En suspens

Larousse defines ‘en suspens’ as a state of momentary interruption. To me it feels like time is standing still. This state of being suspended, in limbo, while we wait and see what the future holds.

I am not normally given to pre-election anxiety. But in light of the surprising results the world has seen this past year whenever voters went to the polls, it is natural to feel anxious. Everywhere you turn in France there is talk of what may be the fall-out after Sunday’s first round of the presidential election.

Sure, there will be a second round two weeks later, on May 7. But by then the choices will be narrowed down to two from the current 11. And if we believe the polls, which I am not particularly inclined to do but at the same time cannot reasonably ignore, we could conceivably find ourselves stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place: Mélenchon on the left, and Le Pen on the right.

That particular scenario is responsible for my sense of creeping discomfort. If it came down to it, I am fairly confident that France would go left. But at what price? The end of Europe as we know it, of free trade and the free movement of its citizens. What would it be like to live in ‘La France Insoumise’ (Undefeated, rebellious France)? There are things I could get excited about: a new constitution (6ème République) that would allow this country to make the kinds of sweeping changes that are needed; a real commitment to investing in renewable energy. But how exactly would we distribute the so-called wealth of our country to better serve its citizens?

What concerns me is that there are so many cynical, deluded and misguided citizens who either will not vote at all, will vote ‘blanc’ as a protest, or will vote for an extreme faction which, however endearing, has no chance making more than a ripple at the polls. Which leaves the window wide open – grande ouverte – for our worst nightmare.

Until next week, then, when we will have a better idea of ‘à quelle sauce on sera mangé’…

C’est comme ça

Peintres tour eiffel

I know better than to expect service with a smile in France. Around here, we are happy to be served, period. But lately a few particularly awful customer service experiences have me ranting once again.

First there was the painter who was supposed to redo the south-facing façade of our house. It started out well enough. He showed up when promised, twice, sent me a quote for the work, cashed the 40% deposit and began the job in May. Things quickly went downhill. He began by painting over the chrome bolts that are a design feature of our modern house, and dripping paint on several glass panels around the deck. I explained that he needed to protect the area, so he taped down plastic and used a bit of tape. He got half-way through the job when the skies clouded over and spat down a few drops of rain. Then he disappeared for two weeks, leaving us with a half-painted house, plastic bits on the deck and vague promises to come back soon. August, he swore. We are still waiting.

Then there’s the postman. Not only does he never ring twice, often he never rings at all. I find the slip of paper in my letter box, down by the road, saying that he attempted to deliver a parcel while I was out. Des mensonges, Monsieur! I was there. Deaf I may be but I can still hear the door bell. The funny thing about that slip of paper is that, to look at it, you would think it should be easy to get your parcel (assuming you read French; otherwise, bonne chance in decoding this baby!).

Avis de passageTwo options, it says. Choose a new delivery date online or go pick up your parcel at the local post office, anytime from 3 pm the following day. “Mais non,” says the woman who works at our local post office as she explains it to me with a vague school-marmish air. It doesn’t work like that around here. By the time the postman reaches her small post office, at least two working days will have passed (not counting the weekly Wednesday closure). When I express frustration, not only at the poor service but at the erroneous message on the official piece of paper, I get nothing more than a Gallic shrug.

Et oui, c’est comme ça!

Online shopping saves me from having to deal with such characters. Most of the time. As much as I love Amazon, regardless of their tax issues, I shop some French websites for specialty items like pet supplies. Our two Frenchies are excitable types on walks and it takes some good quality leashes to rein them in. After spending a good while researching just the leash I needed (short, strong, flexible grip), I was ready to place my order on a site called Polytrans (the French are not big on sexy brand names).

The site claimed to offer free delivery on orders over 49 euros, so I calculated my order to include an additional item, bringing the total to just over 50 euros. But when it came time to place my order, lo and behold, the site offered me a so-called ‘loyalty discount’ based on a previous order, deducting three euros off the total and adding in 7.50 for delivery. Gah!

