On ne peut plus se voir

If the French do one thing very well, it is mutual dislike. In fact, they raise it to an art form. When two people can’t stand each other, they literally can’t ‘see’ each other.

It seems I have become invisible. At least to my neighbour, who has decided she cannot see me. The irony is that I see far more of her than I care to.

My neighbour is a self-proclaimed child of 1968, ‘une soixante-huitarde’ who came of age when the bra-burning, peace-and-love sexual and social revolution hit Paris. She claims she simply cannot wear a top when she sunbathes, and from what I gather, bottoms are also optional.

To set the record straight, and dispel any notion of prudishness, none of this is a problem for me. ‘A chacun le sien’, to each his own, and I’ll even confess as to being a tiny bit envious of her comfort in being à poil. And of course, in the privacy of her own home and even her own backyard, it is truly her business.

Except it’s not. When we were building our house, several of the workmen complained it was distracting to see a nude woman just off the balcony, and at the time the lack of foliage (ours) made it hard to ignore (hers).

At first I thought they were joking, and even made a comment along the lines of: “But she’s no Brigitte Bardot, nor any spring chicken, is she really that much of a distraction?”

After various facial contortions indicating that ‘poulet du printemps’ is not any kind of French, they assured me that age made no difference: the proximity of a stark naked woman transforms any red-blooded male into a voyeur.

Aside from these ongoing visual disturbances, which I now address by closing the blinds and letting the hedge grow tall, I hear quite a bit more of my neighbour than I would choose to. There are frequent family feuds at a volume and intensity that would scare a fishmonger’s wife, and I say that as someone who is known to raise her own voice too high and too often.

Additionally, there is an adult son who likes to come home, open all the doors and windows and blast music to entertain the entire neighbourhood. I believe he is probably the source of the knock-down drag-out disputes. Of course, none of this is any of my business. And if I were a good French neighbour, I would turn my deaf ear and blind eye their way and say nothing.

Aye, but there’s the rub. I’m not entirely French, you see.

So, on a couple of occasions, I have (nicely, in my view, but still perhaps too pointedly to their taste) asked them to lower the volume of said music (the fights I pretend not to hear), when it carried on loudly after 10 p.m. And on one occasion, it seems I unjustly accused them of being the source of said noise when they were quietly watching TV!

Monsieur not-Bardot came around the next morning and spoke to my husband, saying that his wife was beside herself with my false accusations. Monsieur FranceSays suggested that I could perhaps be forgiven my mistake as there had been many previous occasions on which the music from their place had been very loud indeed. He also explained that my single-sided deafness makes it hard to correctly pinpoint sounds.

That’s when things went south with my neighbour. A few weeks later, I received a note from her saying that the following Saturday night she would be hosting a party of friends and neighbours (clearly we were not invited) for her birthday. That she hoped I could tolerate a bit of music and voices in the garden on this occasion, given my bedtime at 9:30 p.m. I replied saying that I appreciated her consideration in letting me know.

Husband, who can be a wag, asked me if I had wished her a happy 70th birthday?

When Saturday came, the temperature plummeted and it poured rain. The party was a wash out.

Since then, she ignores me. And I pretend to ignore her ignoring me, calling out a bright ‘Bonjour B…’ whenever we meet.

Perhaps it is my lack of Latin blood, but I find that harbouring dislike for other people usually turns around and bites you in the butt. So I try to get along with everyone, at least superficially. Or at least laugh rather than hate. Life is better that way.

The featured photo is of a famous celebrity feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I’ll sign off with a video of a famous French love story inspired by 1968, with Serge Gainsbourg and his muse, Jane Birkin. (Warning: you may wish to bleep the sound half-way through if anyone is listening.)

How do you handle difficult neighbours?


  1. francetaste · September 21, 2017

    We are lucky with our neighbors, whom we adore. We do occasionally host parties, but we invite them, because we like them. And vice versa. Everybody is quite respectful.
    In the past, though, I haven’t been so lucky. I once lived above a drug dealer, and that was dreadful.The dealer was the doppelganger of Kim Basinger in the ’80s but I’m sure it was she was dealing drugs and not other services because people were in and out in two or three minutes, a steady stream all night, every night, banging the door, which was just below my bedroom. With music blaring. I complained to the landlord and to the police (whom I did see going in and out one day when she wasn’t home). Eventually I moved away.
    I do have local feuds with people who walk their dogs off leash in the park. The dogs do their business on the lawn where kids play or on the path and the owners act as if they haven’t seen anything, in fact the dog is nowhere near them. If I point it out, they say it’s “natural.” There are plenty of country roads and paths just as close where crottes de chien wouldn’t be noticed, why go to the park with the big lawn where all the village babies crawl and learn to walk. Plus, I don’t like animals and don’t want to be sniffed or licked any more than I want some strange guy to come up and plant a kiss. That people walk their dogs is normal, but on leash and cleaning up after them.

