Cours de GPS

road signs, panneaux

The female voice that lives inside my GPS is called, improbably, Serena. Perhaps this female persona was the fantasy of the German engineers who designed my personal navigation app. Or maybe the marketing people thought the name would inspire a sense of serenity.

When I had to choose between Serena and Henry, her male flatmate, I went with dulcet-toned Serena. Of the two, she seemed slightly less commanding.

Did I mention I have issues with authority?

My first impression is that she sounds nothing like a Serena to me. Her snooty British accent makes her seem far too well-schooled to be doing this job. And, having taken a trip or two together, I fear she must agree.

Although we are in France, Serena speaks English. If I have the option, I always pick the language this is least likely to cause confusion, or misinterpretation, to my English ears. This is especially true when it comes to getting from point A to point B. I am, as confessed before, geographically and spatially challenged, a condition that only seems to get worse with age. But because we are in France, and French-speaking Switzerland, I do expect her to have a minimal grasp of the lingo.

The problem begins as soon as we hit the road.

“Prepare to bear right,” announces Serena imperiously. The road stretches ahead in a straight line.

“I think you mean go straight,” I suggest, trying to be polite.

“Beware!” says that lady.

“Beware of what?” I ask. There is no danger that I can see.

“At the roundabout, take first exit.”

“You mean turn right?” I ask, squinting at the screen propped on my dashboard. You are not technically allowed to use a GPS on your phone while driving in France. Just in case you might be cheating by texting or checking your Facebook status, they make any use of a phone in a car illegal.

Thankfully I no longer have to face the road conditions shown in the picture above, which used to be part of my daily commute. But getting around France can be confusing, so I take all the help I can get.

“In 200 metres, prepare to turn left.”

Okay, that much I get.

“Prepare to turn left in 100 metres, onto LARUEDELAMARTINIERE,” anounces Serena blithely.

Her French pronunciation is a curve ball that catches me unaware. It bears no connection to French as I know it. What street does she mean? I glare at my screen but cannot see any name resembling her French with an English accent.

The road curves and I miss the turn.

“Now turn right onto CHEMINDELACHARBONNIÈRE.”

“Chemin de la what? Where did you learn to speak French?”

“Now turn right.”

“Wrong! It says do not enter.”

“Beware!”

“Of what?”

There is silence. I glance at my screen and see a straight arrow. It seems that Serena has strategically repositioned.

“At the roundabout, take the third exit.”

“You mean go left?”

“Take the third exit and continue onto the D93.”

“Whatever you say.”

“Now prepare to bear right.”

“Oui Madame.”

“Now bear right.”

“My god you’re a nag.”

“Turn right on RUDE LACHAINE.”

“Rude is right!”

“In 300 metres, you will have reached your destination.”

“What? You are seriously confused!”

“You have reached La Rue de la Résistance.”

“Ray-sis-tance?” I say, mocking her accent. “Listen, lady, this is France. You need to work on your accent.”

“Beware!”

I look in my rear-view mirror and see a cop right behind me. Realizing he may be able to see me talking to my GPS, I put two hands on the wheel, activate the turn signal and proceed into the parking lot.

“Merci Serena!” I say, signing off. She says nothing, far too polite to say I told you so.

I have indeed reached my destination.

Navigon, the app I use. Not my destination!

Do you use a GPS?

 

Poser un lapin

You’re supposed to meet someone at an appointed time and place. They don’t show up. You sit there and wonder: is it me?

In English we call this being stood up. Back in the day when I was dating (pre-mobile, pre-internet, ie the ice age), you had little choice but to wait and wonder. Now, presumably, you phone or text.

I have never been stood up in France. Getting my wires crossed is something else. My feu (late) Belle-mère was famous in our family for les rendez-vous ratés. We would agree to meet somewhere then miss each other entirely – in one case waiting on opposite ends of the train station for an hour before eventually giving up.

The French expression ‘poser un lapin’ literally means to place a rabbit. According to my source, aka Google, this rather mysterious term finds its roots in the rabbit as a symbol of fertility and plenty. The original meaning of ‘poser un lapin’ was not to pay someone for their favours, or more generally to leave without paying. Somehow this got transformed into modern parlance for not showing up.

Rabbits are rather common in France. People raise them like they do chickens, keeping a few in a backyard hutch. Rabbit meat is in all the supermarkets. I don’t mind it, although I’m also not crazy about it. The first time I ate rabbit was, bizarrely, at Easter.

Right now in France les chasseurs are out in force. Presumably hunting for Peter Cottontail among other small game in the fields and forests.

Let’s hope he gives them a run for their money. Or places a rabbit.

Have you ever been stood up?

Mort de rire

‘Mort de rire’, abbreviated as ‘mdr’ is the French equivalent of LOL. It means, quite literally, to die laughing.

French president Emmanuel Macron seemed ready to do just that when his rescue dog, Nemo, decided to leave his mark on the fireplace at the Elysée Palace this week during a working meeting.

It seems there’s a longstanding tradition of dogs in the French presidency. This video shows all of the pooches from Giscard to Macron (en français – sorry!)

Way before the internet started bringing us a daily dose of cute cats and funny animal memes, the dogs in our family provided moments of pure hilarity.

One of the funniest moments in my childhood was when the dog chewed my 85-year-old grandmother’s false teeth. She had left her set of choppers on the night table and one of our mutts chewed them out of shape. It was Christmas, and I remember how upset she was about not being able to properly enjoy her turkey dinner. Still, being a British-born woman of strong stuff, she laughed and said: “Must’ve had a bit of grub on ‘em.”

