Want To Live In France? Read This First.

“I spend most of my year in the South of France,” I tell people when they ask where I live. They swoon. I smile and change the subject. Why? Because of days like today.

I set out to run a few quick errands before starting my work day: Drop off things at the tailor, pick up new yearly calendars at Gilbert Joseph, pay the electric bill at La Poste. Pick up a Coke for Cal on the way home, and Bob’s your uncle.

First stop, the tailor. She’s at the end of our block, and before I get into this tale of woe let me state for the record that she is a very, very nice woman. I brought her three items to fix, and after the usual pleasantries I took the items out of the bag, showed each of them to her, and told her what needed to be done on each of them.

After about 10 minutes of discussion, she says, “OK, this is good, but I cannot work with these, they have dust and cat hair on them.” We have a cat, and while she is delightful she does shed. However, these items were not particularly hairy or dusty. They’ve been in a bag on the front door knob for about a week. “I have allergies, I cannot work with clothes that are like this. Can you please clean them and bring them back? Perhaps you could…” She mimed a lint roller.

“Do you have one here? I could do it right now.”

“No. Merci! A bientot!” And she turned to greet the next customer.

Really, lady? A tailor without a lint roller? OK. See you soon, then.

Next stop, La Poste. They were now closed for lunch. Quel surprise! They were not opening up again for another hour, so I popped into Gilbert Joseph to pick up the calendars. If you’re not familiar with them, Gilbert Joseph is a national chain of bookstores that carry everything from books for home and school to notebooks, pens, DVDs, and stationery supplies. These calendars are large hard cardboard posters with six months on one side and six months on the other, each month in a straight vertical line. They include highlighted holidays and overlapping vertical lines to indicate when school is out in the different regions of France. They cost about two bucks, and we’ve found them to be essential for planning out trips and visitors and other far-off events – as well when to get to the store before a holiday we weren’t aware of shuts the country down for a full day or more.

I’m describing them in such detail because, with the day I am having, no Internet search is bringing up an image of these calendars. I did find one that featured nothing but chickens, though. Anyway, just believe me that they are awesome.

I go to the registers and there they are in a stack, as usual. But this year, they made them using a different design – one that I could barely stand to look at for 12 seconds, let alone 12 months. Electric blue and cherry red, it was hard to focus on the actual information provided. I returned them to the stack and went to the back of the store to look for other calendars. I found two I liked – one hangs on the back of the front door, and one in the back of the house where I work – and paid for them. Eleven euro instead of three, thank you, have a nice day.

Back to La Poste, carrying a large bag of diseased clothing and two calendars the size of catering trays. Still not open, and now there’s a crowd forming outside. Fine, I’ll go back home, get some work done, come back when the initial rush has died down.

I turned around to find a protest, a news crew and cars backing up and rerouting down St. Guilhelm, which is now pedestrian-only, and the sun is in the drivers’ eyes so it looks like one of those car chase scenes where people are diving out of the way, and one of the lowered pylons that let drivers into the restricted area deactivated and was now lifting a small car off the ground, and the old lady inside isn’t sure what’s happening, and people in general are confused and alarmed and yelling to the point where you couldn’t be sure who were the protesters and who was trying to help the old lady stranded in her car two feet off the ground.

Wow. OK, heading home now. I get home, do some work, lint-roll the hell out of the clothes, then head out again at three to drop them off and pay the electric bill.

I get to the tailor – now she’s closed for lunch.

As many services do nowadays, La Poste works on a ticketing system. When you enter you go up to the machine, press the button for the service you want, and a ticket with your number on it pops out. And, that’s exactly what I did. I looked at my ticket: 212. I looked at the display: 170. Sigh.

I grabbed a seat and waited. An hour later, they were at 189. I handed my ticket to the lady beside me and walked out.

Now, you may think I should have just stuck it out at La Poste. And, normally I would; but today it’s quite cold here, which means that the dogs-on-a-string people who hang out in the small park across the street chose this afternoon to warm their bones in the overheated confines of the cramped room of La Poste. So in addition to upwards of 50 cranky people juggling packages and glaring at the customers who were filing out forms at the counter – because no matter what you do at La Poste, there’s a lengthy form for it, and no one thinks to fill it out beforehand – there were about a half-dozen stinky, homeless punks in Pancho Villa shawls drinking beer, yelling anti-Sarkozy chants and encouraging their dogs on strings to fight each other.

The electric bill will be paid another day.

Back down to the tailor, who was now open and greeted me like an old friend. I brought out the hermetically sealed clothing, and she praised me for being a diligent housewife. Ahem. Then she asked me to explain again what I wanted done on each item. When again I came to the part about the zipper that needed to be replaced, she held up her hand.

“I am not sure I have a zipper here.” I was about to ask her if she was sure she was a tailor, but she had already skipped off to grab a hat box filled with zippers. She brought it back over and rifled through a rainbow of zippers, calling out each color. No black zippers. “Could you perhaps go and buy a zipper for the pants, and bring it back to me?”

I looked at her pointedly, grabbed a midnight blue zipper, and said, “This one is fine. No one looks at my zipper.”

