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?