Your views of life in France

Living France - - Contents -

When I’d been liv­ing in our lit­tle ham­let for just over a year, one of my neigh­bours died. An­other neigh­bour came to tell me when and where the fu­neral would be, and of­fered me a lift, from which I un­der­stood that I was ex­pected to go, although I had barely known the dead per­son.

On the day I dressed up in a neat navy blue dress and black jacket, with black stock­ings and black shoes. I de­bated wear­ing a lit­tle hat but thought it may be OTT. I found the neigh­bour wear­ing her usual day clothes and a flowery apron, and her hus­band like­wise dressed as nor­mal. They looked at me with a slightly be­mused ex­pres­sion but said noth­ing. For a mo­ment I won­dered if I had mis­un­der­stood the date or time. But no, she re­moved the apron and re­placed it with her woolly cardi­gan, and we all climbed into their car and drove to the vil­lage church.

It was a pleas­ant sunny day and a crowd of peo­ple stood around out­side, chat­ting hap­pily, and they were all dressed for ev­ery day. As we climbed out of the car I was aware of peo­ple star­ing at my fu­ne­real garb. The only thing worse than be­ing un­der­dressed for an oc­ca­sion is be­ing over­dressed, which I clearly was.

Once in­side the church the at­mos­phere be­came som­bre. Af­ter the ser­vice the mourn­ers queued to walk up to the cof­fin and sprin­kle it with holy wa­ter, be­fore drop­ping coins into a dish and leav­ing by a side en­trance to re­sume their merry chat­ter.

Al­ready un­com­fort­able in my un­suit­able cloth­ing, I was mor­ti­fied when I didn’t have any money to put into the dish.

Later I asked a French friend why no­body wore black, and why they all seemed so cheer­ful, and he ex­plained that among this very ru­ral com­mu­nity no­body keeps spe­cial black clothes for fu­ner­als, and these events are not only a farewell to a friend or ac­quain­tance, but also a chance for peo­ple from the com­mune to catch up with oth­ers they don’t of­ten meet.

Over the years quite a few of the el­derly in­hab­i­tants of the com­mune have passed away and I’ve been to see them off, suit­ably dressed and with my purse in my pocket. Susie Kelly Char­roux, Vi­enne

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