Your views of life in France
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