I called the number listed on the website for support, politely explaining my case and expecting that they would simply remove the ‘discount’ and let me get on with it. No such luck. All I had to do, the woman explained in a voice that suggested she regularly dealt with dummies, was order some small item to make up the difference and get free delivery. When I told her that I’d already done this, and frankly, their loyalty points were having the opposite effect, she dropped the mask of customer service and said that there was no way she could change the order anyway. Imagine if they had to do that for everyone?

Needless to say, I hung up and took my business elsewhere.

When the French complain about ‘unfair’ competition from the Amazons of this world, I will point out that little example of customer ‘service’. It is just one among so many others. When they moan about the loss of local jobs and soaring unemployment, I will think about my half-painted façade, along with the handful of other jobs (electrical, roof, cleaning) we’d be happy to pay for if only we could find someone willing to do them.

Et oui. C’est comme ça.

Have you had a memorable customer experience lately, in France or elsewhere?

Souriez, c’est la rentrée!

Frenchie smiles

It’s that time of year again. Drum roll, please…

C’est la rentrée!

Time to get back: back to school, back to business, back to the grind that is French life. Although you might think this would mean long faces, around here it seems that getting back to work gives us a lot of reasons to smile.

I’ve posted before about how this is my favourite time of year. And it’s not just for the school kids. Although I still have one (mostly) mature student under my roof, la rentrée is the start of a whole new year on many different levels.

First, there’s la rentrée des vacances. The French are back from vacation and they are smiling, at least for the first week. We did not go away anywhere this summer. Instead, we took shorter breaks in the spring, then lounged around all summer while everyone else took off. Although we live in an area that is a draw for tourists, we still feel the deadness of the summer season. Shops close, streets are oddly empty, anything administrative gets lost in an overflowing inbox. We began feeling the first signs of life again last week. Traffic reports went from green to red, tanned faces appeared in the shops and long line-ups sprouted in the grocery store.

Then, there is la rentrée politique. This means that the brief lull in rhetoric is over. My ears had barely stopped ringing from all the noise over Brexit and Trump’s latest antics. And with presidential elections in the offing next spring, French politicians are back with a bang. Nicolas Sarkozy broke the silence by officially announcing his run for a spot on the ticket in 2017. Since he declared his Republican candidacy with a proposed France-wide burkini ban, he will not be getting my vote.

Today is la rentrée des classes. It’s back to school for the kids, which means we will see a lot of freshly scrubbed faces and bright new backpacks on the street. It’s been awhile since my kids were small, even longer since I went back to school myself, yet that buzz of newness and energy still gets me.

The teachers have been back for a week already, having completed la rentrée des professeurs ahead of time to get things ready for a new crop of students. This means new security measures in schools, although I doubt they will be enough to reassure everyone after so many terrifying incidents in the past two years.

I have been enjoying the rentrée audiovisuelle this week. My favourite French access-to-prime-time talk show, C’est à Vous on France 5, is back. Next week will kick off a new season of Le Grand Journal on Canal Plus. And I’ve just learned that Les Guignols, those political puppets extraordinaire, who were banished from the show last year having crossed some sort of line, will be back.

In a week or two it will be time to sign up for activities: yoga, zumba, choir…I’m still debating what to make time for but have decided there will be at least one thing that gets me out each week!

It seems there are lots of reasons to smile. The summer sun is still with us, yet there’s a chill in the morning air that heralds the change of season in a few weeks’ time. I love the fall, and I feel energized at the thought of getting back down to work again.

What’s your favourite thing about la rentrée?

Pet à porter

Pet à porter

Pet à porterI snapped this shot of a petite pooch at the market on Sunday. It is for me a typical scene of French life.

Little dogs go just about everywhere with their owners in France, and well-behaved pets are welcome in most restaurants and many shops. This miniature Pinscher breed is a popular choice, along with the poodle, the Yorkshire and the Jack Russell. French bulldogs are slowly gaining ground in France now that they’ve become so popular in the U.S.

