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.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Every rural French woman is a lesbian.

Image by d'Alk via Flickr
The summer visitors have left me with a pile of books...for some reason, a lot of them about expat life in France, the idealised French woman..and a swathe of tourist literature, so, having time on my hands, or more accurately, putting off doing the autumn gardening, I have been reading about my adopted country.
Hours of research over a couple of glasses of wine have convinced me that I have been living in a different country...I must have taken a wrong turning at Calais all those years ago and ended up in Khazakstan without realising. No wonder learning the language posed so many problems!

Elegant, well dressed women sipping fizzy water on cafe terraces seem to figure frequently......well, not round here, they don't. The local version of elegance is supplied by the Barbe Bleu van which makes its' monthly appearance to vend polyester to the masses, or by the supermarket special offers of stretch lycra cotton garments which should be banned in the public interest. You could lose your eyesight.
As everyone goes to the same hairdresser, everyone has the same hairstyle but in different colours. My mother, young in the twenties, has always been firmly convinced that, to judge by the shingled hairstyles, every rural French woman is a lesbian and that the choice of colour must be some sort of signal...a bit like which side some chaps wear their keys, and all that.
I think that the hairdresser having learnt only one way of doing things, does what she knows best and the colour depends on whatever special offer the rep has managed to sell her, but there's no convincing mother.
That's the elegance bit disposed for the rest. Only rarely will anyone from round here drop into a cafe....they have coffee and everything else at home, so why pay for it? The cafe is a place for business discussions, a neutral ground, or a place for men to hide from their wives, nothing very social about them at all, and far from some jovial guy drying glasses behind the zinc, the proprietors tend to be morose individuals calculating how they are ever going to recuperate their taxe professionelle from the miserable crowd clutching the same glass for over an hour. It's no wonder some of them turn to other attractions to lure customers to their premises, like the one in the next village which, according to the postlady, draws a crowd even from faroff Poitiers. They certainly don't come for the ambience, that's for sure. It is a source of continuing amazement on the postlady's circuit that while the gendarmerie are busy seizing cannabis from motorists caught on checkpoints, they don't make the slightest effort to investigate that bar...mark you, they didn't want to investigate the theft of liquor from the supermarket either, but that was because they were getting a cut.
I think that it was A.A. Gill who wrote an article recently on the lines of we see what we expect to see. A French woman is supposed to be beautiful, so we think they all are. English women are supposed to be like a lot of unmade beds, so that's what we see. Well, he had better nip out to the shops round here and test his theory. There is one genetic group in particular with black -shingled - hair who all resemble boxers who had an unfortunate encounter with Henry Cooper's only known punch and another group whose features resemble nothing so much as two currants in a spotted dick. A.A. Gill, I defy you!

While there is always mention of social life in these books about expat life in France......being invited to the neighbours', going out to concerts, finding 'little' - why are they always 'little' - restaurants........they don't seem to mention the village social life at all. The football team passes them by - where do they think everyone is on Saturday afternoons? Down at the field shouting abuse at the opponents, that's where.
Then there is the inevitable yoga class and the weekly get togethers to cook, sew, make scrapbooks and once a year bully unsuspecting people into buying the results at the 'vide grenier' boot sale. There was once a keep fit class for pensioners in our village and it is a great pity that no one made a video as it would be a Youtube hit. Elderly gentlemen in collarless shirts, slippers and caps creaking up and down to music...all with differing rythms...uncalled for remarks as elderly ladies lifted their legs, firmly encased in elastic stockings, all of two inches from the ground, and the inevitable moment when Monsieur Chose's mother, using her zimmer frame as a barre, lashed out backwards at Monsieur Chemineau, whose dodgy knee gave way and sent him flying into the arms of the young instructress...a situation from which he was loathe to extricate himself, the whole thing a cross between Disney's Dance of the Hippopotami and the decks of the Titanic.
It was probably all banned on the grounds of moral turpitude. What was I doing there? Not participating, that's for sure...I know moral turpitude when I see it.

