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, 26 September 2012

An Oxymoron's Adventures in Wonderland.



Blissfully contemplating the benefits of a climate that requires neither air conditioning nor central heating I am not unaware that in rural France the seasonal preoccupation is firewood.

The ants will be fine. They have wood seasoned for three years and chopped to length stacked in a rotation system. The latest tranche was delivered in July by Mr. Cromagnon who was glad of the money at the short end of the year in his finances and gave them a good deal.

The grasshoppers, however, will be trying to contact Mr. Cromagnon via a telephone sporadically manned by his wife whose promises as to his likelihood of response are piecrust, as Mr. Cromagnon only touches base for sleep before setting out again on his mission to sell at a premium price the green wood which the ants would not buy earlier.
He knows his grasshoppers and will be at their door with an offer they cannot refuse when he is working their commune.
In the fullness of time.

Some customers do not give a monkey's about fiscal fraud...they want their firewood and if that means withdrawing the folding stuff from the mattress, so be it.
After all, as yet (but don't hold your breath) the insurance companies have not demanded that their clients keep a record of the supplier of their wood in order to pass the buck to his insurers when the chimney catches fire from the tar issuing from the green wood burned in the insert.

Other clients are more rigorous but Mr. Cromagnon is not bothered about taking cheques and giving receipts....it gives him something to show the taxman.
However, he is less likely to be pleased and may express himself forcefully should they ask him if he has paid his Voluntary Obligatory Contribution on the wood just sold.

Yes, you did read that correctly.
Let us proceed to a little dissection.

Now, anyone who has lived in France for a while knows that mention of 'contribution' or 'participation', while to the English speaking ear betokening some  notion of a goodwill payment, means money passing from your mattress to the coffers of whoever is demanding the said 'contribution' or 'participation' whether you like it or not.
You visit gardens on the Journees de la Patrimoine.....and a well dressed woman is at the gate with a table of tickets.
This is not something so vulgar as a sale...no, it is a 'participation'....your recognition of the cost of weeding the wonders you are about to see.

So the Contribution bit poses no problems. Mr. Cromagnon has to cough up.

He's not the only one.....

Farmers who want to keep some of their own grain to sow in the following year are obliged to make a contribution....to the costs of research of, for example, Monsanto.

Vignerons too...where the 'contribution' is more accurately called a 'cotisation' - membership fee. They're obliged to cough up to support the activities of their regional promotion board, even when said board does nothing whatsoever to promote their particular wine.

There may be others...I have not delved deeply into this particular woodpile.

Still, what about the other two elements....

Obligatory poses no problems either....somewhere along the line the contribution has been recognised in law.

It is the juxtaposition of 'obligatory' and 'voluntary' that makes the eyebrows rise.
How can it be both?

Easy peasy. This is France. Alice au Pays de Merveilles.

In French political thought, the will of the people is held to be expressed in the body representing them.
While the incongruity of this theory and the standing of Mr. Hollande in the polls immediately strikes the eye we are not dealing with transient realities here...we are talking French political thought.

Thus, the will of any particular group is expressed in the body which represents them....no, it does not need to be elected, it just has to be recognised as representing them; this is French political thought, not some Anglo Saxon heresy.

Who has to recognise it? The government which, as stated above, embodies the will of the people.

Thus the organisation 'representing' Mr. Cromagnon has voluntarily decided to make an obligatory contribution.

Which makes it a Voluntary Obligatory Contribution and Humpty Dumpty a French political theorist.



 

22 comments:

  1. Hello:
    And are bottles of liquid labelled 'drink me' available too......otherwise voluntarily obligatorially [there is surely no such word outside Wonderland] labelled as Champagne?!!

    This all sounds so very Hungarian to our Eastern European tuned ears. Except here there is no voluntary,certainly no contribution and only obligatory when you really have lost the way out of the rabbit hole you dived down.

    Thoughts of open fires sound marvellous we have to say.........

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    1. Only if produced in the A.O.C....and that is if gangs with vineyard tractors showing no lights have not nicked the grapes in the dim pre dawn light....
      And people think Costa Rica is lawless...

      France used to be as you describe...the downfall of System D ruined the place...

      And yes, I was very cosy beside my Godin stove....but I find I can live quite happily without hauling in wood and taking out ashes.

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  2. You are one brilliant lady! I have to say, though, there is something compelling about their methods!

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    1. Yes...bailiffs and freezing bank accounts of the recalcitrant....

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  3. Wryly written and eloquently stated Mme Fly. Never ceases to amaze me, after reading your posts, how unrivalled the French are with their seemingly endless capacity to produce truly baffling, world class, fatuitous dross with such peerlessly simple efficiency.

    Politicians and babies nappies have one essential thing in common. They should both be changed regularly and for precisely the same reason.

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    1. I shall never see Cameron in the same light again!

      Let us think ourselves lucky that they invent so much nonsense with which to occupy their minds...otherwise they might get busy repeating the success of their 'mission civilatrice' in Rwanda...

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  4. Plenty of deadwood in Cameron's cabinet... perhaps we could donate?

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    1. Good idea!
      Do as used to be done with lamb....pick up in the U.K., dump on French farmland for a couple of days and sell it as French....remembering to pay the Voluntary Obligatory Contribution, of course.

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  5. I've been here too long. I didn't see anything odd about the Voluntary Obligatory Contribution!

    Brilliantly explained, Fly. I'm not sad I don't have a log fire any more. As you say, getting the wood in and emptying the ashes are easily missed. I'm happy to sit in front of someone else's fire though. :)

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    1. It's a bit like not noticing men peeing in public, isn't it...part of the landscape...

      Yes, someone else's fire is perfect!

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  6. There must be something to be said for Costa Rica after all... no air con, no central heating needed? Take me there!

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    1. My bit is like that....down on the coast it's hot and sticky, up in the real mountains you need a fire at night most of the year....but you could spend a few holidays exploring to find the right microclimate!

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  7. I echo The Broad's sentiments.

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    1. That's very kind, Linda. I can only blush and disclaim.

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  8. I dont know where to start on this one Fly. I am becoming more and more aware of specifically French oddities. Basically its not possible to spend time in Caunes and not notice them. I do love reading your take on things though. It makes me smile, and despair at the same time, and then makes me , perhaps, a little more observant the next time I read the paper, chat to a neighbour or open some piece of official gobbledegook mail. Thanks.

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    1. Well you are doing decidedly better than most of the British in France of my acquaintance who had spent years there without noticing anything more than that the gobbledegook mail was in French!

      At this rate I can hand over to you some time next year and enjoy your take on it all!

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  9. Great post. Of course voluntary is a much nicer (acceptable) word than obligatory. I'm sure it's used to make people feel good about giving (tongue firmly in cheek)

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    1. Like a Christmas card for the mother in law.....

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  10. The French must all be past masters at believing six impossible things before breakfast, Fly. I used to think I'd like to live there full-time, but close reading of the local newspaper and regular chatting to our French neighbours have made me realise I couldn't cope with a looking-glass world.

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    1. No, the gap between what everyone is parroting and the somwhat ugly reality is disconcerting.
      I started thinking that there was a common European heritage so there must be points of contact, but found that the mentality, the very way most French think about things, was totally alien.

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  11. I like the idea of a voluntary obligatory contribution - reminds me of the extra hours I put in at work.

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