I have cringed so often at the rudeness and vulgarity of Britons
IT IS only when the three big men sit down at my table that I can look beyond them and see their shoes neatly lined up outside my glass doors. They have padded over my tiled floor with a care it does not deserve.
On this wet, cold day, Cesar has already muddied every square tile as if playing a game of hopscotch. The sodden leaves and twigs his long coat has gathered fill in the tiles his paws have missed.
When I give them the minute cups of strong espresso they’ve asked for, after I invited them in, I tell them there was no need for the ceremonial shoe removal: the floor is filthy.
They look at me with a muted incomprehension. This is what workmen, “dirty jobs” workmen, do when entering a house. It matters not if the floor is already muddied or clean.
And it’s true. Every French workman who has come here has instinctively done the same. They have also not left without clearing and cleaning their workspace.
It is a question of respect. Respect for the client’s space; respect for their own temporary place in it. And pride. For there are few jobs considered beneath the dignity of a French workman; each job has a value and a worth.
We shake hands on meeting and call each other madame/monsieur that gives a strange formal gravity to what is to come. We are engaged on a contract which has already been signed and sealed on the acceptance of the “devis” – the estimate of the work.
Unless specifically discussed, agreed and again signed for, the bottom line cannot be changed. It’s a great comfort to have a fixed price when funds are tight and worked out to the nth degree. That same formality of thought and service is evidenced in all areas. You need to live here, I think, to understand it is not disdainful arrogance at work when you feel slighted.
It is your, forgive me, Anglo disdain of those who, you think, make you feel superior. I have cringed so often at the rudeness, the vulgarity of Britons abroad, in their loud assertions of that superiority.
(I’ve cringed too in the restaurants of London, Edinburgh and even Glasgow. It is often not merely a question of language.)
Here, the waiter/waitress can tell you the ingredients of all you’re eating; the sommelier will almost sing the wine list if he feels you deserve it; the street cleaner in his little car curves and re-curves the corner to pick up the last bit of litter.
The postman/woman has gone through interviews and written tests for the privilege of delivering the mail; the girl at the supermarket till automatically says hello to each customer and goodbye with a wish for a good evening.
Every shop server will do the same. It is only the foreigners who brusquely go straight in and demand what they’re there for.
That will cause you grief in France. It is considered the height of rudeness to ignore the pleasantries in one’s demands and, trust me, you will pay for it in the subsequent, truculent service.
Anyway, back to the three unshod, large men drinking from their tiny cups at my table. They are the workers who have finally, finally, arrived to install the field drains around my house and over my “parc” to the ditch beyond via an electric pump.
Large machinery, including a digger, is in place and I fear for the state of my parc when it’s over.
But that has to be better than waiting for the main part of the house to flood and run with water when the storms come. At midday they knock on the door to tell me they’re going for lunch. At 2pm precisely they return. I have no problem with that. This is our work-life balance, envied the world over. Of course, even here in La France Profonde that is changing – slowly, though, I’m happy to say.
The two-hour lunch is no longer sacred; big shops even open through it now and Monday is no longer a closed-door day.
But enough still hold out against the tide of work, work, work, which has swallowed and swallows our lives. Admittedly I have come to this thought late when I am no longer required, or wish to work, every hour God sends.
No, that’s a lie. I would still work every hour God sends if I physically could. It’s easy to say that when you loved what you did.
But that doesn’t fit here either, does it? I’ve spoken to many people in France about this work-life business that are like me.
And then I understand they’re not. They want as much a fulfilling life as they want their job. No question of one or the other.
Anyway, outside, another lorry has arrived and is removing the dredged-up earth to the original lorry outside the drive.
One side of the house has been dug out; the other still to come. I know nothing. However, it seems a new line must be put in for the electric pump where it was not expected to be. It is an unexpected expense, but not mine, the overseer tells me.
“That’s our problem,” he tells me with a smile.
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PICTURE: KIRSTY ANDERSON