    • Osyth · September 21, 2017

      An aside on the crotte issue …. here I have lost count of the number of people that make a witty quip when a) my dog goes in a flower bed and I insist on picking it up because some poor fellow will have to weed or prune and frankly it is intolerable to think that my dogs foul is on his hands or b) because she is tiny they think it’s funny to say it isn’t worth the effort … my retort is to point out that any shit on your own shoe is revolting and I am sure they wouldn’t want it. My husband calls me the warrior of Grenoble …. I spend much time giving bags to people I catch and calling them out on picking up. Hey ho!

      • francetaste · September 21, 2017

        Thanks for setting a good example!

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      I know just how you feel about both issues. Mostly we have been incredibly fortunate to have good neighbours in France; this woman is an unhappy exception (and I think she is actually quite unhappy, and try to remember that…) As for the dogs, I hate it when other dog owners act like twats as it means I get a lot of filthy looks when walking mine. I always have them on leash unless in a remote field, and always pick up the poops in any kind of maintained area. Your drug-dealer experience was highly unfortunate and in your position I would have moved as well!

  2. phildange · September 21, 2017

    Lot of fun reading this . I’m with you I can’t stand noisy disturbances from neighbours, it is a real handicap that led to certain tough affairs in the time . French law allows noise at night the 31st of December, the 14th of July and in a very limited number of times in a year, provided the person informs all one’s neighbours by advance . You may “porter plainte” to the police but I understand this might spoil your future life in the place . But you don’t need to as you are a competent witch . Brilliant this rain that spoilt the party, good shot Mel ! In France we’d say you have the power of “faire la pluie et le beau temps” .With such a power you fear no one . Next time send them a localized hail storm, then they will understand .

    A tip about “spring chicken” . In French we say “un perdreau de l’année” . Un perdreau is a young partridge (perdrix) .

    Thank you for the absolute artist Serge and the sublime beauty Jane . I’m in love, always been …
    About your title, it’s true that a colloquial very common way to say “I loathe him ” is “Je ne peux pas le voir” . There is an old joke among French musicians, only possible in French ” Tu savais que Ray Charles et Stevie Wonder ne peuvent pas voir ?”

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      So glad it resonated! And you do flatter me with witch – I’ve been called the b-version before but love the idea of using my powers for good. Hail storm, eh? Let me cogitate on that one… 😉 Thanks as well for the the expression for spring chicken, which is new to me. As for the joke, I love it! It reminds me of what we call Geneva drivers around here: des Genevoisriens.

      • phildange · September 21, 2017

        Very good, I didn’t know this one .They are siblings of Ivory Coast people, in French ” les Ivoiriens” .

  3. M. L. Kappa · September 21, 2017

    What a bore… She sounds like a real tête à claques🤣

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      Oddly, it’s not her ‘tête’ that irks me but her voice – a real, whiny, sing-song of a head-smacker! 😀

  4. davidprosser · September 21, 2017

    THAT song, I’ve gone all of a twitter all over again.
    xxx Massive Hugs Mel xxx

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      Ha, ha! Glad to see you’re in fine form, David! It is rather, ahem, explicit. Hope you stay happily a twitter. xo

  5. Osyth · September 21, 2017

    Noisy neighbors, nosy neighbors – for me no neighbors is the aspiration. I doubt I deal with the baddies very well … I think the English are mostly quite clumsy at awkward situations and, I hesitate to say, a little two faced. So we will rehearse what we are going to say and do and then smile sweetly at the offender or avoid ever seeing them at all, going to ridiculous lengths and suffering palpitations if we do stumble on them. Au fait, if you remember my piece about JimPig (Ou est Charlie/Where’s Wally) … he dated Jane Birkin before Serge got his paws on her. I always felt he never quite recovered ….

