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.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Two ways to retire....

Sort of roses named Pierre de RonsardSort of roses named Pierre de Ronsard (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Just recently, my French dentist retired.

She was my neighbour in my second house in France, and had her office in the next village.
An absolute whizz of a dentist, up to date with top of the range equipment in the wilds of la France Profonde where her husband worked as an advisor at the local Chambre d'Agriculture - source of much under the counter gossip over the aperitifs of an evening......

As dentists do, she had a captive audience.
There is something so undignified about gurgling and frothing while trying to talk with a mouthful of steel implements in the mouth that you tend to give up and lie back to be harangued.
I don't know what she talked to other clients about, but to me she talked about the difficulties of getting any young dentist to set up in the countryside - difficulties compounded by past government decisions to limit the number admitted to the schools of dentistry.
Interspersed with mutters of
'Tiens! So that's how the English do it...' as she tapped and probed.
I began to understand how dental records could identify one...

Over the years, other dentists in the area retired and were not replaced. More and more clients came knocking on the door asking to be be taken on until she was working, first on her half day off in the week, then on a Saturday morning...until her family kicked up.

It worried her to turn people would encourage neglect and end in tears, she used to predict....and it used to rouse passions in the waiting room too.
I was there when a gentleman turned up asking her receptionist/dental nurse for an appointment.
She explained the situation and suggested he try the dentist in the nearby town.

I'm not going to that butcher!

But Madame just cannot take on any more patients....


Casting an eye over the waiting room assembled...

But she can take that foreigner! (Me)

Madame has been a patient here for more than ten years....

She's still a foreigner...

The Front National had a lot of votes in that area.....

You met everyone in that waiting room...but , just as in the waiting room of my first dentist, it was a handshake free zone, not to speak of the kissing.
If the mere vibrations of a handshake were enough to set the nerves jangling one can imagine what an approach to the jaw might do.....but it didn't stop the jaws from gossiping.
You emerged from that waiting room fully armed with the latest from four communes, ready to test it out on the postlady who had her own methods of verification.

The expat community would be both surprised and alarmed to know how much of their undercover and under the covers activity was being monitored....but then, I doubt they had read Maurice Genevoix who remarked that everything you did in the countryside was being observed from under the visor of a cap.

My dentist had tried everything to get a replacement....and thought she had the answer in a Roumanian lady with excellent qualifications and references who was very interested in the package offered...until one of her compatriots, a medical doctor, told her what had happened when she took up a contract in darkest France....not too far away.

The maire had offered her a good - not wonderful, but good - package to come to his village.
She had installed herself and patients were happy, their numbers increasing.

Then the local representative of the quacks union  had made it clear that she was not welcome.
Very clear.
Very not welcome.

Despite everything that my dentist could do, the prospective replacement had taken fright.
She - like the Roumanian doctor - set up practice in an area with a large British expat presence where they were made welcome by over worked local doctors and by the community.

My dentist and her husband are retiring to the south of France and the only recourse for her clients is...the butcher in town.

My vet is about to retire.
I met him when , as usual, the gendarmerie failed to come up to the mark.

We had returned from shopping in the late afternoon of a chilly, bright January day. Frost was in the air.
As I unloaded the car I noted a bright spot of red down on the river bank far below and house and wondered whatever a fox was doing there.

Later, from the kitchen window, I saw it again. It had not moved.

I went down to the island and saw that it was no fox, but a small shivering spaniel, crouched in the frozen grass in the rivulets at the water's edge.

I took my shoes off and waded across, worried that the dog would take flight, but it stayed still.
An elderly, blind little lady.

She was soon tucked into a nest by the stove in the kitchen and after a while took warm milk and honey, then a little mince cooked in stock...and then went to sleep.

The tattoo on her ear was blurred, but I 'phoned the gendarmerie and asked if they could check it if I brought her in the next day.

No, they couldn't. Take her to a vet.

So the next day we were going to the tax office and took her to the vet whose office was nearby.
The walls of the waiting room were covered in photographs of dogs, cats, puppies, kittens, chickens, ducks, geese, peacocks, pigs and small rodents, each with a message of thanks or giving an update....quite a sight!
I explained the situation to the receptionist - who turned out to be his wife - and we were shown into the surgery.

He examined the dog.
Then he examined the ear.
Then he examined us before finally looking up the tattoo on the website when he sat for a while, head in hands.

