Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fame or Infamy?

This week has been a week of revelations. First I discovered I was Miss Wales 1997 (don't ask) and then I discovered that I actually starred on the pages of someone else's blog.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you the Vendee Blogger, who's blog I hope you will enjoy.

Now originally I must admit that I was a bit offended at being identified as the flag carrier for the BATs (British and Twisted) but after a few days reflection I think I'm actually rather pleased and shall wear it forthwith as a Badge of Honour.

For surely, being a BAT is preferable to belonging to that other group that I shall call the BACs (British and Clueless) and to whom I shall introduce you later.
I should though, first point out that these categories refer to people that post on certain internet forums (which shall remain nameless) and bear no resemblance to anyone I actually know.

But first I shall examine my BAT credentials

Yes, I do live in France and yes I am moving back to the UK so that would indicate I prefer the UK to France. But really that only tells half the story.

Yes, I am probably a bit of a snob - I didn't live in Tunbridge Wells for nothing you know! To be honest, I think living in France is in danger of becoming a bit of a cliche but I do still enjoy it and have lots of lovely friends here.

And yes, my house is for sale. Perhaps the Vendee Blogger thinks it is overpriced and only appealing to other Brits but the number of French viewers says he's wrong. But more on that later.

Do I have time to spend on the internet researching things, no not really, but as I don't want to appear a complete twat by posting 'facts' that are fiction, I take the time rather than talking out of my derrière in true BAC fashion.

Do I care whether or not McDos takes over France? No, not really. I wasn't even aware of the article mentioned in the Vendee Blog. Oh dear, I see those BAT credentials slipping.

Is my mission to 'tear off the rose-coloured spectacles of any deluded souls who prefer living in France to the UK and are imprudent enough to say so? '

Yes, guilty as charged. I am, indeed, a realist who chucked away those rose-coloured spectacles on page 23 of A Year in Provence. If BATs have a genuine interest in the country they have made their home (beyond the price of the vin rouge - now cheaper in Tescos alas) and who have made an effort to speak French, read the newspapers and, god forbid, watch the TV, then yes, I'm a BAT and I'm proud.

So, what is a BAC?

The BAC is the antithesis of the BAT, one of the larger category of British 'expat' in France as deduced from their posts on France Forums.

They insist on being called 'expats' rather than immigrants because of course immigrants are generally one of the reasons they left the UK ("immigrants get all the housing", "immigrants taking our jobs", "bloody immigrants abusing our healthcare system", etc) and of course, in order to be an immigrant you have to be either Eastern European or Arab.

Naturally, being BACs they don't realise that they are moving to a country with a much higher immigrant population than the UK or that they will now become immigrants themselves. They also miss the point that they have not, by and large, contributed anything by way of taxes to the French Government but are happy to take plenty out of the healthcare service leading the French to exclaim 'bloody immigrants, abusing our healthcare system'. Sound familiar?

BACs generally moved to France to buy a bigger house for less money. That was their sole motive, so they could say to their friends back in the UK "oh I've got such a big house here, how is life in your two up, two down?" One or two might possibly have been to France before but most of them based their decision to move here on 'A Place in the Sun' or one of the surfeit of 'Living the Dream' books that clog up UK bookstores. Anyone actually looked into what happened to the authors of these books? Well, an alarming number of them, having extolled us all to move to France, left after a few years because they didn't like it.

A BAC refuses to believe that there is anything wrong in France, invariably take the Daily Mail as the next best thing to the word of God and the BBC is their touchstone for information on France (!) and almost to a man (or woman) don't read or write French.

This, in their opinion, makes them very well placed to have informed opinions on France and these opinions are the only ones that are right.

They are armchair experts on all facets of French life and love to post 'facts' on the internet. The problem is that said facts are usually gleaned from some bloke in the bar of their village or some similarly dissaffected British escapees who heard it on the BBC. I mistakenly used a certain well known internet forum to help fill in my first French tax return. I was given bucketloads of information..... and every single bit of it was wrong.

A recent BAC 'fact' on the internet.

"FACT. Car insurance is cheaper in France than the UK" (Fact. It ain't!)

The same BAC followed it up with this 'fact'.

"FACT. Property taxes in France are cheaper than the UK" (Fact. Property taxes vary hugely throughout France and in some areas are significantly higher than in similar areas of the UK)

They stalk the internet spouting their misinformation and arguing with anyone who doesn't agree with them.

