Le bon moment

I went to our local butcher shop hoping to pick up something nice to slip on the barbecue this past weekend – which turned out to be a wash-out weather-wise. I should have known better as we are not yet ‘officially’ in BBQ season. The butcher had the basics, of course, but not the nice selection of sausages we usually enjoy grilling up when the fine weather comes.

That should be soon, as we enter the month of May and the annual holiday festival. It starts with Labour Day on May 1st and VE or Victory in Europe day on the 8th; these are followed by the Ascension long weekend from Thursday to Monday at the end of May and the Pentecost holiday Monday in early June. By then we shall be in full seasonal swing and the local shops will be well-stocked with everything from ice-cream to grillades.

It was a timely reminder in case I’d forgotten that here in France, timing is everything. There are no official rules for when you switch your greeting from ‘bonjour’ to ‘bonsoir’ or until what time one can reasonably wish someone a ‘bonne journée’ vs. ‘bon après-midi’ or ‘bonne soirée’. You just have to learn to sense when the timing is right.

Bonjour or ‘good day’ is the standard greeting in France. After that, you can try a ‘rebonjour’ or casually switch to ‘salut’, which is closer to ‘hi’. Oddly, some sort of greeting is always expected but it’s often not clear what it should be. Sometimes people will say ‘hello’ borrowed from English or just ‘hé!’

When I worked full-time in Lyon, it was common to say ‘bonjour’ the first time you saw someone in the morning, then ‘rebonjour’ when you saw them again, and just ‘re’ after that. Some people would get clever with ‘re-re-rebonjour’ or after several such instances ‘re-re-re’ which sounds as if you’re gargling. No wonder we non-natives get confused!

Timing is everything, as they say. Getting a sense for ‘le bon moment’ or le bon timing as the French will often say (which words being ‘officially’ borrowed and how they are pronounced being another topic for which there are no rules), is perhaps the greatest challenge for second-language learners in France.

Have a bonne journée!

Bon dimanche

Dimanche après-midi sur l’île de la Grande Jatte – Georges Seurat

Sundays are sacrosanct in France. Despite the fact that an ever-diminishing number of people attend church, the tradition of Sunday as a day of rest is still going strong.

Shops are closed, although some supermarkets and food shops are open on Sunday mornings until noon. Open-air markets do a booming trade until midday, after which everybody goes for lunch and all business activity ceases. Everyone wishes each other “Bon dimanche!”

Un dimanche – Paul Signac

In France, Sundays are for leisure pursuits and family. Aside from essential services like transport, police and hospitals, nobody works.

Sunday lunch can be an all-afternoon affair. It often ends in a long, post-prandial walk to aid digestion. Then it’s a light supper and early to bed in anticipation of the new week. Monday, not Sunday, is considered the first day of the week.

La promenade du dimanche – Carl Spitzweg

I love Sundays because they are different from the rest of the week. My North American, consumer self used to rail against the French refusal to authorize Sunday openings of stores (other than in the pre-Christmas period, when exceptions are allowed). But I’ve finally come around to the French way of thinking. The fact that the tradition is kept up means we get a true day of rest. Even if you spend it working around the house, gardening or going for a long hike, it is a needed break from the regular routine.

Un dimanche campagnard – Gabriel Dauchot

This morning the sun is shining, a small plane is droning somewhere overhead and my to-do list is on hold. I will take the time to catch up on my reading, sit outside and have a coffee while the birds chirp. I will enjoy what we call the ‘pause dominical’, the Sunday break.

What does Sunday mean to you?

Calendrier scolaire

Here in France we are slaves to the rhythm — the rhythm of the French ‘calendrier scolaire’. The entire country dances to the tune of the school calendar as it determines the official vacation dates.

While the Christmas and summer holidays are the same for everyone, the three shorter vacation periods (two weeks each) in the autumn, winter and spring are organized in waves by ‘zones’: A, B and C. This is to help ensure a couple of things: a) a longer season for the tourism trade and b) slightly less craziness on the roads.

Believe you me, when le tout Paris decides to hit the roads to the ski resorts in the Alps, it is just as well that those from everywhere else in the country (not to mention many parts of Europe) are not also en route.

Where we live in Rhone-Alpes is Zone A. That doesn’t necessarily mean we go first as they alternate dates each year so that everybody gets a shot at the best weather.

This only applies, of course, to people with school-aged children. But everyone is somehow affected as prices for hotels and transport often increase dramatically during vacation periods — and availability is at a premium.

Tourists should keep these dates in mind and if possible avoid travelling to the seasonal holiday spots during school breaks. That’s if you want to avoid the crowds and get a better choice of accommodation. It doesn’t apply so much to Paris, unless perhaps over the long May weekends. More on those later.

We are now starting two weeks of spring break in Zone A. I’m staying home for now but plan on enjoying a quieter period with less traffic on the roads.

Bonnes vacances à tous!

Cahier de doléances

A list of grievances? That is something I can relate to!

I was surprised to discover an entire history behind the ‘cahiers de doléances’ or grievance books currently in the news as part of the Macron government’s ‘Grand Débat National’ or what I am calling the great debate.