This little lady has come from a puppy mill....I recognise the name and address.
Too old to be useful they put her out in the middle of winter....
Do you want her to go back there?

Clearly we didn't.

Can you cope with her?

Clearly we could.

Ah, well then, I'll just say the tattoo was too blurred to read. I'll drop in to see her later this week.

A super vet who became a friend...dropping in while passing, neat in his linen jacket in summer, last of the summer wine in his woolly hat in winter.

We talked of retirement when we last saw him before we left for Costa Rica sitting on the terrace under the vine, bottles of wine in a bucket of cold water beside us.

Ah..he said...Ronsard sums up how I see retirement.

And this is what he recited, as near as I can transcribe it

Boivons, le jour n'est pas long que le doy
Je perds, amy, mes soucis, quand je boy
Donne moi viste un jambon sous ta treille
Et la bouteille grosse a merveille
Glou-gloute aupres de moy
Aveq la tasse et la rose vermeille,
Il faut chasser l'emoy.

Sitting under your vine,  a fine ham to hand and a big bottle of wine to tempt you, a glass and a red rose...what better to chase away your worries.

A damn sight better than the south of France.
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  1. Sounds a fine way to drop out of the rat race no matter what country you are a foreigner in.

    1. There we are struggling to put something into words and some damn poet has done it for us...

  2. My dentist is OK here, but he always requires three visits: One to put on a temporary fix, the second to work out what he's actually going to do, the third to do it.

    1. Costa Rican dentists sound similar....they like three paid bites at the cherry.
      We nip up on the bus to Nicaragua if we have problems.

  3. More fascinating tales from rural France profonde. How lucky that little dog was to be rescued by you, and how meanly cruel the puppy mill people were.

    I have a friend whose husband was a rural GP. He worked until nearly 11pm. In the end, he decided to become a medecin de travail so he could work regular hours. It was that or divorce.

    1. It's getting that way for our France
      A Spanish guy, he was attracted by the idea of bringing up the children in a rural setting after working in Tenerife for years.
      He had all sorts of attempts to unseat him by his 'colleagues', but now has a booming practice, which, as he takes it seriously and does home visits, has taken over his life and his wife is, understandably, kicking up.

  4. Hope the 'little lady' had happy retirement years with you. Our Katinka was dumped too.

    1. Not too long, unfortunately, only a couple of years. She was elderly and had heart problems, but enjoyed poddling about within the limits she set for herself and could be guaranteed to appear beside a chair at mealtimes.

  5. Hello:
    You touch on so many things here concerned with living abroad: dentists, retirement, resentment of foreigners, and vets!

    Happily our dentist, who is our immediate neighbour, is well off retirement age. He has a private practice on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons where we are treated to the best possible dentistry at very affordable prices. Like yours, he is extremely busy, his wife acting as the nurse. We are the only foreigners, taken on because our front doors are opposite! And he is delightful.

    Tímea, our cook/housekeeper, informs us that our telephone is permanently tapped. She may be right as she is usually the person to answer. We can live with that for we are no longer, as far as we are aware, followed.

    What a sad, sad story of the poor blind dog. And how lucky that she met with you. Vets here, in treating our cats shortly before they died, are the kindest of people.

    1. Life in someone else's country is multi faceted, isn't it?

      No need for 'phone tapping in rural France...nothing goes unremarked!

      I'm glad you have such a good dentist - we have been lucky over the years with ours and it is annoying now to have to go to the next door country to avoid rip off prices.

      I was not happy with most vets in rural France...this man was the exception in that he felt for the animals he was treating, they weren't just economic units on a farm or, if a pet, something unimportant.

      Those puppy mills are horrific and should be exposed for what they are, concentration camps for dogs. I just wish people would stop buying 'breeds' and take in a lost or dumped dog from the refuges.
      She was a dear little girl and we were lucky to have had her company if only for a relatively short time.

  6. I wonder if I'll ever be brave enough to describe some of the eccentric sights I stumble over as a German in the UK. I have spent many happy decades here, yet sometimes, the foibles, attitudes and opinions of those I am observing, with a smile, I hasten to add, cause me a sharp intake of breath.

    I am enjoying your blogs very much and have decided to follow you. I'd love it if you thought highly enough of my effort to do the same for me.

    1. Nothing brave about tell it how you see it!
      A German friend, now long deceased, used to make me roar with her observations on life in her adopted country....the U.K.... so go for it!

      I have been lurking on your blog for some time...but shall now take the chance to put my blogging house in order and officially follow!
      Welcome aboard!