In particular, they search out anyone who expresses even the most minor dissatisfaction with France then gang up on them trading insults until eventually the thread is removed and their mission is complete. Another attempt at presenting a more balanced view of life in France bites the dust. However, the paradox is that they hate the thought of any more British immigrants moving into their patch because think France is already overrun with them.

They have the capacity (in spades) to dismiss any rational, well documented argument as 'fabrication' mainly because, in order to back up a discussion on France some links to French websites are necessary and, of course, when they put it into Google Translator it came up with a load of incomprehensible rubbish, only mildly less incomprehensible than the original French it was written in and of which they still have little or no grasp. (Typical BAC comment overheard recently "I didn't understand it so I gave it to someone who does the French to sort out")

BACs will state, with absolute certainty that there is no knife crime in France. Taken from a BAC post on AngloInfo recently.

'And when do you hear of a French kid stabbing another one? Never!'

Oh dear, clearly this BAC didn't hear about this one, and this one , this one, oh, and this one only a few days ago.

They will state with absolute certainly that no French children play up in supermarkets. Of course the only time they go to the supermarket is when most French children are at school rather than on a Friday night or Saturday morning when the shops are heaving with fractious, whining French kids.

They will state with absolute certainty that there is no MRSA in France despite the fact that as recently as 2004, France had the highest MRSA rates in Europe. Current rates are largely similar to the UK (but don't tell them, they won't like it!). It's all well documented on the internet but, what's that you say? Oh, yes, they can't understand it because it's all in French.

They will state with absolute certainty that the French education system is better than anywhere else. The fact that most of them are retired, have no children in the French education system, nor in many cases even know any child who is, is totally irrelevant to them.

They will state with absolute certainty that there is no binge drinking in France despite the fact that the government recently set up a body to look into the problems caused by binge drinking in many University town.

They will state with absolute certainty that discipline is better in French schools. 80,000 violent incidents in schools in an average year says it's not, as does the recent spate of pupils stabbing teachers.
I've had all these discussions with them on internet forums.

How to recognise a BAC:

  • They are usually to be found wrapped around a carafe of red wine, not generally their first of the day, in any cafe across France, talking in loud voices about being 'integrated' which they consider themselves to be because they know the name of their neighbour.
  • Like minor aristocracy who are more royal than the Royals, they are more French than the French, gleefully leaving their cutlery on the table instead of on the plate and happily drinking their coffee out of their wine glasses. They are also known to favour outdoor urination because 'that's what the French do'. If they can buy themselves an old 2CV and live on 2 Francs and an old bottle top, they are in raptures. The worst offenders join the local chasse and pass the winter slaughtering fluffy little creatures. They are generally considered figures of fun by the French
  • They generally read the Daily Mail for all their information on life in France.
  • They are internet bullies
  • They wittily refer to the UK as the yUK
  • They will talk about their life in a pompous fashion, intimating that they could have a seat on the conseil municipale if only they had the time, such is their level of integration, to which we must all aspire. Scratch the surface a bit and you discover that they generally live in the growing number of 'Little Britains' that are dotting the French countryside.
  • They are pathologically incapable of saying anything positive about the UK.

BACs should not be confused with Bubble Brits who exist in their English enclaves, admitting to their inability to conquer the language, the fact that they don't have a clue what goes on here, do no-one any harm. They are a largely genial group.

So, given the choice, which group would you prefer to belong to. I know which one I'd choose.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Brassens-ed Off

The trouble with the credit crunch is that suddenly a free evening out seems like a good idea.

Today was My Dear Friend's 40th birthday and
being as we are all a bit financially challenged at the moment we decided to celebrate the event at a free picnic to celebrate the Fete de St Jean at a neighbouring village.

This particular fete has it's origins in pagan celebrations of the Summer Solstice but was then snaffled by the Catholic church as a feast day in honour of St John the Baptist. A quick look on the e-How website provided 'everything you need to know about celebrating the Fete de St Jean'.

'What you will need' it read.

Fire retardant clothing
A bell

Any evening that requires fire retardant clothing and a bell sounds like a great evening to me! So a quick check in the wardrobe, suitable fire retardant clothes were located - thank god I never threw away that old Fireman's outfit! - and we were ready, except for the bell.