I suppose this very French version of the ‘doggy bag’ makes a lot of sense in crowded public places. Little dogs like this can easily get stepped on, and crowds must be terrifying for them.

‘Aller au marché’, to go shopping at the open-air market, is a regular Sunday morning pilgrimage for many French people, who often go together as families, taking their time and strolling along the crowded stalls. This is frustrating for type-A people like myself. I just want to zip-in and zip-out with as much fresh produce as I can carry and in as short a time as possible. My husband only goes on pain of starvation and we are both way too impatient in crowds.

I can think of nothing more stressful than bringing our two French bulldogs to the market. Unfortunately they are too big for a shopping bag – although I’m sure they’d be delighted to take away a doggy bag with some of this cheese.

thumb_IMG_5096_1024How about you? Do you like open-air markets, with or without pet or partner?

Être de mariage

Place settingThere is something special about being invited to attend a wedding in France. They even have a special locution for it. You don’t go to a wedding: On est ‘de’ mariage.

Many of our friends and family have been married for years so it had been a while since we last attended a wedding. I suppose it’s a measure of how long we’ve been in France that we are beginning to be invited to the next generation’s nuptials.

When our friends asked us if we would come to Normandy for their eldest daughter’s wedding, the answer was a resounding oui. It felt like an important milestone to share with people who were among our first friends when we arrived in Lyon. We had known Marion as a little girl and missed them since they moved to Rouen. Besides, it had been far too long since we had last visited the home town of my husband’s family who hail from neighbouring Evreux.

First there was the small matter of what to wear. We don’t often get dressed up these days and I found I had nothing suitable. Quel dommage! Off I went to Globus, my favourite Swiss department store, where I found something simple but elegant that didn’t break the bank. A rare find indeed.

ZFrenchman trotted out a rather nice suit that he hadn’t worn in years. We updated it with a new shirt and a pair of Italian leather shoes. It seems he is more adept at climbing mountains than wearing leather soles in the city. He slipped on the cobblestones and nearly broke his back going down a flight of steps to the parking lot. Thankfully only his pride was wounded.

mariage
Marion and her proud Papa, Michel

As soon as I’d dried my tears of hilarity relief, off we went to the city hall. When you get married in France, whether or not you choose to have a church wedding, the real deal takes place at la Mairie. This is where you sign on the dotted line and are officially pronounced husband and wife.

Because it is France, you can generally count upon a certain amount of atmosphere. I don’t just mean a beautiful old building with period décor and sweeping steps, I am referring to the ‘animation’ that is to be found in most big cities and public places these days. Rouen was no exception: there was a boisterous demonstration in progress with clouds of smoke, loudspeakers blaring and banners waving. The city hall was encircled by police; security guards let the wedding guests in by the side door.

Mariage MarionThe ceremony itself was simple but sweet, with about seventy guests in attendance. The bride wore a beautifully designed dress with lace that showed off her back to perfection. I thought this was rather clever given the fact that it is your back that gets the most views on your wedding day.

Marion and Gauthier made a handsome couple. They are both doctors and so were many of the guests. It felt reassuring somehow to be surrounded by medical professionals in case we had another slip on the stairs.

There was a short break between the ceremony and the reception, then it was on to a restored grange – farm building – a short drive away in Le Neubourg. They had decorated it beautifully with table arrangements that represented endangered wildlife from around the world.

Les dragées – sugar-coated almonds – were at each place setting. These little works of edible art are de rigueur at French weddings. I did not know why but Google led me to this interesting explanation and a bit of fascinating history about les dragées.

Le NeubourgWe had champagne cocktails followed by Lebanese food – rather unusual for a wedding in France but fully in keeping with our friends who have never done things by the book. Which is probably why we are friends!

After dessert – a fabulous multi-tiered wedding cake iced in traditional pâte d’amande – it was dancing and sipping until the wee hours. We, being older if not wiser, slipped away before they became too wee. We even made it around the dance floor without tripping!

And les jeunes mariés? They are off for a honeymoon trip to Sri Lanka. We wish them longue vie!

Have you been to a wedding lately? Tell me about it!