Though I know several expats who have joined, the books make no mention of the Old Age Pensioners' clubs either. The one in my first village had a reputation for miles around. Officially people got together one afternoon a week to play cards, knit and gossip over coffee and cakes and once a year organise an outing by coach, but when, after a murder in the village, the gendarmerie were roused to action and decided to breathalyse the participants as they made their way to their cars at the end of the afternoon, of about forty, more than thirty were over the limit for drink driving.

Clearly, I'm not living in the same country, but I just wonder about these authors of books about life in France. Don't they meet anyone except workmen, owners of chateaux or other expats? In 'little' restaurants? Where elegant women sip fizzy water at tables on the terrace?

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  1. Nicely written!

    I loved the fact that you "know moral turpitude" when you see it.



  2. I like he old age pensioners club.

    Were I once lived in Northumberland the village called had an "auwd fawks clurb' (you sort of need the accent to say that properly). There was drop in membership after a bad winter killed a few off, so they lowered the age of entry - and very popular it was too!

  3. Pearl, thanks..yes I recognise moral turpitude...I had a strict Scots headmistress...

    Mark, I only wish I had qualified...but I can't play cards, and can't knit that just leaves the drink...

  4. I so love your posts. You really should write a book about REAL life in France. It would be a bestseller, but would probably deter people from moving there...not a bad thing of course!

    There's an award for you over on my blog..a well deserved one, if you'd care to have a look.

    Thanks again for starting my day with a smile.

  5. Beneath the Barbe Bleue polyester frocks, if you care to explore, you will probably find that flesh-coloured elasticated corsetry sold at the local markets - in sizes 22 - 52 - with circular stitched cups terminating in sharp points a la Barbarella, and rubbery suspenders. Since it's been around ever since we came here 15 years ago, I can only imagine that it is a popular item.

  6. I usually avoid reading this kind of stuff about Spain, but when I do it seems to go to the opposite extreme - no elegance here; if the writers are to be believed, Spain is entirely populated by simple yokels, Sancho Panza types...

  7. Ayak, thank will get on the blog when the friend with the brain comes over..we missed last sunday, must have known she would be needed again!
    These books about life in France astound me...they're either renovating chateaux and pretending to have no money (!), or they're swanning round the countryside dining in Michelin starred restaurants, or they're maundering on about high life in Paris...doesn't sound like my neighbours' lives, I can tell you.

    nodamnblog...yup...I first saw them in 1968 and nothing has changed since. To see them blowing in the breeze from the top rail of the stall on the market is a sight worthy of Dali!
    I do not see any mention of these essential items of rural chic in any of the 'expats in France' type books...

    Pueblo girl, no generally, I don't either, but having been left this treasure trove, I thought I'd get on with it. There seems to be a distinct class differentiation in these books...the people they mix with are upmarket, well, sort of, and the people who work on their houses and suchlike are the quaint peasant figures...just as you describe the books on Spain.
    Pity they can't take the trouble to treat people with respect.

  8. The more I read your posts, the more I realized I have no clue what France looks like "in the country".

    I grew up in Nantes, which is la province, but big and bobo enough.

    These haircut thing is hilarious!

  9. I love the story of the Old Age Pensioners Club. We have one here and having made a mild comment to my french teacher about how difficult it is to meet 'the locals' I was pounced upon by the leading lady of the village and dragged in to meet them. Four tables of elderly, men playing cards, women crocheting/knitting in various garish shades of acrylic. Bonjour messieurs dames je vous presente Mme ...... They didn't even look up and we're left standing, me with an inane 'aren't I a nice person' grin and then a sort of shuffle off sideways. Laugh. Don't think I'll rush back.

  10. Crikey, I'm still traumatised by my first visit to our village hairdressers for a trim and came out with an Eton crop.

    All I needed was the monocle to complete the look.

    Never again.


  11. I totally agree with you. Round here the women are neither elegant nor thin (except for the occasional Parisienne with a holiday home),the men are the worst dressed I've ever seen and there is little in the way of sophistication. Having said that, the people are friendly and warm and I do like them. We also have the same sort of communal weekly activities as you do - but I have not set foot inside any of the salles to participate.

