Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Learning The Great Lesson in Life: “Joie de Vie”

 We are home in Maleny. The great experience of living for almost a year in an ordinary backwater of rural France has been fascinating and very rewarding for us.

The one big thing which made it so good was the accidental meeting with our now good friend Barbara, convenor of a local English/French language group who invited us to join the group. Both English and French “learners” attend and just enjoy the camaraderie and the fractured language. We now have quite a circle of good friends in the Charente and expect to entertain the odd traveller to Maleny….that’s when they overcome their reluctance to undertake such “a long voyage”.
The language group enjoying a long picnic lunch
at Sylvie's home. The black bottle is one of Jean-Yves
very own pineau. Ian is making a dash down the side.
In truth, the year could have been quite sterile if not for this happy group. It is simply a French characteristic that close personal relationships with new-comers are very slow to develop. Take our little hamlet. While our few neighbours are very polite, with a nod, a wave, even a short conversational exchange in passing there is no personal invitation to come closer. 

Jenny and Mick, another Anglais couple we grew close to, were delighted to report recently that they had just received their first invitation to visit a neighbour’s house, this after five years local residence. Barbara was quite jealous since she and Pete had been in their village for seven years but with no invitation yet. Both are active participants in village affairs, too.

Amaund, the young guy at Sylvie's lunch: "Ugg...I theenk there
esss an escargot in my salarde!" Meanwhile Jean-Yves
opens another pineau.
However the language group's easy, fun atmosphere did break down this French reticence very nicely and very quickly. We enjoyed a wonderful afternoon picnic at home with Sylvie, one of the French ladies. And Genevieve insisted that Val and I linger for drinks and a chat at her home on our return from a group excursion to London...and is that another story!!

Patience is another stand-out French characteristic, at least outside Paris. And finally, at 69, I have acquired some patience .…”and about bloody time” I hear Val saying in the background. 

I learnt this life skill in supermarché checkout queues. The supermarket might actually have a dozen checkout lanes installed but it is rare to see more than three open.  One simply must wait in line patiently. Each customer and the check out operator exchange the obligatory “bonjours” and then the items are processed through and build up on the packing counter. Then the customer will slowly put the items away in bags in the trolley. Then the monetary transaction occurs, very often requiring a search through the handbag for a chequebook. Then the cheque is passed back and forth several times and sometimes identity documents are reviewed and notes taken. And then, at last, we have the “au revoir” and “bonne journée ” (for you French learners, that’s “have a nice day”). And I have not made all that up. Next customer, please!  

Here’s a free lesson on correct shopping etiquette: On entering any shop, no matter how humble, one MUST exchange “bonjour” with the shop keeper and “au revoir” when departing, even if one is just popping in for a quick look. A small café or bar with customers rates an audible “messieurs” or if ladies are also in attendance “messieurs/dames” and “au revoir” on departure.  Apart from that supercilious waiter in La Rochelle we have never meet a rude French person.

Sometimes you just have to pull over.
Its sometimes said that the French are rouges on the road. However, we have not seen one instance of road rage in France, but then again we have not driven in Paris. Certainly the French motorist can’t stand being behind another vehicle and will pass at the first, hopefully safe, opportunity. But they also give way where required, don’t use their horns, and often show great patience and consideration. After all, what else can one do in the narrow streets of a village or when faced by a farmer on a huge tractor hauling an even huger farm machine?  Note to those afoot in France: don’t trust a French driver to stop at a pedestrian crossing just for you…no, no, no!

Was language a problem? In truth, no, but we had made ourselves relatively capable of conducting everyday transactions before setting out on our adventure. The pressure to achieve this level of survival French was of course considerable; you will appreciate the absolute need to be able to book a table for two at a romantic restaurant or two nights in a lovely B&B or just to buy the lovely French bread and cheese and wine. But protracted conversation in French is just not on for us…protracted in our case means anything over two sentences! Its also often a problem to speak French as the other party will break into English so that they can practice their language skills.   

However, we have both become fluent in the use of the thumb as the indicator for “we want just one”, not the
index finger.

Now for the Great Lesson on Life. The number one “lesson in living” we have learned is “don’t do stress”. Relax. Be patient. Let the other motorist come through the narrow street first.

After six months I had need to renew my blood pressure pills. We had already established a relationship with a local doctor who speaks great accented English and has a ready sense of humour. He checked me over thoroughly and remarked on my excellent blood pressure. I replied that our lifestyle for the past six months had been bucolic with no committees, no commitments, no pressure.  We have no stress anymore, I stressed. To which he replied with a straight gallic face: “Ah, monsieur, we do not do stress in France!”

 “Joie de Vie”.  That’s the great lesson we bring home and which we intend to apply. Don’t do stress.

Au revoir and goodbye

Bryan and Val
Don't do stress, do a crossword, but in our case
definitely not a cryptic!

1 comment:

  1. Bryan, I think you have accomplished a fantastic insight into your and Val's experience over the past year. We have enjoyed your blog, food for thought for future times. Thank you and welcome home.