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      It’s funny, although I am a loner, I’m not sure I’d feel quite safe having no neighbours at all. You are a brave woman, Osyth, although I’m sure the Bean is a ferocious bodyguard. I totally get you on the two-faced English thing…we Canucks are strange hybrids, twice removed, but some of the politeness remains. I think the best neighbours are the ones we rarely see, but we know are there and will happily share a drink with from time to time. I cannot find your piece about JimPig, although surfing through your posts I did find one mentioning Jane that I’d missed. Scootling over there now.

      • Osyth · September 21, 2017

        Here’s Jim https://osyth.org/2017/04/26/home-is-within-you-or-home-is-nowhere-at-all/ I do remember referencing Jane aeons ago but I can’t begin to imagine why! I agree with you that those sorts of neighbors are perfect – the ones that surface from time to time and are there for one if needed and vice versa. I am actually very snug in my present abode with lovely people to share the building with. Although I declare myself Hermit I think the reality is that I probably would be better off not putting myself on an uninhabited island!!!

  6. acflory · September 21, 2017

    Most of our neighbours are lovely, but there is one property across the road that hosts parties in summer with very loud music that goes on and on until past 2am. We are all on acre blocks so that should give you some idea how loud it is. I did ask them to turn the sound down once, but as we don’t socialise, not being ‘seen’ isn’t an issue. 😀

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      Acre blocks! That sounds wonderful….we are far too close for comfort, even though by French standards it’s very spacious indeed. Everything seems smaller in the old world, including the parking spots that I continually twist my back getting in and out of! And yet, even with lots of space, it only takes one a-hole to louse things up. Hope the forthcoming summer season will find them with a broken sound system… 😀

      • acflory · September 22, 2017

        I have to agree. Much as I loved the picturesque nature of Europe, by the time my year was up, I felt so claustrophobic it wasn’t funny.
        Yes, I’m praying for technical difficulties too. 😀

  7. frenchimmersion · September 21, 2017

    Hilarious! I was once the nightmare neighbor when I discovered my teenage son at 3am on a school night still texting his beloved girlfriend and confiscated his phone in the middle of “true loves” conversations. We were subjected to at least an hour’s door slamming and succeeded to wake up all the neighbours above and below and the next day had visits from them all!! It was about this point that I decided we needed a detached house. We are thankfully still on good terms with them and are new neighbours are frequently round for dinner so I judge myself lucky. My blond 20 year old was quite a draw for our neighbours builders doing the roof this summer, despite having all her clothes on, however she was the one bothered by it and ended hiding behind various trees when she wanted to sit out! Bonne continuation!

    • MELewis · September 21, 2017

      Ha, ha! What were you doing up at 3:00 a.m.? That sounds like parenting above and beyond my skill set! But at least there was a positive outcome from the outburst if it led you to a new house. The roof has been raised a few times here with my temper, but I am working on staying zen these days (a work in progress, alas…) Thanks for checking in and glad you enjoyed!

  8. Neil Lewis · September 21, 2017

    This is right up my alley! As you know from my FB posts about Boyd my neighbour, I now call him Dickface. They made zero effort to introduce themselves after we moved in until they did not like the sound of the music via the shared wall of our townhouse. I still don’t know her name even though I rang their bell the first day to introduce myself and apologize for our moving truck out front. Ironically “someone” called parking authority on us that day. Hmmmm? Anyways he said the walls were thin and they heard our music blah blah blah. Granted this is in the middle of the day and we have heard zero from the neighbours of our other shared wall. Nor heard anyone at all. While I originally apologized and offered to accommodate them when I could, they next rang the bell on the first Friday of a long weekend at 5:30. Asked us to turn our music down. I replied that it is not very loud as Kym was reading next to the speaker. She then said well maybe it’s your speakers up against our walls? I replied they are on the other side of the room and on a stand. I suggested the issue was on their side of the wall and they will need noise dampening drywall. Saw & heard them install it. Then I realized when I said good morning a few days later that that the losers just glared & stopped talking to us. Ohhhhh, well. Now I play my music as loud as I want. If I go into my yard then they close their blinds. I did not know anyone could be so petty? Again their loss. Seems all the other neighbours are great.

