...she would return from a local charity bun fight uttering the dire words...

'There was a cracked cup.....'

Since in her view the things that lurked in the cracks of chinaware were akin  to the beings inhabiting the Dungeon Dimension, as a child I always expected to see outbreaks of black death, bubonic plague, ergotism or at the very least cholera being reported in the next issue of the local rag......

'Bowls club struck by botulism'........

'Malaria decimates 'Mothers Union'.....

But I was always disappointed.

Since nothing seemed to occur to those who drank from cracked cups I decided to ignore her views on loo seats too and duly sat on the things rather than hovering above them in the approved fashion like a slip fielder waiting for a catch....until I went to France.

Iconoclastic I may be....downright daft, not.
One look at the average French loo in my time made me wonder if I risked ending up like the patients in the Billy Connolly sketch about the VD clinic, sidling up to the entrance hidden behind newspapers with holes cut for the eyes to a chorus of
'Filthy beast! Serves ye right!'   from the ladies living nearby.
Not that there was usually a seat, anyway. Wylye Girl has theories....

Still, emerging from the loo.....

I was catching up on  A Broad with a View's post describing her journey down to her house in the Quercy , where she mentions passing through the Limousin on her way to her enchanted kingdom.

I had visited the Limousin when I had made up my mind to move to France....I had narrowed down the choices to four areas and was making a serious attempt to make a decision, staying in gites for a few weeks at a time, trying to get a feel for the area.

The attraction of the Limousin? It wasn't hot and it was cheap. Not the most romantic of reasons to choose it, but heat leaves me like a clubbed fish, while spending more money than I have to is like drawing teeth.

I had explored parts of it before while on holiday...around Ussel and Tulle where every side trip seemed to reveal more relics of the old railway system....but in the cold light of winter, those grey towns seemed depressing...the plateau de Millevaches more like a dreich day on the Moor of I thought I'd try further up toward Limoges itself.

There was a lot for sale, but not what I wanted...either in a village which I knew I didn't want or so far out that every trek to go shopping would have involved a whole day....and property out in the sticks seemed to have far too much land attached to it while I wanted something manageable.
Beautiful countryside, but the housing just didn't do it.

Not even the best pork pie I have ever eaten and the local vin de paille could overcome the disadvantages, so I packed my traps and prepared to try another region.

Thus it was that I began to pass roadside stands and buildings offering Limoges porcelain for sale.
It occurred to me that I was likely to be passing that way but once, so I stopped and went to see what was on offer.

Clearly, what was on offer was seconds, rejected before decorating, I supposed, or just simply rejected, but there was a wide range of stuff, from soup tureens to ramekin dishes.

No mention of price, of course.....this was France.

I went for plates, and asked the woman in charge for a dozen.
She wrapped them up and I paid.
The price was certainly not seconds...well, not by the standards of buying seconds in the Potteries....but I wanted them.

I was just putting them away when the notion of passing that way but once returned to me....I'd better check them before leaving.

I unwrapped them one by one....every second one was cracked.

P.G. Wodehouse has remarked that one has no difficulty in distinguishing between a ray of sunshine and a Scotsman with a grievance...and I was certainly not resembling a ray of sunshine as I returned to the stand.

I would like these replaced, please.

Oh, no, have to take them as they come.

Well they didn't come from the pile I looked at....and how can you possibly sell cracked plates at full price?

Full price! What Madame does not understand is that the price she would be paying for the finished article in a specialist shop would be far higher...

This is a specialist shop. It says it sells Limoges porcelain. It doesn't say it is a shop specialising in cracked Limoges porcelain.

But Madame, you don't understand. You have paid and left with the merchandise. There is nothing I can do about it.

Yes, I have the bill. For plates. Not broken crockery. I would like plates.

Impossible Madame...the transaction has finished.

Not at all. Here are the cracked plates....I shall now take six that are not. No...don't worry..I'll wrap them myself...

I suppose I was lucky that she was on her own and that this was long before the age of the mobile 'phone, or I'd have been banged up in the gendarmerie station instead of bowling happily away from the Limousin, plates safely stowed in the boot.

But it was a precursor of what was to come over the years of living in France.
Transactions that one would think of as normal would turn into surreal all of which the common factor was that Madame did not understand....

Madame did not understand that the repairman who undertook work on her fridge while it was under guarantee would take it upon himself to scrap it without so much as a by your leave...

Madame did not understand that a builder who had been told to lay a damp course dry lined the kitchen instead while she was away thus mucking up the kitchen layout irretrievably...

Madame did not understand that a roofer who installed a leaky roof light assumed he would be paid again for replacing it with the velux originally ordered and paid for.....