Across France, to celebrate St John the Baptist/The summer solstice depening on your leanings large bonfires are built because........ because they are and historically the young blades of the village would leap the dying embers, which I personally thought was a great way for My Dear Friend to welcome in the new decade of her life. She had other ideas though, not to mention a dodgy foot and had failed to turn up in suitab
le fire retardant attire.

Anyway, enough of the history, we weren't going because we wanted to partake of a French tradition, we were going because it was free and there was music.

We all pitched up to the playground of the villa
ge school, clutching our picnics and wine, to find the place deserted and just a lone microphone and amplifier standing as testament to the fact that someone was there somewhere. No sooner had we rocked up than it started to rain so we decamped under cover amid much looking heavenward and assurances that it would pass, which it eventually did.

We set up our picnic and I have to say, we excelled ourselves. Without doubt ours was the best picnic by far and we were quietly smug as we tucked into quails eggs with celery salt, melon and parma ham, parmesan chicken, goat's cheese quiches, salads, charcuterie and cheese.

Eventually the entertainment started. Now this is when you realise the benefits of doing your research, because it's traditional in France to sing patriotic or traditional songs at the Fete de St Jean and we were just about to be subjected t
o a couple of hours of the songs of Georges Brassens sung by some beardy-weirdy. Brassens has many followers in France (but hey, they like Johnny Halliday too) but to me it is the equivalent of giving a manic depressive a very sharp knife and a large bottle of pills.

I gamely sat through 'La Mauvaise Herbe', 'La
Trompette de la Renommée', 'L'auvergnat' and 'Les copains d'abord' and a whole host of other well known (to everyone else) songs, smiling, trying to sing along and generally look as if we were having the time of our lives.

What we hadn't taken into account was the French reverence for Georges Brassens, who is treated as a favoured son who's every pronoun
cement must be savoured and enjoyed. Chairs were turned round to face the front, picnics packed away (it seems to be disrespectful to continue to eat while Brassens is being sung - or at least that's what we deduced from the dirty loo
ks we kept getting until ours was duly returned to hampers and coolbags) and the Fete took on the appearance of a concert which we neither knew about nor wanted to attend.

The thing about Brassens is that his is really poetry put to music and while the words are often quite upliftings, when put to music they seem to take on the appearance of a funeral dirge that makes Leonard Cohen seem positively upbeat. It's a French thing!

As I stared into the flames of our citronella candle, I mused that being attacked by a swarm of malarial mosquitos would be more fun that yet another Brassens song.

Eventually the fire was lit but at a good a 4 metres high the chances of any young blade, had there been one present under the age of 73 and a half, the chances of leaping it were, I would say, minimal.

Still, we must be grateful for small mercies. At least they have dispensed with the old tradition of cat burning, when a basket full of live cats was suspended above the flames and the locals would dance and sing as the cats were burned alive. Nice!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Does a Nobel Prize beckon?

Well, having failed so miserably with our self-sufficiency attempt last year - one aubergine and two peppers aren't really enough to feed a family of 4 for a year - I've been quietly confident about this year's effort.

We only planted a small plot but in a few weeks it's gone from this......

To this....

I planted 6 tomato plants, a mix of the coeur de boeuf and cherry types, loads of beans, two courgettes de Nice plants (the delicious round ones), some chillis and best of all, two melon plants. I've been dreaming of tucking into the delicious melons from my own garden for weeks. The plants have been tended lovingly, sang to, talked to, watered (but not too much), in fact you'd be hard pushed to find anyone who has lavished so much attention on their veggies.

When I first planted them, the CH came to admire.

"So, what have you got? Beans, tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and... more courgettes"

"No, they're melons" I corrected. "These are the courgettes".

"Well, they look like courgettes to me" he replied.

Well, what would he know, townie that he is. I was brought up (almost) in the country so there's not much I don't know about identifying vegetable plants.

So, a few weeks passed, the plants have all gone mad. The tomatoes are flowering nicely, the chilli plants have loads of little white flowers growing on them and the melons, in turn, have huge yellow flowers.

"Wow, I said to the CH "if every one of them becomes a melon, we'll be laughing!"

"They look like courgette flowers to me" he replied.

Oh for heavens sake! Does he think I don't know the difference? (And anyway, I took them from a rack that was clearly marked 'melons'._

So, you can imagine my excitement when he came in today and asked whether I had seen what had happened to my melon plants.

"What? What's happened? If the chickens have been at them they all be Coq au Vin tonight".

"No, it's better than that. You're not going to believe it"

"What?" I asked with mounting excitement, imagining the first fruits and tucking into luscious melons with the juice dripping down my chin.

