Thursday, November 20, 2008
Today there is a greve - that is a strike to you and I. As a result the secondary teachers are out in force and the majority of classes have been cancelled. I work from home so my friends who go out to work, have dumped a variety of offspring chez nous. Entertaining other peoples children is always an eye opener and never more so than when they are of another nationality.
Cultural differences are always going to be a source of amusement and over the years we have had more than our fair share of moments where the entente has been less than cordiale.
Food is often a factor. Or rather, the bizarre eating habits of Les Anglais, as perceived by the French. One regular sleep over guest now brings her own breakfast. This came about after the famous occasion when I had run out of chocolate covered cereal and nutella for the toast. The conversation went something like this -
Me - “How about some fruit?”
Her - Blank incomprehension, shakes head, thinks, ‘why is this woman offering me dessert?’
Me - “Would you like porridge oats?”
Her - Blank incomprehension, politely refuses, thinks, ‘why is this woman offering me horse feed?’
Me - getting desperate, “ I could do you a fried egg?”
Her - Looks terrified, thinks, ‘ this woman is trying to poison me!’
I gave up. She now arrives with a jar of nutella and strangely enough, a loaf of white sliced, crustless bread, something that couldn’t be more English. But clearly it is ok as her mother brought it in France, therefore it must be edible....
Anyway, we had the last laugh. The bread brought back so many happy memories of kids birthday teas and crustless marmite sarnies - bliss - that the OH and I devoured the lot in bacon butties. Ha.
The French do have an incredible arrogance about food. They maintain that if it is French it is Good and if it is foreign it is Bad. This is why it cracks me up when Raymond Le Blanc starts twaddling on about ‘France and ze fine dining’ on the TV show The Restaurant.
I wholeheartedly agree that French food can be fantastic, especially traditional regional dishes.
But the French also love to take dishes from other cultures, add a touch of arrogant ‘we can do better’ and cock them right up. Go to a Pizzeria and the cheese and tomato options may be edible but the ‘special’ will involve some ghastly confection of honey, nuts, apple, duck and curry sauce.
It is also why I went to an up-market restaurant recently and was nearly poisoned by the dish of the day. It was advertised as a kebab. I imagined some Gordon Ramsay type special - maybe free range lamb, rocket, fantastic sauce and a home made wrap.
The special ingredient turned out to be foie gras, marinated in Sangria. I am all for fusion cooking but this was a step too far. Actually, it was several steps too far.
Bastardising ethnic food like this may explain why the French have such a distrust of eating anything foreign, as generally it is not very nice. It may also explain why French kids will only eat pasta plain. Although sometimes they will add tomato ketchup, if they are feeling particularly cosmopolitan and adventurous.
I had better go and buy some baguettes for lunch. They are always a safe bet served with ham. And nothing else.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
As any strategist will know, comms are key in winning the battle. For ex-pats, being able to communicate with the outside world, can mean the difference between sanity and madness. I found this out the hard way when I moved to France and found myself in a rented property with no phone line.
I tried to use the phone box in the village. My over-riding memory is of trying to make myself heard above the gale force winds, desperately feeding coins into the slot and trying to placate small son who was sobbing in his buggy outside. After several days, I gave up and resorted to using my (English) mobile. Yes, I know, stupid. Very stupid. One enormous bill later, I had learnt the error of my ways.
Cut to several years on and our latest move. You would think that by now I would have got French comms down to a fine art. But no, despite requesting the installation of a phone line two weeks beforehand, we were still minus a phone connection for a further fortnight. The reason? France Telecom maintained that the house did not exist.
It is moments like this, that make you want to reach for a desktop mounted rocket launcher and fire it at someone. As this is not possible, we bring you the Survive France guide to comms.....
If you are lucky you will live in a zone where broadband is available.
If you are even luckier you will be in an area that is ‘degroupe’ and you will be able to choose your broadband provider from a variety of suppliers. Use www.dslvalley.com or www.degrouptest.com to check out what is available in your area. However, this only works if you have an existing phone number. For those who don’t, you will need to contact all the main players directly, see if they operate in your area and check out the individual offers. I haven’t yet found a way round this process, so if anyone knows of one?
Some suppliers will take on the whole line installation process for those who do not have an existing line and even pay for it. Bypassing France Telecom like this will save you around 110€. Check out the Alice website www.aliceadsl.fr for details.
If you are unlucky, you won’t be able to get broadband and will have to rely on a dial-up connection. You can either resign yourself to all the frustrations that this brings or start campaigning for broadband in your area. It seems that FT are obliged to act concerning the supply of ADSL if:
- Il y a un minimum de 100 demandes de raccordement
Si il y a au moins 1000 lignes téléphoniques qui dépendent d’un même répartiteur
So if your commune is likely to fulfil either of these two criteria, it might be worth trying to get some local campaign going. Has anyone tried?
If you cannot cope with having a permanently engaged phone, you could install a second line. When we lived in the 47, we resorted to this as both of us were working from home full time. It really, really pissed me off to have to pay two lots of line rental to FT but it was the only solution. Still, I was not as pissed off as a friend who had reluctantly decided to install a second line and then got told by FT that she couldn’t have one as they didn’t have any ‘spare’ lines.
Now that is really unlucky and guaranteed to make you reach for the desktop mounted rocket launcher.