And Madame will never understand why, when cancelling an insurance policy three months before expiry by registered letter as required by the insurance crooks, she receives a saucy reply informing her that she has to cancel the policy three months before the expiry date by registered letter......the said saucy reply dated one day after the three month limit.

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  1. Methinks Madame understands all too well...One would think a French merchant would not sell cracked merchandise as a point of pride...Unfortunately, scammers and schemers exist everywhere...While I was reading this, my mind flashed on several politicians here that seem to think the average person too dull to comprehend chicanery...

  2. How true this all is Fly. When we lived there I never quite understood if native French were treated as poorly or if it was reserved for us interlopers (I love that word).
    We once went for 18 months without receiving a gas bill, in spite of calling and visiting GDF every couple of weeks. "Some kind of computer problem" was the reply. When they eventually fixed it and sent us a 4 figure bill, there was also a snotty letter telling us that we were very late paying and if it happened again, we'd be disconnected!

  3. Trying it on is a national sport in France I reckon. People seem to accept it too. If they get done, they see it as excuse to have a good old barny.

    I don't understand it myself, it just pisses the hell out of me.

  4. Gah. Small print even where there is no small print. Sounds absolutely insufferable.

  5. Why are we wanting to move house and get involved with all the utilities/trades people again???

  6. The cracked crocks are alive and well still. In restos the plates continue until they, I suppose, fall into two in the washing up. Jugs of glass or pottery are chipped but I'm sure that the wine will kill off the nasties that lurk......At home the mug gets recycled staight away to a biro tidy, as yet a mug with cracked handle has never failed with a hot brew in it, But it won't get the chance in our house.

  7. The kind of arrogance you describe make your present deranged Costa Rican neighbour sound like an old eccentric sweety.

  8. e...what a good test for voters...
    'Would you buy a cracked plate from this man?'

    Craig, in my experience the native French got it in spades too...but they just put up with was 'how it was'. The spinelessness used to infuriate me.

    Sarah, it poisons normal life.

    Steve, and they call it logic...

    Rosie, this time round you'll be alert. Doesn't make it any better, but you'll be alert.
    The best day's work we ever did was to get a Turkish builder...he did what we wanted as and when we wanted and stuck to his quoted price.

    Leslie, perhaps I should try raising the spirit of Grannie and send her to haunt French cafes...

    Pueblo girl, considering some of the nutters loose in rural France The Neighbour ranks very low...

  9. All credit to you for hoisting your colours to your mast and ‘helping yourself’ to a set of uncracked plates Fly. Having only merely travelled in France as opposed to trying to exist there full time, it never ceases to amaze me when reading your blog, just how mind altered the French appear to be on so many commercial and civic levels. That ‘mad as a box of frogs’ phrase seems more apt here than where we both last read it.

    Likewise for many of your French resident commenter’s too, by the read of them here.

    Good job Madame had more than enough savvy to adapt and improvise on her own terms pretty quickly then, isn’t it?!

  10. Bish Bosh Bash, yes..mad as a box of frogs!

    Madame reckons she started to be a cranky old bat at about did she know she was going to move to France!

    But it did take me by surprise....even more so when I stopped being a holidaymaker and became a resident. Then I found that what I had thought of as a few aberrations was the norm!

  11. Reminds me of the "guarantee" system here. If something (usually electrical) is faulty once you get it home, you can't return it to where you purchased it. You have to find the nearest service shop for the product in question. They will then send it back to the manufacturer to be repaired. If it goes wrong again..they repeat the procedure. You will only get a replacement item after this has been done 3 times.
    I learned the hard way. Try before buying. When I bought a new toaster once, I took sliced bread with me and much to the amazement of the shopkeeper, plugged the toaster in the shop and put in my bread.

  12. Ayak, I'd love to have seen that!

    When in France I found one of the big supermarket chains...Geant...were super, but you could forget service from family run shops. They'd got your money and you could whistle!

    Here in Costa Rica, if something goes kaput in thirty days the shopkeeper has to sort it out...and there's a consumers' rights department to help you.

    After that, it's down to the guarantee...and again, I find that the big chains are fine...though there are also little repair shops all over the place that do great work. If they don't have the part they'll adapt something.

  13. There's not much you don't understand, about the French at least.

    I liked the image of you just picking up six more plates

  14. Mark, so why are there all these books about sipping wine on the terrace, fields of sunflowers...and not a mention of getting your coffee maker repaired?

    If I'd been French I might have picked up seven...

  15. When in France, we have restricted our purchases to French wine which we have not had problems with.

  16. cheshire wife, very wise. Don't be tempted to buy a wine storage fridge to go with it....that way madness lies.

  17. The French and their cracked logic!