"Your melon plant has grown a 7 inch COURGETTE. It's a bloody miracle!"

"WHAAAAATTTT? It can't have. It's a melon plant. It grows melons not flaming courgettes"

I dashed to the vegetable patch and there, winking at me from among the leaves, was a beautiful, shiny, green .......

No, this can't be? I mean, it's not as if I don't know the difference between a melon and a courgette plant, and there's the little matter of the garden centre having sold them to me as 'melon plants' so they must be, mustn't they?

I know what's happened. I've actually created a new hybrid melonette. It's a botanical marvel! It might look like a courgette but it's sure as hell going to taste like a melon. The world will go mad for them. In fact, I may even win the Nobel Prize.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Mon enfant trilangue......yeah really!

As it's getting towards the end of the school year, the children are starting to empty out files and get rid of a year's worth of 'controles' (school tests). I think schoolchildren in France must be among the most tested in Europe!

I came across a Spanish controle belonging to DS and, while I don't support the lack of effort he put into it, well, you have to laugh! I know people who mistakenly believe that their children will leave school here trilingual, having mastered English (if they didn't already speak it), French (if they didn't already speak it) and a third modern language, in our case, Spanish.

Here's an excerpt from DS's test and I'll leave you to make up your mind.

Translate the following:

le voisin/la voisine (neighbour) el voisinos, la voisina

le fromage (cheese) el fromagos

un sandwich (no translation needed!) uno sandwichos

un oignon (onion) unos oignonos

l'huile (oil) el huilos

So, what do you think? Trilingual or not?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's a regular form-filling frenzy...

Ooh, owww!  Careful now.  I've just finished the annual form-filling-in-fest that is the 'reinscription scolaire'. I have a severe case of repetitive documentation injury.  My eyes are crossed and my mind is boggled.

Being France you don't just have to enrol your child in school once, you have to do it every year. Well how else can you keep all these 'fonctionnaires' (government employees) in a job, with early retirement and a big fat pension. Sound familiar? 

It used to be the case that the forms arrived with all the information already filled in and it was just a case of making any corrections but clearly, with unemployment soaring in rural France they think we have more time on our hands. Either that or the revolving door that is relationships in this part of the world means that the forms serve as a reminder to the children who their latest daddy/mummy  is and which of their classmates they will share them with this year.

The idea of sharing information doesn't seem to exist here so the same information has to be written on the form for La Vie Scolaire, the school administration, the school nurse, the janitor, the class guinea pig... (what do you mean there isn't one?)

So, on top of everything else I've had to do today I've .....

a) written my children's names 14 times

b) written my name 12 times

c)  written my husband's name 8 times (well of course he's much less important!)

d)  written my address 10 times

e)  written my phone number 10 times

f)   written my mobile number 8 times

g)  written my emergency contacts details 8 times

h)  written the children's bus route 4 times

i)   written my doctor's name and address a mere 4 times

j)   signed my name 10 times

In addition, I have 12 pages of duplicated information about the school canteen, the new 'free' bus service which is actually costing me more than the free one the children already have and the latest bonkers idea for the beginning of next term.  They start back on Wednesday for a half day, have Thursday off so the new intake can have the school to themselves (normally the new intake starts the day before the rest of the school) and back again on Friday.  A good half acre of Amazonian rainforest must have been felled.  They know I have two children in the school, why not just one set of information?   Imagine if I was a good French woman and had supplied the state with a 'famille nombreuse' (4 plus children)?

So, off for a hot bath with a pack of frozen peas on my right arm.

Tomorrow, I have the school transport forms to deal with.......

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Who rained on Sarko's parade?

Ooh la la!  There's nothing like the war to bring to the surface all those long hidden emnities not least in the British tabloid press.

'Queen snubbed' roar the tabloids after it emerges that the Queen isn't being invited to the 65th Anniversary of the Normandy landings. 'Nah, I didn't want to go anyway' responds HM.  So what's it all about? 

Thanks to the somewhat partisan output of Hollywood, which for many is regarded as a valid source of historical fact,  we all know that the liberation was the work of the US alone and a handful of brave French patriots don't we? We also know that the Great Escapees were almost to a man, lantern-jawed Americans, assisted by a few shiny cheeked British chappies with pinched vowels and handlebar moustaches. Clearly someone has forgotten to mention that in fact not one of the Escapees was American. And fortunately we have Saving Private Ryan to remind us that only the US was involved in the D-Day landings, so why would HM want to go anyway?  Apparently there's also a new film coming out proving the yanks won the Battle of Britain too. Oh how we will have to re-write those history books!