Flash forward to France in 1992 where husband and I decided to attend the only prenatal classes we could find in our area, then near Paris. Belle-mère raved to me about the wonders of the French method of ‘haptonomie’, in which both parents create a bond with the baby. Memory fails as to why our two Frenchies were with us when we went to the first class. We left them in the car (something I would normally never do, but it was a cool evening with no chance of them getting too hot).

We arrive in the room where the class is held, and join a dozen couples stretching out on yoga mats while the instructor talks to us about our emotions and the mysteries of bonding with our future child. Perhaps 10 minutes go by, during which I sense that husband is getting increasingly antsy. This is not his thing. Nor, to be honest, is it mine.

Suddenly, the peace of the session is disrupted by a loud honking of a car horn outside. Not one blast but several, long and insistent. Husband looks at me and whispers: “I think the dogs have had enough.” That was it. I was in stitches. Every time that horn honked I imagined our Frenchies impatiently leaning on the horn. We gathered our things and crept away.

Morts de rire.

Laughing out loud.

What’s your funniest memory of a pet?

 

Du poil de la bête

I’ve often heard it said in French, ‘Il reprend du poil de la bête’. This means to feel better after having been ill.

It never occurred to me to equate it with the hair of the dog. The idea of taking ‘a hair of the dog that bit you’ in the form of an alcoholic beverage to cure a hangover is the so very English expression. Quelle surprise!

Yet it seems they have the same etymology. At one time it was thought that applying a hair of the animal that bit you to a wound would literally hasten a cure.

My Frenchie is almost back to his old self following last week’s operation to remove an obstruction from his large intestine. Snorting, burping, farting and giving in to occasional moments of pure bulldog folly. Makes me remember why I fell in love with the breed in the first place….

Higgins took a hair of the dog and actually came very close to a second incident when he managed to crack open the small hard plastic bit of a vet-approved rope toy. Verdict: he is not to be left alone with any toys, period. As the vet pointed out, rightly so, there is no safe toy in the jaws of a determined dog. So we’ll reserve these objects of his affection for play time.

Speaking of hair, we are in shedding season. Between two cats and two dogs, you need a powerful vacuum cleaner to keep the floors from wearing shag rugs.

The above photo is the amount of hair removed from one of our cats following a recent trip to the toilettage. Finding a professional cat groomer wasn’t easy but it turns out there is a crazy lady ‘toiletteuse pour chat’ only half an hour away. My two kitties had never been groomed before but the experience of removing knots not to mention handfuls of hair seems to have given them a new lease on life. And my vacuum cleaner too.

So that just leaves me. After my series of blood tests and checkups and hair-raising encounters with loud machines, it seems it’s all systems go. As my Beau-père likes to joke, ‘on va mourir en bonne santé’. It’s reassuring to know we will die in good health.

A thought for those who are not so fortunate, however. Having been there before, it is easy to forget the suffering – physical and mental – of all those who are not well, be it with serious illness or chronic pain. Keeping one’s sense of humour is vital, but that’s a lot easier when you have the greatest gift of all.

Here’s to your good health. Santé!

Trop de la balle

Our Frenchie loves his balls.

Wait, you say. Don’t all dogs?

Mais non! If we’re talking about those balls, as a breed, most French bulldogs can’t reach theirs. Which makes for a lot less grooming (if that’s what you call it).

And if you’re talking about the other kind, also non.

We have two (Frenchies, that is). One is a ball dog and the other is not. Humphrey’s only interest in balls is the potential to fight over them. He’s a scrapper, loves a game of tug-of-war and any other opportunity for one-upmanship.

Higgins, on the other hand, is 100% French ball dog. He has a collection of balls and other toys that he likes to run after, chew, even bring on walks. When I decide enough is enough, I have to distract him in order to get him to drop the ball. Obedience training has failed. He is, after all, French. And you try unwedging a rubber ball from a determined bulldog’s jaw!

For some reason, he also likes to drop the ball in the pool and then wait for me to come and fish it out. Sometimes I don’t obey right away (hey, I’m also French), and this happens.

But sometimes, I admit to using his toys as an attention-getting device. (“You don’t want to go outside in the cold? Here, go get it!”) Frenchies are hard-headed. You use any available means to get them to follow.

The problem is that Frenchies can destroy even vet-approved toys in minutes. So when we found a brand of heavy rubber ball that he could really sink his teeth into, he was a happy boy.

“C’est trop de la balle!” he told me, using familiar French to say ‘Wow, that’s awesome!’

Last week our Higgins was under the weather. He barfed his breakfast one morning, which was not that unusual. The next day he threw up some more. I still wasn’t worried.

On more than one occasion a vet has explained to me: “Dogs are a vomitory species.” Right, because their ancestors, wolves, notoriously regurgitate their dinners to feed the young.

But when he stopped eating entirely for three days, I knew something was up. The vet confirmed it, first by palpating his gut and finding it hard. Then with an x-ray that seemed to show some strange objects lodged in his large intestine. He had an obstruction, and surgery would be needed.

I was mystified. What on earth could he have eaten?

You guessed it. Trop de la balle. On Tuesday, the vet removed a 1-inch chunk of rubber ball, along with a piece of his intestine.

And it is absolutely awesome good luck that he has so far come through the operation and is recovering well. Operating on bulldogs can be tricky due to their respiratory challenges, so we spent a sleepless night or two. And we’ll be keeping a close eye out over the next ten days for infection. But so far so good.

I went to visit him at the vet’s yesterday. He seemed a little sad at first but perked right up when I got him some new toys. Vet approved and, fingers-crossed, bulldog-proof.

By the way, if you have a dog who likes to chew, do NOT buy him toys like this! They are very dangerous if a piece breaks off and gets stuck in the gut.