Le plombier Polonais

Polish Plumber Tour EiffelHave you seen the Polish plumber lately? Let me reassure you: he is alive and well and living in France. The Polish plumber came to life in a cartoon published in the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo back in 2004. He came to represent everything the French fear most about Europe: unfair competition from cheap East European labour. Le plombier Polonais emerged from the rhetoric as a terrifying idea:

Imagine, a Polish plumber decides to come to work in France. What will become of French plumbers?

The Polish plumber and his cohorts are back in the news again – with the Greeks on the verge of exiting the EU and the Brits about to vote on their future in it. In France, the latest demon is the ‘Uberization’ of French taxis, which will also bring about the certain demise of its trains and buses. Clearly, we need to stop all forms of progress in order to protect the over-taxed and under-worked French system.

Anyone who has ever tried to find a workman in France can attest to the fact that a little competition can only be a good thing. Case in point: I’ve been trying to get some blinds installed on the south-facing side of my house to protect us from the summer sun. I began in March, signed the quote and left a hefty deposit in April. Last week, after begging and cajoling, I reverted to a threat: if the blinds were not installed this month, I would cancel the order. They called back with a date for end of next week.

We also needed some painting done in our basement. Of course we could do it ourselves, but neither husband nor self are particularly handy. I contacted a company that has done various small jobs for us in the past. They provided a quote the next day, then informed me of a date in mid-June, apologizing for being too busy to start immediately. They came when promised with no reminders on my part.

Plombier Polonais

The Polish plumber became a cheeky tourism campaign for that country. Clever Poles!

The man who runs this business in Polish. He is a charming fellow, although unfortunately he looks nothing like the poster from the tourism office. Monsieur V. hires his labour from the home country and supervises the workers in his native tongue. So I have Polish painters, if not plumbers. They were here first thing yesterday and stayed until 8:00 last night to finish the first part of the job. He has built his business up to a point where his easily identifiable if atrociously decorated vehicles can be seen at job sites all over our area. This leads me to think he must play by the rules and pay the Polish workers a fair wage and benefits in keeping with French law.

This kind of competition should be a wake-up call for the French. Unfortunately it is simply another reason to curse the EU and go out on strike.

Et vous? What’s your experience with the Polish plumber – or his equivalent?

Le monde à l’envers

Beach handstandThis is what you say in France when a situation is entirely contrary to the way you think it should be. “C’est le monde à l’envers!” Or another way of saying the same thing: “On marche sur la tête!”

I am tempted to say it is a useful phrase in France – but that would be a cheap shot, undeserving of this blog. Not to mention entirely mostly untrue. If you are sensitive to these small ironies, you will notice them everywhere you go.

Full disclosure: I had to google the definition of irony to make sure I wasn’t using it wrong. Ironically, considering what follows, one of the definitions of the word refers to Greek tragedy.

“A literary technique, originally used in Greek tragedy, by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character.”

Some readers will know that last week found me in Greece on holidays. Leaving behind the changing skies of the Alps, I had every hope of a solid week of sunshine. Instead, this is what happened:

Weather à l'envers

Le monde à l’envers !

I went to visit the Acropolis, the birthplace of civilization, where I was surprised to find readily available public toilets – modern, clean and free. Le monde à l’envers? Perhaps not. It was quite civilized, so that’s just how it should be.

Although in contrast to what is usually available in France, it certainly felt that way.

I took several taxis in Athens and each time the driver spoke no English and had no idea where I was going. I had to show him a map on my phone, which did not seem to help much. Then he would pass me his cell phone to speak to another person who spoke a little English but still had no idea where I wanted to go. All the while driving and texting on a tablet-size device to figure out where to go.

A note on Athens taxi drivers: avoid them. The metro is much more efficient, if rather hot.

I love Greece – it was my third time in that country. It was my first time in Athens, however, and I was a little overwhelmed by the sheer density and size of the metropolis. It was also my first time on the island of Kythnos, a beautiful spot. I will be back. By the way, the sun came out after a day of disruption.

And there is nothing ironic about that.

Where have you been lately? Was it how you expected or le monde à l’envers?