    • MELewis · September 22, 2017

      Sounds like they are the ones poisoning themselves with dislike. Let’s just hope they never have an emergency requiring a helping hand — and in the meantime, enjoy your music! 🙂

  9. Colin Bisset · September 22, 2017

    Oh, it’s so hard having neighbours, but you make me smile, as always. And you have opened a can of worms! We have endured une froideur from neighbours on one side who complained when they moved in that the frogs in our pond were making too much noise. We explained that there was nothing we could do about native wildlife. Shortly after, the pond was poisoned with Drano crystals “allegedly” thrown over the fence, and a denial from them that they had been responsible. No more frogs. (But I moved the pond so we still have plenty of a-croakin’.) Fr twenty years we have studiously avoided each other. Until recently, when suddenly they have started giving us the glimmer of a smile, even said hello on one occasion. So it obviously takes time (and they obviously realise we and our frogs, possums and parrots are not going anywhere.) Courage…!

    • MELewis · September 22, 2017

      Horrendous, Colin, that people would do that. It is heartening that after so much time there could be a melting of the froideur, and probably a relief for both sides. How amazing that you have such a wildlife reserve in your own backyard. Long may the froggies sing!

  10. memoirsofahusk · September 22, 2017

    Oh my! That video! The song was banned by the BBC. I remember the first time I heard it was at the ice skating rink and even then I don’t think they played the whole thing. I went straight to the library afterwards and looked up … well, one or two words! That shot of the Eiffel Tower – train and tunnel substitute – made me smile, but honestly, doesn’t Serge look rough? I think he had one too many the night before he did the face to camera bits.
    Re your neighbour – poor you. I hate problems with neighbours and dread the day when our next door neighbour sells and moves on. Fortunately we only have neighbours on one side and on the other are wrapped snugly in trees that are the ‘rough’ between two holes of our local golf course. In our last house, the kicking of football after football over our back fence after the neighbours behind us had astroturfed their lawn (we found 17 on one occasion), the taking down of a fence between us without warning – over which we had grown many loved climbers – toppling a large and beautiful camelia… well yes, that was a part of our reason for moving! An extreme solution I know… Good luck. And just think, winter is coming …

    • MELewis · September 24, 2017

      That’s funny — I have a friend who is English but has lived in France for many years. She had the exact same issue with the constant football kicking of neighbour kids in their first house. I believe it was at least one of the reasons they moved to an area with a much bigger lot and virtually no direct neighbours. Truly such things can ruin your experience of life in your own backyard. As for the song, it’s interesting to hear that it was banned by the BBC. Makes perfect sense, of course, but it never occurred to me that it got air play outside of France. And Serge, yes….he looks pretty rough, but compared to later years (when he famously told Whitney Houston on live television he wanted to ‘f*ck’ her), he looks pretty fresh in that video!

  11. Lisa @ cheergerm · September 22, 2017

    Love that photo of Joan and Bette. Great read Mel, had a wee chuckle. Ah, I feel for you. I think it’s funny you keep saying hello as it probably annoys the tuna stuffing out of her! (Even though it’s not your intention.) Our direct neighbours are all easy and pleasant except for one door down. The woman seemed to take an instant dislike to us and has never said hello. So now I just ignore her with the same ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ intensity. How very French of me!

    • MELewis · September 24, 2017

      Purposely try to irritate her with my persistent friendliness, moi? Bien sûr que non! 😉 Interesting that you also have a difficult neighbour. I just don’t get how people can take an instant dislike to others on sight, but if they do, the French way is entirely justified. Bravo!

  12. Pingback: Hand in glove | Half Baked In Paradise
    • MELewis · September 28, 2017

      Always glad to provide inspiration for your posts, Ms. Osyth! 🙂

  13. Mél@nie · September 28, 2017

    @”‘une soixante-huitarde’ – ceci explique cela, et… le reste!!! 😀 oh, she may look like Brigitte Bardot nowadays, at 83… 😉
    * * *
    btw, just like you, I’m not French, et… toc! 🙂

    • Mél@nie · September 28, 2017

      P.S. I clicked too fast, désolée! otherwise, we’ve had adorable neighbours for about 13 years… 🙂

  14. Garfield Hug · October 5, 2017

    Oh my! Sounds like you have a really weird and inconsiderate neighbor! Ignore her indeed. She sounds like a spoilt brat desperately seeking notice.

    • MELewis · October 6, 2017

      Bang on. I think you have read her exactly right!

  15. Pingback: En bisbille – FranceSays

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