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The old man didn’t look like a typical ‘English’ version of a Frenchman.
You know the type: onions, garlic, beret, bicycle…
He was wearing a dark flat hat, his ‘blues’ (working man’s overalls)

The old man didn’t look like a typical ‘English’ version of a Frenchman.
You know the type: onions, garlic, beret, bicycle…
He was wearing a dark flat hat, his ‘blues’ (working man’s overalls) and his worn gum boots.
He stomped towards us.
“What have you got in the box?”
This is rude in France.
He didn’t say “Bonjour” first!
I look at him closely.
He scowls at me.
My wife Marlene gives him a big smile and says, “Des canards”.
“Hein,” he says, “Magret de Canard! How much did you pay?”
“No,” I answer. “We are going to raise them and then release them!”
“Three euros,” says Marlene.
“What? You no eat them not?”
“No. I am going to feed them until they can look after themselves and then let them go free.”
“Well, the hunters have shot all the ducks near where we live, so I am going to replace them.”

I can see that he thinks I am nuts.
But this is not a new experience for us in France.
Most French people think we are nuts.
To start with: why did we come and settle in a small ‘dead’ rural village in the middle of Burgundy? Anybody with any sense has already left these parts.
Years ago.
Gone away.
But being considered nuts is not bad. It is better than being pigeonholed into a category that conforms to the norms of society.

The small French farmer studies us both with the same compassion that he reserves for his beef herd, when selecting the week’s candidates for the abattoir.
Clearly, we are foreigners.
We are not dressed like normal foreigners who can be identified by cameras, clothes, comportment and conversation. We are dressed in Jeans, T-shirts with a faded “Vive Les Bleues 2005” printed under the picture of a football and we have ‘sensible’ boots.
We are foreigners, that is for sure, but partially integrated.


“Too much!” he says. “If you had bought from me, I would have given you a much better price. I would make….. what you say…. “Special Offer”….!”
“Ah!” I answer. “But you were not there! We were told get here early. Before all the crowds come. And anyway, these are magnificent ducks. They are half grown and they are healthy.”

I open my box so that he can see the inmates.

Six mallards are cowering on the folded ‘Bien Public’ newspaper on the bottom of the box. Their experience in life, in connection with humans, has not been particularly pleasant. They were born in a muddy yard with a modicum of commercial duck food and a puddle to drink. Then they were grabbed by their necks, chucked into a box, and carted off to the market in Lohans in department 71 of the Côte d’Or.

There they sat with the hope of the condemned, that somehow they might be spared.

And they have been, but they don’t know it yet.

They have been bought by foreigners who are going to feed them, let them run wild in a garden and then let them fly free in order to live a life on the river Sâone, for as long as chance keeps them away from the muzzles of shotguns and retrievers.

Perhaps prayers, even prayers by ducks, are sometimes answered.

The French farmer’s mind meshes gears.
A sale is a sale.
If these idiots want to buy ducks and not breed with them, but release them, then there is still a profit to be made.
A customer is still a customer. What they do with the produce is no concern of his.
As long as they buy and do not complain afterwards.
And also, as long as they don’t buy ducks and start to breed and set up in opposition.

“Next time,” he says, “come and see me. My ducks are better than all those other ones are. And I will deliver them too, if you buy more than a hundred.”
“That is a very generous offer.” Marlene holds out her hand. “And what is your name, sir?”
“Georges. Just ask for Georges. They all know me. You tell them that you are my customer.”

We part, wishing each other a “Good day” and “Until we see each other again”.

“There is no way I am going to buy a hundred ducks!” I say to Marlene as soon as we are out of earshot. “These ones are going to be enough trouble. And what will Whisky think? She is not going to be impressed as it is!”

Whisky is our ‘Black and White’ cat, named after the Scotch of that name.

She is a typical ‘French’ cat with a dominating character who has taken it upon herself to guide us through the labyrinth of French Life. She protects us, guards the house, inspects visitors and supervises all ‘works and modifications’ done to the house and garden. She monitors our children, even when they go canoeing on the river in front of the house. She insists on going with them in the canoes, so that she will be on hand to rescue them should the need arise. If they don’t take her with them, she sits on the bank and howls about “all the dangers out there”.

We are going to have to ask her to approve of these new members of the family.
After all, she is the ‘boss’.

We are lucky that she has taken it upon herself to help us through the intricate complications of life in France.
Perhaps we should have taken her with us to this market town of Louhans so that she could have overseen our purchases. However, she does not like cars.

We advise our visitors to our Gîte that they should come here to Louhans, because it is still one of those places where you can see a French ‘village market’ in action. It operates every Monday morning but if you do not arrive early, you will be stuck in traffic.

The farmers arrive at dawn and stack their boxes containing all sorts of livestock and produce.
They shake hands and tease each other gently about what they have brought to sell. Of course, they are keen to know what prices the others are asking for, because they will endeavour to undercut each other if they can do so without being found out.

Some of the stock is sold and swapped between themselves.
Bundles of cash emerge from inner recesses of their ‘blues’, to be counted out and then to ‘disappear’ into other recesses.
This is the hidden commercial market of France, without which the country could not function. This is where the true forces of supply and demand are satisfied, in conjunction with the weather and Nature, rather than the artificial limitations which are imposed by “Brussels”.
As 20% of the people of France are involved with agriculture in one form or another, we are only doing our ‘little bit’ to keep the ploughs ploughing and the threshers threshing.

Even if our aims are warped and not concerned totally with what we put on our plates.

That we should buy food, then spend more money on it, and then let it go without considering putting it in a pot should be against the law.

The Law of Common Sense.

But, even the ‘nutters’ have something to contribute, even if only in small measure.