Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Slaying The Hydra

I stand victorious. I scoff in the face of French bureaucracy. Afraid of a few silly bits of paper? MOI??

Never let it be said that Lallymaggoo doesn't know her CAF from her CPAM. I've sent both organisations mostly everything they asked for, plus a few extra bits for good luck. I even sent the CPAM woman a copy of the letter from CAF for good measure.

French letters are very formal. A bit like those dances in Jane Austen costume dramas where everyone walks around sedately in simple geometric shapes. They look quite dull on the surface but are actually quite fun when you look at what lies beneath.

My favourite bit is the sign off.

Dans l'attente de votre réponse, Je vous prie d'agréer, Madame, l’assurance de ma considération distinguée.

There's no real English equivalent but the sense is something like:

I will sleep by the post box in fond expectation of a reply and with your kind agreement respectfully climb up your poo-hole.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Depot Vente versus Castorama

Mme Smith went to the Depot Vente and she bought:

2 x lengths of aluminium pipe €10 (cost at casto €22,40)

2 x paint trays €3,80 (cost at casto €9,60)

1 x bumper pack of raw plugs €1 (cost at casto €100 probably)

1 x second hand sechoir €5 (clothes horse. Cost new horrendous, €25 or something ridiculous)

1 x antique cupboard €10 This I am très excited by. She gave it to me cheaply because it is un peu abimée and has mouse droppings inside it. It's lovely and has old metal locks with all the keys and everything!

This is why we love the Depot Vente. Even though the bloody man wouldn't let me use the loo. At 7 months pregnant.

Mme Smith went to Castorama and after she'd used the loo she bought:

1 x insulated fireboard. Yay! Thank you Nick HH for letting me know that it was called a plaque pour hotte. Who would have guessed? €56 but apparently worth it.

3 x sets of long cotton curtains in different weights and colours and a matching cushion in the sale, €20 the lot. Bargain!

1 x chrome collar for a 125mm aluminium pipe €8 Bloody rip off but the depot vente didn't have one.

Assorted radiator fittings totalling €40! Daylight flipping robbery but Paul is coming to fit my radiators on Monday and I'd rather be over-stocked than under. Hopefully, he won't need half of it and I'll be able to take it back.

This is why we hate Castorama a bit but can't really do without it. We love the curtains in chocolate brown, cerise and white but we hate that the sales assistant left the ink-spraying security tags on. Useless bint.

Sealing The Chimney

This morning I wanted to tell you about my neighbour. The cheeky bint who thinks because she's nearly 70, has no teeth, one eye and a speech impediment that I'll let her use my phone to make premium rate phone calls when I know she has a phone herself because she gave me her number.

Instead I'm off looking for something to seal the chimney. Paul says there is a product that exists and is for sale at Casto that is an insulated, fire-resistant board. Fire resistant plasterboard I can find. Insulated? Nope.

Friday, 18 November 2011

J'habite en France

It's official. I'm here.

I am now a true resident of the commune of St Germain les Belles in the Haute Vienne. There's no going back. Actually, that's patently untrue, of course I could go back, but why would I want to?


Everyone speaks French. Don't talk to me about cleaning women, talk to me about femmes de menage. Pass me that rag please? Mais non, passez-moi ce chiffon. Of course, it's not all bon appetit and merci à vous, there are times when I cry with frustration, particularly on the telephone.

My Little House. I'm still 'indoor camping' but it feels like home. Paul came and fitted my wood-burning stove this morning and is returning on Monday to do the radiators. Furthermore, he and Nikki have got a new cuisinière and are giving me their old cooker. I will have 4 rings and an oven! I've scraped nearly a third of the lino glue off the wooden floor boards downstairs. I'm about to splash white emulsion everywhere to brighten it up. Please note: I am not decorating as such. There will be no prep and I will be painting over all manner of ghastliness in terms of flaky paint and holes in the plaster, but I have ceased kidding myself that I'm going to be ready to decorate this side of next Christmas so expediency is the name of the game.

Proximity of The Tall One. Whether or not the tile section of Castorama was to blame for my gravid state, we are both incredibly excited by the mingling of our genes in a whole new person and not being able to share that except telephonically has been torture. Not to mention expensive. And anyway, baby aside, I missed HIM. Now I can listen to his disembodied voice on the phone knowing that a) it's not costing the earth and b) I'll see him in person that evening.

Mushrooms. I'm sure they have them in the countryside in England but I have never managed to actually live in the countryside since I was old enough to relish fungi for anything other than their psychotropic qualities. Today I found a huge haul of shaggy parasols. Yum. Guess what we're having for supper?

I could go on, and I probably will, in another post. Just to balance the picture, here is a taste of the more challenging aspects of living in a foreign country.


The paperwork. It's insane. Declarations and attestations are required for pretty much everything. I'm currently wading through the paperwork you need to have a baby. I'm not allowed to go into labour until I have successfully negotiated the following:

i) A carte vitale. Essential for accessing free maternity care

ii) Declaration de grosesse. This little form seems innocuous enough until you send the copies off to the relevant departments (CPAM, CAF) and then, like a bureaucratic Lernaean Hydra, it generates more and more forms and demands for documentation that all have to be dispatched separately. My only consolation is that once completed, this mountain of paperwork may actually yield some benefits. Remember those? We used to have them in the UK once upon a time...

iii) Declaration of Paternity. When I saw the midwife at the appropriately named Mother and Baby Hospital, after she'd finished berating me for my lack of paperwork, she told me that until we'd signed a declaration at the Mairie, the baby is, until the divorce is finalised, considered to be the offspring of my dear ex-husband. Bizarre, non?

Luckily, the French calculate full term pregnancy at 42 weeks rather than 41 weeks. The rate I'm going, I'm going to need that extra week.

Did I mention that everyone speaks French? Yes, the charm of communicating in a foreign language can also be a curse. Especially on the telephone. Or if you need to get something done quickly.

Fortunately, part of The Tall One's business is looking after helpless foreigners who haven't a clue. Van Den Berg Immobilier will not only sell you a lovely property, they also have people to support you whilst you take your first baby steps on this alien French-speaking planet. I of course, being stubborn and a bit of a masochist prefer to wrangle with it myself and weep buckets to baffled and incomprehensible bureaucrats on the phone for hours first, but it's good to know I'm not alone.