One of the delightful things about visiting a country on holiday is that you do not have to stay there for long, and France is no exception to this rule. The reason for this, in a word, is 'neighbours'. The Australian ones of television fame who are supposed to "become good friends", over time, are a rarity, in reality.
One of the delightful things about visiting a country on holiday is that you do not have to stay there for long, and France is no exception to this rule.
The reason for this, in a word, is 'neighbours'.
The Australian ones of television fame who are supposed to "become good friends", over time, are a rarity, in reality. Fortunately we have some in this category who have come to visit us here in France, from as far afield as Australia, South Africa and Canada. However, there remains the other old neighbours whom all of us would like to put in the "forgettable" file.
We all have had them, wherever we live and we also have been them.
I have enjoyed touring Ireland, for example, and meeting the people, but when I announced the intention to buy a house there, there was much 'clicking of tongues' and dire warnings that " 'tings are not the same when you stay here!"
Perhaps it was the British registration on my car? Anyway, it was an insight into the fact that people that you meet on holiday may not be the best neighbours to have for the long term.
There are many reasons for this in my experience, which range from living next door to a paedophile in Brighton who, when I tried to make a report, was told by the Authorities that I would have to supply the recordings and evidence, to a neighbour on a yacht in a fishing harbour at Lagos in Portugal who was a drug dealer. In the latter case it was a simple matter for me to raise my anchor and cruise off to another location.
One of the most contentious things about neighbours has to be the animals that they own, control, breed, eat or embrace.
These animals in my experience have ranged from lions to elephants in Africa and from ferrets to cockerels in France. Each of these has its own particular problems with regard to noise and interference. Randy lions make a lot of noise at three in the morning and the fellow that owned them thought that they would be an attraction at his petrol filling station. He went bankrupt. Another neighbour had young elephants which are better pets, even if they do lean over the fence and help themselves to the citrus oranges. When I asked him if the municipal authorities approved of his pets, he told me, "There is no regulation against keeping elephants or giraffes in town! There are lots of regulations about dogs, cats and licences for them, but nothing about Jumbos!"
I put this down to the fact that it was a young country and the bureaucrats hadn't had time to get around to writing about extraordinary animals.
But the top nuisance animal of all has to be dogs. Yes, I know… I have also been woken by caterwauling cats, but in France, dogs are a in a class of their own.
There are two classes of dogs: the first is unloved hunting dogs that are chained to a tree for months on end, or caged in a Guantanamo type prison; and the second includes all those pampered animals that are "child replacement" cuddle blankets.
Hunting dogs howl. They are trained to howl. They howl when their owners are in sight, pathetically wagging their tails, hoping for a bit of recognition, and they howl when their owners are absent, in the belief, perhaps, that they are guarding the property.
But I think that there is more annoyance derived from the neighbours who love their dogs, but don't want to have their dogs' excreta on their properties, so they indulge in that exercise euphemistically called 'taking the dog for a walk'.
The French don't seem to like walking much, when compared to the British, but they do ritualise the function of spreading their 'dog's breakfast' along roads and streets of towns and villages. Some parts of Paris and Lyon are impassable, without Wellington boots.
No, I will avoid the obvious remark!
I have had many confrontations with neighbours in different countries over the years with regard to polluting dogs and even had a bright idea to make money out of the resentment that is endured by non dog owners, but thought that the end result, if successful, would not look good on my obituary.
In England it seems that dog owners sneak out after dark to do their business. In Paris they parade in the latest fashions and pretend to not notice when Fifi is relieving herself outside the entrance to Dior. I am often amazed at how dog owners suddenly become fixated on a distant object just when the "deed" is being done, in a way that is supposed to suggest that they "did not notice what was happening."
In the French countryside dog owners seem to observe this bodily function of their dogs with the same fascination and attention to detail that a new mother observes the processes of her new infant. I don't know whether it is the colour, or the texture or the quantity that rivets their attention.
Well, I have endured my neighbour's dog deposits or 'crottes' as they call them here, for years. I don't know why she has tried to train her dog to relieve itself outside my gate. I originally believed that it was because I was a dreaded "Anglais" and that the insult was purely 'racial'. Then I wondered if it was because my wife's maiden name is 'de la Fontaine', which is a name associated with ancient aristocracy, all of whom had to flee France, or die at the drop of the Guillotine. That would have implied an interclass discrimination, but that is not supposed to exist in France today, with all the 'Fraternity' that is supposed to abound.
Then a very surprising thing happened.
The Mayor of the village delivered a decree that dog owners were required to clean up after their dogs, because of the pollution experienced by the village maintenance workers and the schoolchildren.
After a couple of months I decided to confront my neighbour about this regulation, as she seemed to be ignoring it. When I stepped out of my gate, her dog charged at me. I am not intimidated by dogs. They are much less frightening than confronting a terrorist armed with an AK47. Her dog decided at the last moment that perhaps I was not a soft target, so returned to its mistress, who stomped off in a huff, as though it was my fault.
Obviously verbal communication was not possible.
As my female dog owning neighbour is now 'sleeping' with the deputy Mayor, I wrote to the Mayoral Office to ask if they would ask her to comply with the new decree, and that perhaps the Deputy Mayor would like to lead by example, as I had watched him the day before as he watched their dog depositing its latest contribution to the pile of dung.
I included a photograph of the offending item.
This caused an uproar, which I expected and enjoyed.
It caused a flurry of aggressive letters and replies, so I am more inclined to believe that the reason for these deposits is an 'anti-Anglais' sentiment by these two neighbours, rather then some class jealousy.
They have taken to 'ignoring' me, which is supposed to be terribly serious here in France, and I thought that I was supposed to be concerned about it, which I am not.
However, I have since learned that there are several villagers who are also being 'ignored', so perhaps my dog owning neighbours are believing that their new status as "Deputy Mayor and Concubine" puts them above having to greet us ordinary villagers.
Now, because they know that I know about these "deposits", they have taken to "walking the dog" at odd hours, to avoid being observed. So I have now employed the services of a "Guardian".
He stands in different positions, observing the road where the insults take place. He is on duty at all hours, dressed in a blue shirt, which gives him an 'official' appearance. He is tireless in the performance of his obligation.
He never sleeps.
He is a very lifelike fibreglass mannequin called 'K-K-Ken', (named from 'A Fish Called Wanda'). True, is has a slightly effeminate pose, but that is not too surprising, because it is hard to get a hairy barrel-chested man to allow a body cast to be made of himself, because it hurts so much when they pull the mould off.
K-K-Ken is an easy guest because his running costs are low, he doesn't raid the wine cellar and he listens uncritically as I try to learn how to play the guitar.
I'll let you know if he manages to succeed in his efforts to reduce pollution in the village.
Perhaps he will even get a commendation from the Mayor.
But the best part is, if you visit France, none of this will be your problem.
Leave it to the patient Gîte owners to cope with these difficulties.
All you have to do is to relax and enjoy the view.