My expression told her the matter was closed. We moved over to her enormous, red leather date book, and she seemed surprised to announce that she could have them done at noon on Christmas Eve day. She wrote out in longhand each item, explaining back to be what was to be done, stamped it, and handed it to me.

It’s now coming on 4.30 in the afternoon. I’ve done maybe 15 minutes of work so far. I bought Cal his Coke, thrust it and the electric bill at him, and told him he is welcome to try his luck at La Poste on Monday.


16 thoughts on “Want To Live In France? Read This First.

  1. Yeah, but we have days like that here in the states, too. In fact, I expect them to be like that. Yesterday, I had to get gas, go to the bank and the post office and I expected it to take forever even though they were all located within a few blocks of each other. Between traffic, parking and lines I thought a good couple of hours would be necessary. Well, there was a long line at the Post Office and – due to my own error – I actually went through it twice, but it moved amazingly fast. There was no line at all at the bank and the traffic wasn’t bad, so I was done much more quickly than I ever imagined possible.

    I have days like you’ve described all the time…and I’d much rather have them there, instead of here.:) Which I will hopefully get a chance to do eventually.

    • Oh honey, I’m with you. Nothing is quite as bad as a rainy rush hour in Manhattan in terms of sheer awfulness.

      The thing is, though, people expect that back home. No one expects it here, where movies have been made about each cherished day of bliss in fields of lavender, et. al. The point of my lengthy rant is that those days happen here, too.

  2. Haha! I love the part where you tell her no one looks at your zipper! What a tale.

    As someone who loves calendars and other gizmos to keep me straight, those ones you describe sound intriguing…


  3. My wife and I lived in Montpellier, at 29, rue de la Loge, for a year in 1987-88. It was the best year of our lives! I particularly remember my first trip to La Poste. I stood in line quite a while to buy some stamps for letters to the States. When I got to the counter and asked for 6 stamps, I was told, “Oh no, Sir. This line in for single stamps only! Over there is the line for multiple stamps.” I looked “over there” and saw that the wait in that line would take another half hour, at least. My first lesson in French culture!
    We’re enjoying your delightful blog, including the pictures of shops we recognize, sort of.

  4. Oh my… see, you hate that now, but that just makes me miss France actually. We lived in Théoule sur mer for about 2 months and in Antibes for a month and any day that I get a chance to relax, the first thing I think about is the slow days on the Med watching the old guys play boule after lunch, etc. Man I miss that pace sometimes. Thanks for reminding me, albeit through your pain, of the way people in another part of the world think and live.


  5. OK, I can’t say it on my blog or on Twitter or on facebook, because my co-workers read those (and they don’t know yet, and I’m not going to tell them until much later), but it looks like we’ll be moving to France in mid 2010. And I’m crying already…

    • Awwww, honey, no worries. It was me venting. I mean, it did suck, but you know what I didn’t include? That on my way back down St. Guilhelm, the sun was coming up the street and everything was bathed in golden light and the cheese shop had their doors open and I could smell how good everything was inside. That’s why I put up with the bullshit.

  6. I hope I know what you mean. I do love France, but to visit, not to live. Just like the rest of Europe. After 5 years of putting up with the bullshit in Scandinavia it was such a relief to move to Asia (because Scandinavia, unlike France, didn’t have anything to balance the BS).
    Ah, we’ll manage… Now, lemme get on this French learning-thingie stuff.

    • Ha! Yes, get cracking on the French. It will help you enormously.

      There are places I’ve visited that I’d love to visit again, but don’t want to move there.

  7. I want to spend the rest of my life living in France. I’m an American w/o EU citizenship, though the French visa fonctionnaires may look at me more kindly because my grandmother was native French. So sad my mother never filed the paperwork! Anyway, I have a BA in French but am looking for a viable career to make the Big Move across the pond. What credentials would be most valuable in getting a life in France? I’m thinking about a BA in electrical engineering. What do you think, and any other ideas?

    I love the South. I lived in Avignon for a semester when I did my study abroad and still think of it almost daily.

    • I am a Frenchman living in the US. I do miss France so much. I understand the reasons why you would like to spend your life in France – the best country to live in for the fifth year running according to InternationalLiving.com (http://internationalliving.com/Internal-Components/Further-Resources/quality-of-life-2010).

      There are a lot of different ways to settle in France. I know a girl who just had a BA in litterature and now is working for a French company in Grenoble (business). I guess, if you have a MBA are are bilingual, that would open some doors. If you get a law degree in the US and at the same time in France (some programs exist, for instance in Cornell), you would more than likely be offered a job in France.

      Again, there are plenty of ways to live in France. Marrying a French citizen would allow you to stay in France. After 4 years of living in France with your French spouse, you could even become a French (and US) citizen. You would also automatically be a European citizen. You could live in Italy, Greece, Spain, etc.

      Good luck. Don’t give up. France is really a nice country to live in. It is in my thoughts everyday.

  8. Partner moving to Narbonne, and my kids & myself will follow in Jan next year. I think I will find it hard to communicate not knowing how to speak French. Is Narbonne a nice place to live for 2years?

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