  7. I can't imagine someone in my dentist's office pointing to another patron and indicating that the dentist was treating a "foreigner." I hope that occurred many years ago!

    1. Thinking about it, it must have been some seven years ago...but I've been called a foreigner much more recently than that in France!

      Scratch a Frenchman and you'll find a xenophobe.

  8. Good job you and that dog found each other, Fly. Animal mills of every kind should be exposed and shut down.

    1. It's a filthy trade.

      She wasn't the first we had had from a puppy mill.
      We found Sausage, a fauve de bretagne, wandering on a busy road.
      Her first owner - who had sold her to the puppy mill - wanted her back - for one more litter.
      He went away blown backwards bowlegged.

  9. Oh..dentists and hard to find really good ones, which you clearly managed to do in France. What about Costa Rica? Have you managed to find good ones there?

    1. Well, we were lucky with that dentist...but so far not so lucky in Costa Rica...though we found a good one when on holiday in Nicaragua so we go there now...a long bus ride away, but worth every penny.
      As to vets....I found most French vets antipathetic - this man was an exception.
      I have two good vets here, both caring and effective, but should any ops be necessary I should have to go to the University Veterinary School the other side of the capital - who have a good reputation as a teaching unit.
      Fingers crossed we don't have to try them out!

  10. A super post, Fly, touching on so many concerns. Not being a full-time resident of France I have no firsthand experience of French medicine ofr dentistry, but a couple of years ago I read in the local paper that our little canton in deepest France Profonde had to recruit their latest GP from Roumania as no French doctor would come to live somewhere so rural, sparsely populated and therefore not very profitable.

    Puppy mills exists everywhere sadly and West Wales was notorious at one time for some very bad ones. I think things have improved a bit, but I bet there are still some lurking in the backwoods.

    1. Some months ago a local politician in the east of France suggested that vets could take over the work of G.P.s where the latter had become an endangered species out in the wilds...

      Roumanian doctors are becoming common - it waqsa great pity that the local lady was bullied away by her 'colleagues'.

      Puppy mills exist in Costa Rica too - when will people look beyond a breed name and just take a dog because they want a dog!

  11. A great post. Being in Montreal, the third largest French speaking city in the world, I especially appreciate this post about your French dentist. Whenever I hear "foreigner" or "alien" I try to ignore it, as in my view, we are all one race...the human race! :) Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. I think the members of the Front National think we're all one human race too - they would just like sectors of it to stay where they were born....!
      (Excluding French people going out to other countries with their 'mission civilitrice', of course...)

  12. I'm still waiting to really need a French dentist...although my one visit to the highly recommended local one (when a temporary filling fell out and an infection set up in the resulting hole) ended in me receiving a prescription for a stash of drugs so large that I considered van hire upon leaving the pharmacy. I loved our vets, when we regularly took the late labrador for his passport jabs before returning to the UK. "I'm not happy about worming him again: he was only wormed last month....I'll just stamp the passport as if we'd done it anyway..."

    1. Ah, my dentist wasn't a believer in drugs antibiotic if necessary, but that was it.
      Things were getting dire by the time we left...a holidaymaker with a really painful tooth problem could only receive attention at the Nantes University Dental school...hours away.

      Your vet sounds like this chap....he knew that all that counted was having the proper bit of paper...

  13. When we first moved from Surrey to Cheshire, at times, it felt as if we had moved to another country. I put off finding a dentist until I really needed one and was very lucky to find a good one, but I did do some research before taking the plunge.

    1. That's something I found too, moving in the U.K....all the research had to be done again...

  14. We've been lucky in our Parisian banlieue - we have a friendly (woman) doctor, dentist and (woman) vet. We don't socialise but have known them years and trust them. That's a pretty good hat-trick!

  15. Yes, just add a good chiropodist and you've got a four leaf clover!
    The countryside is really having a problem with replacing retiring health professionals....though vets are a plenty.

    1. Butting in again here, when we moved back to Mid-Wales 5 years ago, we found that our previous excellent dentist had gone private and thus out of our reach and the new NHS dental practices in both small market towns near us were staffed entirely by (extremely good)Polish dentists. When we were in Oxfordshire our NHS practice was staffed by extremely good (and good-looking!!) Greek dentists. It seems that NHS practice in rural areas is beneath most native-born British dentists. Sigh...

    2. Mother's NHS dentist is also her description, Greek god!