On ne peut plus se voir

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?

Faire la gueule

Faire la gueleIf there is one thing the French do very well it is this. When they are annoyed by something or someone – a traffic jam, a strike, a colleague who is insufferably ignorant. ‘Faire la gueule’ is a very French way to express one’s discontent – without uttering a single word.

It is not always quite so obvious as grumpy cat. Sometimes it’s the absence of a smile (or even the hint of a smile), a subtle hardening of the facial muscles into a form of repressed anger that hints of extreme distaste. I have witnessed this countless times in daily life in France, where a dispute between family members, neighbours and former friends can go on for months, even years. The only outward sign of this war may be in the form of the facial expression. No words will be directly exchanged with the erring party, possibly ever again, although meaningful comments may be made indirectly through others. But rare is the Frenchman who will take the bull by the horns and air his or her, ahem, beef.

This is entirely different from the English way of doing things. (By English, of course, I mean English in the broad sense including all of us Canucks, Yanks, Aussies, Kiwis, etc.). We may disagree but no matter how we feel about the other person, we will likely smile and be polite. In fact, the more we dislike the other person, the bigger the smile will be. That is something the French abhor about the English, as they consider it insincere or ‘faux cul’.

‘Faire la gueule’ means, literally, to make a face. To be in a bad mood, to sulk or generally be unhappy.

‘Avoir de la gueule’, oddly enough, means to look nice or attractive.

Both of these expressions are slang and should be used with caution by non-native speakers. Be wary of any expression including the word ‘gueule’. Officially designating the snout of an animal, when applied to a human being it is one of the worst insults in the French language. In fact, if you hear a French person say, “Ta gueule!” you may wish to flee immediately. Fur is going to fly. All it really means is ‘shut up!’ But it is considered the height of rudeness.

SunflowersI have also heard the expression used to describe wilting flowers. “Tes fleurs font la gueule.” Oh dear. If even the flowers can sulk in France, we are in trouble.

Have you ever seen this expression on a French person’s face? Or have you ever made it yourself?

How to be a bon voisin

Following last week’s post on la politesse, here are some real-life examples of how far the French will go to remain polite while telling off their neighbors. They may lose something in translation but hopefully the humor remains intact. And to all those who thought the French had no sense of humor, think again. Although it’s perhaps an acquired taste…

Voisins7SPARROW

PLEASE STOP PUTTING SEEDS IN OUR MAILBOX.

Dear neighbor (male) across the way:
I have seen that you have a really nice ass.
You can go ahead and put up curtains.

Voisins2

THE PERSON WHO KINDLY STOLE MY MOUNTAIN BIKE
CAN CONTACT ME IF INTERESTED IN THE BASKET
THAT FITS ON THE HANDLEBARS…
ASSHOLE!

Voisins4Dear (female) neighbor,
There’s really no need to wear a thong when watering your plants.
However, if your only conception of gardening is butt naked, would you at least have the courtesy to cover your lady parts when our children are dining just next door?
A bit of modesty won’t prevent your jasmine from flourishing.
Thanks in advance.

Voisins3Dear (female) neighbor,
I regret to inform you that it is not out of pleasure but necessity that we set
our alarm clocks to go off so early in the morning.
FYI, it is not surround sound 5.1 but simply our Iphone speakers.
However, we will advise our employers that you are a light sleeper
and they will undoubtedly adjust our working hours to suit you.
Kind regards,
Your upstairs neighbors

Voisins6

Madame Cxxxxxx,
Our most courteous requests having resulted in nothing more than a pathetic “I’m not taking orders from the Chinese,” I must resort to this public notice.

Your filthy little dogs are getting on the nerves of everyone in the building. If you do nothing to keep them quiet at night and clean during the day, the “Chinese” will take care of it.

My wife cooks wonderful ravioli. Our children adore grilled Yorkshire.

A word to the wise,
Jean-Yves Txxxx

Voisins5To the young lady on the 5th floor

Several of us share in your fulfillment with your partner, both night and day, ever since you moved into our building or at least since you found a very talented partner.

We agree that one person’s freedom stops where another’s begins… To be woken by your cries at 7:00 in the morning as well as those at 3 a.m. infringes upon my freedom to sleep and to awaken at the time of my choice in my home. Do you think that’s right?

There are many students in this building but there are also many families with young children. Would you please show some consideration for your neighbors and discuss with your partner how you might:

  • Reduce the noise level (music, pillow, gag…)
  • Choose a more appropriate time
  • Do your cooing at his place
  • Show respect and common decency

P.S.  You should consider post-coital urination – given the frequency and length of your love-making, you may come down with severe cystitis

Reply (on post-it):
Do excuse us for the disturbance this may have caused. I will try to be more careful from now on. Thanks for suggesting the gag. My boyfriend was quite flattered that you consider our lovemaking too long 🙂 Please accept my sincere apologies.

Now that’s la classe!