Vendeurs de double vitrage – double glazing salesmen

We get a lot of calls on our French phone line for solar panels and other “eco” installation including double glazing but to be honest I’ve just taken to hanging up if I hear nothing immediately after I’ve said “Hello”. Out of perhaps 10 calls a week less than one on average are actually for us.

So it was a novelty when there was a rap on the front door and I was being asked what my loft insulation was like. Then about my glazing – all very fast and in French but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t asking for an urgent lift to a hospital because the baby was coming. We had already had a quote from a local business that we had thought was pricey for three windows and a back door. Considering we had had a window put in a solid wall for less per window, I thought a second quote wouldn’t go amiss. When they calculated a quote of over three times the first quote though… I showed them that quote to which they gave a gallic shrug and said impossible for them to drop that far and that the quote I had was “correcte”. So, who knows perhaps the local business paid these guys to come and give me a ludicrous quote. Whatever – it worked, and if they are that clever then good luck to them. We called them in and signed the quote thinking maybe next week? But no, this is France so of course late May for installation perhaps…


Sparkling wine – Delia’s favourite tipple, ok its actually champagne but even in France that’s still nearly 10 times the cost of a bouteille de vin rouge. As I am sure you know only champagne made in the champagne region using the champenois method can be called champagne. We have bought real champagne and its always enjoyable. So are many of the sparkling white wines too – you’ve probably heard of Cava (Spanish southern Pyrenees – we visited there with Bill – Delia’s dad, and its even nicer tasted locally) but there are so many ways of describing sparkling: petillant, cremant, mousseuse, gazeuse in French then into Italian with frizzante, spumanti. All more or less the same, petillante sometimes means slightly sparkling but not always. Anyway from the heights of anything above 16€ for “real” champagne down to 1.37€ for the cheapest sparkling blanc de blanc (white wine made from green grapes) – all pretty tasty I think. Delia says the 1.37€ isn’t worth drinking but she had some last night and thought it was ok (though she didn’t know it was that cheap). Food? Oh yeah, any cheese tastes pretty good with it. Delia says chocolate too.


Party Party, Crêpes and Gendarmes

So Delia’s just got back from her business trip to the UK and of course whilst she was away it was party party for me! Well, perhaps that’s an exaggeration – at least I had custody of the tv remote in the evenings. Though to confess I mostly binge watched Breaking Bad – when I wasn’t doing the marking that crops up in bundles this time of year. Otherwise it was business as usual, walking the dog morning and afternoon. My fantasies of lying in bed until 8.30 were scotched by Siena howling and flinging herself at the kitchen door at 7.45, her usual getup time. I do think Wallace the cat winds her up through the glass door though. Party party? Well as an extra treat I did have fried onion with my steak. Oh and I did have some lemon sole too – all treats for me since Delia can’t eat fish or onions amongst other things.
This week I also had an extra language lesson – from the Gendarmes. I slowed but didn’t come to a complete halt at a stop sign. Ooops – Delia says that’s why she doesn’t let me drive (though we all know that I let her drive because she’s such a bad passenger of course). A dark green panier de salade (salad basket as the slang for their police vans goes – and no I didn’t say that to them) pulled me over chatted to me about perhaps not in the UK but in France Stop means Stop (smile nicely Pat) and how nice it is to live in lovely Limousin and a fine with possibly having to get a French driving licence so they can put points on it but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

On the subject of food – we have long enjoyed small pancakes made on a Tefal crêpe maker: a non-stick hotplate more or less. Not really French pancakes since we tried to make them as Canadian as possible (Delia has a good method from one of her Australian cookbooks that makes a nice thick pancake). So – it broke and our frequent Sunday pancake breakfasts stopped – until we got a replacement. The new one actually had detachable plates, one for our usual small pancakes and another for a single crêpe. So anyway, with Delia being away I decided to experiment and try French crêpes with ham and brie like one would buy at a crêpe stall (it’s even came with a wooden spreader). So lunch was a success and now Delia gets crêpe ham and brie for her dinner.

Life in France

France attracts the British like nowhere else, their nearest neighbour with whom we share quite a history! However it is the differences that probably attract us. These are subtle, such that tourists get just a hint of the foreign, sufficient to add an attractive mystery to the country and the people. I have made passing references to these differences in past blog entries and I will continue to do so as we encounter and savour new divergences from our own norms. The other evening we saw a BBC program by Robert Peston (This World, Quelle Catastrophe – France). He crystallised a lot of our own, largely British viewpoint. In Britain since Thatcher we have become accustomed to a more American attitude where consumer is (allegedly) king, where if you don’t like some product or service you can just switch and the marketplace and attitudes reflect that. Of course it is largely an illusion but I think it lies at the heart of the difference between British and French attitudes.

