Our story instalment #4 ‘Aussies in France’ is a memoir of incidents and observations of our life in France, like the importance of the ‘right’ Saint; the power of a stick pin; styled by a French supermarket and “Madame, your chimney’s on fire”…
The importance of the ‘right’ Saint
We read the local advertisement, checked the date, double checked the date and when the time came, dressed ourselves head to foot in the warmest clothes and headed out in the dark with snow steadily falling to find the little village that was putting on the school play we had seen advertised in a local Tabac. We had dashed into the Tabac on our way home from the butchers to pick up last minute fresh baguettes, stinky oozy cheese and obligatory wine.
I, and the three kids (Paul was back in Australia working for another week) had been looking forward to watching the school children perform their play, further immerse ourselves in village life and generally have a family night out. We were not going to let the snow stop us – NO we were going to have some family fun.
Carefully driving on the narrow country lanes with snow piled high both sides, barely able to see because of the reflecting light, we slowly made our way to the village on the flyer, or as we thought, the village on the flyer!
Alas, when we arrived it all seemed very quiet, no cars in the square, no town lights … where was everyone? Were we too late? No, we had left in plenty of time to negotiate the roads on this dismal evening.
So parking beside the local Tabac which was the only source of activity in the village and filling half the tiny lane with our family sized vehicle in the process I clomped through the snow to enter the smoke filled hot bar to find wizened old men peering over their glasses at me.
Once again my French failed me and I could not make myself understood to the seasoned drinkers at the bar, however, the younger bar tender understood enough to advise me I had got the village name wrong (by only a few French letters mind you) and that it was further away. It was however on tonight… yeh, well I’d got that bit right.
After the high of looking forward to a family evening out and driving with heightened senses on this dangerous night, to only find ourselves at the wrong location, it was too much. With a deflated sigh I mentioned to the kids that I had got it wrong, again, and that it would be too much for me to drive to the correct village some distance away. Being ever so flexible and used to the goal posts changing, the kids were upbeat and agreed that if I played UNO and made hot chocolate back at home they would be okay with this. I honestly was more disappointed than they I think at this stage.
So, back into the car, and another hair raising drive back to our village, we ended the night with numerous raucous games of UNO and Snap and yummy, creamy hot chocolate.
I vowed to be more vigilant in reading French names and double checking handwritten notes and drawn maps to make sure we were heading to the right Saint’s village.
It pays to get the Saint ‘right’!
Every little ‘de’ or ‘du’ or ‘Saint’ makes a BIG difference in the name of a French village.
Get it wrong and you end up goodness knows where!!
Note to self
Read advertising flyers, maps and handwritten instructions very carefully.
Saint-Appolinaire is not Saint Appolinard in any circumstances; Le Grez is nowhere near Grez… however Achiet-le-Grand is of course near Achiet-le-Petit, being separated only by 2.5kms!
The power of a stick pin
Never under estimate the power of a stick pin, you know, those little super cheap and nasty pretend gold sticks with a novelty logo or shape on the top.
I will explain. We invited some good friends to spend time in our home one summer, we felt it was the least we could do as a thank you for all the times we had stayed at their numerous holiday homes in Australia.
We spent a few dinners going over how the appliances worked and what activities they could enjoy in the village and further afield.
Our friends were pretty keen to settle in and live the life like a local so while they had a very full schedule of travelling through France when they hit our home they intended to soak up the sun and village life.
“We’re going to take some stick pins, you know the ones with kangaroos on the top with us” they said. “Ok, sounds good” we said, really thinking it sounds all a bit kitsch and I’m glad I won’t be there when they hand those things out!
Well to this day, 5 years later, the older men at the village Tabac never fail, and I mean NEVER fail to tell us every trip that they remember those lovely Australians that drank along side them glass for glass and played petangue well into the fading daylight every day, AND gave them a kangaroo stick pin. Yep, they often even show us their battered woolen cap or farmers coat (that has now seen many a change of season) with their shiny stick pin firmly attached. This great idea of Terry’s shows how a little thought can mean so much and even foster good international relationships… well, to a small degree.
Australia is now firmly associated with Terry doing the kangaroo jump along the petangue field (to make sure they understood from whence he hailed from) and the shiny stick pin with that little iconic Aussie jumper on top!
Styled by a supermarket
I am not a fan of retail chains and mass produced clothing where the style (or lack thereof) is dictated to you and if you succumb you will look like every other second person catching the train or walking the city streets. So my wardrobe, and that of my family, is a mixture of smaller boutique finds, good recycled and charity clothing and designer clothing, together with bags and accessories that will last a long time and ooze lifelong style and quality.
So unless it is undies, socks or hosiery I will not usually purchase clothing from the same store that my carrots, lettuces and chicken legs are purchased, that is, no supermarket clothing for us.
However, when in France the quality of clothing found in their supermarkets, yes, beside the aisle of breakfast cereal, is generally much better and definitely more stylish than that in Australia. So every now and again, in between filling our trolley with staple food items, we come across “supermarket bargains”. After doing a check of the stitching, matching patterns and loose threads these bargains are added to our trolley.
The funniest thing is when I am complimented by anyone in Australia on these stylish items and they try to check out the clothing tag (you know how some friends just do this); they seem almighty impressed with the “Made In Paris” or “Parisienne Styled” or fancy French name on the label. It is with a laugh that I tell them that it is a quick supermarket bargain found in regional France. I feel the joke is on them for being superficially impressed by the name on the tag.
Style is an attitude of life and not a brand label!
“Madame, your chimney’s on fire”
Here’s what you need to know when your fireplace is on fire with smoke is billowing out the top of your chimney and the local farmers, (who have already been at the bar for far too long), start shouting at you in French, banging on your front door and waving their arms about…
- follow the locals outside to see huge flames escaping out of your chimney three floors above
- race inside and extinguish the fire in your fireplace
- put more clothes on (because you were in your pyjamas – and now the whole village is piling into your lounge room)
- check out all rooms
- frantically find your french/english dictionary
- give up, find the only other english speaking person in the village (who happens to be at the back of the group now in your lounge room)
- move furniture away from the fireplace in the lounge room
- move food and furniture from the wall in the kitchen (ie. the other side of the now very hot stone chimney)
- clean up the mess
- worry over the next two days and nights as your fire continues to smolder in your fireplace and chimney
- find a very good friend (who speaks fluent French) to organise a Chimney sweeper to do his job and a certified ‘chimney man’ (no idea what this is in French) to replace flu, do minor building works and send you an incredibly expensive bill in euros
Yep, that’s about it. Story done….
I’m exhausted thinking about the chimney fire again, so I’ll have to continue our memoirs another day!
Au revoir for now Annette xx
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