    I live in my own little world here - and that's the best place to be :)

  12. Zhu, you are right...if I go to the 'big city' I see people who just do not look like the people who live round me. Those haircuts crease me...every market day, freshly cropped lesbians abound....

    Rosie, you had guts, venturing into the midst of that lot...or did your boss lady just drag you by your not cropped hair, caveman style?
    Meeting local people can be a long drawn out business, or as quick as a flash depending on your area.

    GG, yes, having looked at the results I vowed never to enter a village hairdresser's shop...or a local town one for that matter. It's bad enough in the U.K., where hairdressers always seem to think they know better than the client, but to ward off the flashing scissors in another language is just too much!

    FF, sounds really similar. I used to go out with the ramblers, but gave it up as the whole object of the exercise seemed to be doing the distance in as fast a time as possible and then settling down to aperitifs. I would love to have one of those 'isn't it lovely in France' magazines to do a shoot in your or my area! They'd have to airbrush out everything human.

  13. Woh oh hahahahaha *wipe tear away* good Mme Fly! The images of all the ladies I see at our Super-U was just rolling through my head! And that red colour? Quel horreur-ack! There's a reason that I save my haircuts (& occasional colour) for my stylist in Paris, who incidentally is CHEAPER then these local coiffeurs! Did you know that the reason all these villages have multiple salons (? I know !) is b/c you don't need any kind of license to open a salon and 'cut/style' people's mops? Yea, I could have told you that one from what I saw on people's heads!
    We were finally inspired to move to la campagne by some very good friends who renovated/retired near Bordeaux. We also read an EXCELLENT expat-Brit-moved-to-France book (the only one I've ever read) that told it like it really is (& we can confirm this after 1 1/2yrs)..I'll have to check with the hubby to see if he remembers the title, it was funny and true! Thanks for keeping us smiling Fly :) (oo la, I have to update my blog now and stop reading yours!)

  14. L.R. M-J, if you can remember the title, I'd be glad. I read a few some years ago, and then didn't for years until this lot descended on me...yes, you get back to your renovations...I'm hoping for a progress report!
    Hey, did the book say anything about haircuts in rural France? I think that should be a reality benchmark!

  15. After having spent a month in Grenoble in 2006 I found that the majority of young French females were far from beautiful, or stylish. They were largely clad in black, had sallow complexions, were too thing, and had glowering demeanors. The only genuinely beautiful women I saw were black, probably from the cote d'Ivoire or some such, and they were dazzling. Really fascinating tale. I loved it.

  16. mrwriteon, clearly you allowed reality to blur your vision! How could you not find them beautiful after all the propaganda put out about the wonderful women of France!
    I agree, they do 'glower' very well. I think they are practising for the day when they take on a government job which involves day long glowering at clients who disturb their nail polishing activities.

  17. Popping in after your visit to me, and am so pleased to have connected with your blog. Your descriptions of the French people made me smile and cheered me up. (Builder trouble today!) Will pop in again.

  18. Vera, your post about the mouse and consequences thereof made my seem to have your builders reasonably under control, I thought....

  19. You had me laughing out loud! The cafes - it's all so true - where are these buzzy cafes with pretty people sipping kir? Not around here!! Love your post!!

  20. Frances, is this one of the adjustments you'll be warning people of when you write your book? Beware the out for the underwear....

  21. I want to read your book!! I'm not sure about the underwear - I haven't been shopping since I've lived in France haha!

  22. Frances, where to start on a book about France? Start with the underwear and work onwards and upwards? Any ideas?

  23. Oh but this is wonderful!
    I often wonder if this is the France of those books and stories. Certainly the "French women don't get fat" and also the new "French children don't throw food" were not written in my region. I see these well built farmers wives out in their house coats and slippers with their short red hair and wonder where I am.
    The bars are just as you describe here. Dirty and with surly barmen who don't raise a smile.
    Saying that in the local town I see people sipping coffee outside cafes but I think they are probably tourists.