It seems that such books, called ‘cahiers’ or notebooks because people write in them, were first instated just before the French Revolution in 1789. At that time, King Louis XVI decided to gather the input of the three major ‘estates’ or social classes: the first being the clergy, the second the nobility and the third, the working classes and poor. What a modern fellow was Louis! Imagine crowd sourcing public opinion to manage the revolutionary winds over 200 years ago!

It didn’t end well for poor citizen Louis who was, bien sûr, decapitated along with the remaining royals. I only hope that outcome for our current leaders involves less bloodshed. For now, the cahiers have been collected by the mayors and we are waiting to hear what the government intends to do with the list of grievances expressed by the French citizens. Little has been said about the specific complaints, but the overall trend has to do with regional disparities and taxes. More on that later.

(I am no history buff. All of this comes from Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cahiers_de_dol%C3%A9ances)

In our corner of the Haute Savoie, we did not get any info about a debate or an opportunity to share our thoughts with the powers that be. However, in the spirit of airing grievances, I have compiled a few of my own:

Cahier de doléances de FranceSays:

  1. Stop resisting every little change
    France has a well-earned reputation for being ‘irréformable’ because its people will fight any change made to laws with demonstrations, strikes and riots.
  2. Support the democratic process.
    Laws voted by our democratically elected leaders are valid and should be respected as such.
  3. Stop inventing new taxes
    The people are taxed to death (or that is the perception). Simplify the way taxes are collected; make it fair and transparent.
  4. Teach foreign languages better
    Hire native speakers to teach foreign languages in their own tongue.
  5. Stop dubbing foreign content with French voiceovers
    Use subtitles on TV and in films if the production is not originally in the French language.
  6. Have fewer laws and actually enforce them
    See my recent post on ‘Les interdictions’.
  7. Allow people to demonstrate peacefully but
    Crack down on anyone who is violent or damages public property
  8. Prison reform must be a priority
    The conditions in our penitentiary system propagate criminality and waste public money; only lock up those who are a real threat to public safety. Find creative ways for offenders to pay their debt to society, for example through enforced public service
  9. Reform driver education
    It should be less costly and more accessible for all; essential rules of the road for driv ers, pedestrians, cyclists and others should be taught in school; people should be able to learn to drive with a family member or private tutor.
  10. Create a code of conduct for all
    This should include the values of the French republic and ‘good citizenship’ rules for all. Every citizen should be required to know it and agree in order to receive public services like healthcare.

So there you have my thoughts, for what they’re worth. Between you and me, I doubt that many will be on the list of grievances.

What do you think?

 

Dépôts sauvages

People are pigs. That’s what I thought when I saw this pile of waste by the side of the road on my morning run last Sunday. On an otherwise scenic road just next to the woods by the lake. Sadly, examples of littering or illegal dumping are all too common in the fields, forests and country lanes of rural France.

All over France you see warnings against dumping or ‘dépôts sauvages’, sometimes accompanied by signs threatening steep fines. They seem to have little effect. Often you see a sign like this one, just next to a pile of rubbish that somebody couldn’t be bothered to take to the dump.

Sometimes they set it on fire. To help it decompose or to burn the evidence?

One mayor got so annoyed by seeing the recycling bins in his town swamped with junk that he took the initiative to track the owners and ‘return to sender’ as the song goes and this report explains.

In the Île-de-France region outside of Paris is a massive dumping ground that locals have been lobbying to get cleaned up with no result. It’s private land, which means years of legal steps before the authorities will take action. In the meantime, toxic waste like asbestos from building materials leaches into the surrounding soil and groundwater.

It is easy to conclude that people are pigs. They are often lazy, selfish and completely oblivious to the impact of their actions. But we still need to figure out a solution to prevent it or clean it up. So I ask myself: why do people dump their waste rather than take it to the ‘déchetterie’?

The problem in France is that the official dumps require that locals produce proof of residency in order to access them. Professionals like contractors are supposed to pay to dump their waste. Also, you need a car. Not everyone who lives outside of cities can drive. So that old mattress ends up by the recycling bins.

So what’s the answer? Clearly we can’t to put video cameras on each corner or policemen on every country byway. I see two potential solutions.

  1. Find another way of financing the dumps so that anyone can go there, regardless of where they live or whether they are individuals or professionals. Do it with an ‘eco-tax’ on building materials, or via a combined contribution from property owners and the tourist tax that is levied on every rental or hotel stay.
  2. Arrange monthly pickups of larger items with the garbage collection. They do this just across the border in Switzerland, where every second Thursday (or something like that) you are allowed to put large items out for collection at the curb. Hint: if anyone is looking for good recycled stuff, do a quick tour of Swiss city streets before the garbage trucks on special pickup days.

When I checked again the other day, the mess by the side of our road was gone. The local authorities must have removed it right away as they know from painful experience that such dumping tends to multiply faster than a you can say ‘pas de dépôt sauvage’.

What do you think about such ‘wild deposits’?