The British and Canadian troops didn'
t land on three beaches, compared to the US's two did they and don't forget we have the US to thank for breaking of the Enigma code, even though it was broken before the US even joined the war. 

So, it's understandable that the celebrity-obsessed Nicholas Sarkozy, who I'm starting to believe really is a Spitting Image puppet, should maybe not have that big a grasp of historical fact.


The self-promoting Sarko wanted it to be an Franco-US lovefest to celebrate the 'special relationship' between the US and France. Hmm, where have I heard that before?

Really it's so he can brown-nose the 'homme du jour' Barack Obama - who of course visited Broon long before he dropped in on the poison dwarf. Jealousy is a strong emotion! He wanted that photo-opportunity with Barack all to himself  though what he'll have to say to him, seeing as he barely speaks English, is anyone's guess but then, that's what he's got the multi-lingual Carla for. And you thought he just married her for her shapely behind!

In doing so he insulted, whether intentionally or not, the countries who provided the troops who liberated France. France itself just provided the battlefields. While it's easy to dismiss the frenzy whipped up by the tabloid press, the Canadians are also less than impressed with the situation.  In fairness it should be said that many French believe that it is impossible to hold a bi-lateral ceremony without representatives of all the countries involved and look on this as yet another of Sarko's messes. 

Back in the UK Broon said that the UK wasn't going to commemorate the 65th Anniversary as it wasn't usual to do so but as it is going to be the last gathering of the Normandy veterans a campaign to change this was launched by, what else, a tabloid newspaper and Broon bowed to public pressure and asked for an invite. 

Barack then said that he wanted the Royals to be there, thus pooping firmly on Sarko's parade but HM may or may not have spat the dummy and said she didn't want to come anyway. Step forward Prince Charles, who had convenient gap in his diary, to represent the Royal Family. 

You gotta laugh at a French President so keen to impress an American President that he forgets some of the things that they have said about his country. So just in case he's reading... these are for you M. Sarkozy

'I'd rather have a German battalion in front of me than a French one behind' - General Patton

'Going to war without the French is like going deer hunting without an accordion' - Norman Schwartzkopf

'As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure' - Jacques Chirac to which the response was...

'Where France is concerned you are right' - Rush Limbaugh

'The only time the French want us to go to war is when the Germans are sipping coffee in Paris' - Regis Philbin

'The only way we'd get to French to join is if we told them we'd found truffles in Iraq' - Dennis Miller

You can really understand why he thinks France has a special relationship with the US!

Monday, June 1, 2009


The CH has announced ominously that 'tomorrow I will be doing the bathroom'.  Those long term readers will remember that DIY really isn't our thing so I feel it only fair to send out due warning of impending doom.

Actually, 'doing the bathroom' really just means removing the manky old tiled bath surround, complete with feature wooden shelf that is probably growing the cure to the common cold, Swine Flu, Bluetongue and every other ill of the modern world.

Really I'd like to gut the whole bathroom. It's OK but very tired ..... and worst of all, all white. White floors, white ceiling, white walls. White is alright unless you happen to be married to a dark haired man who's losing his hair. Sadly, with our credit well and truly crunched and the CH having been on gardening leave for the past 5 months while ITV re-runs Ballykissangel and On the Buses, it's not an option.

The bath surround has proved to be a classic feat of French building. It's held together by little more than tile adhesive and grout and how it's lasted this long is a mystery. But not for long. The CH has carefully removed all the tiles and cleaned them up and from tomorrow he will be rebuilding it.... better...... stronger.....faster than before. Sorry, got a bit lost in 1980s television for a minute there.

Bearing in mind that when he took the lid off the toilet cistern, a simple job which involved unsecrewing the flush button and lifting it off, we NEVER managed to get it back on properly ( in fact most of our friends have also failed to get it back on properly either) the chances are that the whole bathroom will collapse or he'll electrocute  himself or burst a pipe.... the options are endless.

Therefore, it is my civic duty to advise you all that tomorrow the CH will be doing DIY. This may be my last post and, if so, it's been real and it's been good... but it hasn't been real good (Oh the old ones are the best eh?).

Keep away. You have been warned!