In the UK, unemployment is too high but in France it is sky high, in some places for the under 25’s it’s nearly 50%. France is a socialist state, worker’s rights are paramount possibly comparable to pre-Thatcher Britain. There is a tome of workplace regulations for France that measured in weight has doubled in the last 10 years (now 2kg). Apparently this unbearable weight of regulation is being lightened by reducing the font size – I kid you not! Lunchtime is a time when workers eat together and talk at a usual 2 to 2½ hours this is a big chunk from the day. A 35 hour week is enshrined by law. For a small to medium sized company to employ someone is like a marriage, a major commitment and as difficult to get out of; what’s more, only one third of the cost to employ someone goes on actual cash in their pocket, the rest goes to the state. Even the relatively new status of autoentrepeneur – the nearest to UK self-employed is simpler but with heavy regulation and taxation yet without the cushion of much of the social security employed workers enjoy. A public worker cannot be made redundant easily if at all, unemployed get up to 2 years full benefit.

All this reflects our experience here; it is refreshing (once you get used to the timing) for lunchtimes to be mostly just about lunch, rather than squeezing a quick weekly shop before dashing back to work as I often did in the UK. Sunday and Bank Holidays too are about the holiday rather than an opportunity to dash to a diy store (they’re closed). In many respects it feels like the something out of Enid Blyton except instead of lashings of lemonade its lashings of wine!

The cost of employing people is high, personal taxation is only second to Denmark but, like Denmark, that is what it takes to fund the expectations we have in France and most people accept it. The problem is that foreign companies like Amazon and even RyanAir can avoid many of the restrictions and compete unfairly. Unfortunately it is the ‘foreign’ aspect that encourages the far right and gives them a toehold. Just like in Britain, it is possible to latch onto the xenophobia that mostly stay buried but pops out in times of hardship.

The two of us can only hope the euro crisis etc settles down. The few French political conversations I have had revolve around the loss of past standards and as autoentrepeneurs we pay higher tax than we would in the UK but we get by comfortably and summer will soon be here. La vie est belle.

After being recommended Aldi for shopping savings – I went shopping at Swansea’s Aldi and it seemed very good. So we tried the nearest equivalent here – a Lidl (they are brothers afaicr) but even though a local friend had recommended it we found little difference – in fact less choice. Regular discounts seem to be the rule in France so our policy of buying high price items like steak and chicken specifically when discounted helps a lot. I did some research and according to brand prices are less than at Tesco’s – I have to say that I’ve found that not to be, very few things are cheaper, many perhaps more specifically British things are significantly more expensive. On the whole I’d say that with care we can spend slightly less than we would in the UK.

I got a dose of RyanAir Rhume (cold) visiting my grandson last week, as far as I know I didn’t pass it on to them but unfortunately I did graciously donate it to my poor Delia who is currently snorting and sniffling in bed – as opposed to me down with the dog coughing up the final bits of cold. Unwatched Siena seems to be a thorough thief and has chewed my mobile phone, a computer mouse as well as stealing various gloves and hats. But she looks so cute sitting halfway down the garden with a purple felt hat hopefully looking at us to chase her. Yes we are hopeless…

L’auberge des Tilleuls

This time last year…
With the purchase of the house moving forward we arranged to visit the vendors there to make arrangements, measure up etc. During the 3½ hours drive we stopped at a Brocante (a huge warehouse full of old furniture and stuff, a veritable Aladdin’s cave) – though we have visited many similar places since, this remains the best but it is just too far away at a 2 hours drive).
The Chambres d’Hôte was a lovely old rambling house, fully renovated and in a street named rue des hirondelles (street of the swallows) and, most importantly for Delia, we had a room with a bath! Anyway, we went to the house at Beaulieu, this was our third actual visit and it was still as I remembered – the big farmhouse kitchen as impressive as before, just waiting for the large farmhouse dining table we had lugged around from Worksop to Lindfield and now sitting in a barn waiting for Beaulieu.
That evening we enjoyed a wonderful meal at L’Auberge des Tilleuls owned by Debbie and Didier – Welsh and French respectively. Tilleuls is especially relevant to us since it means the Limes which is the name of the development in Lindfield that we moved from. Didier had been in the UK for some 20 years or so, so long in fact that he told us of his recent visit to a store where they complemented him on his French.

I started this section with the intention of waxing lyrical about gorgeous French delicacies and gourmet delights but I have to diverge and do the same about Chez Robert and Teresa’s; the full English breakfast is to die for and even the home made black cherry wine fooled me – that it was a delicious fresh light red, the best home-made wine I have ever tasted (including during the many years when I made my own)

Just back from visiting my first grandson for the first time. He’s a cheerful little Welshman who loves his food. Not that he’s joined the chub club but that he (like all 3 week olds) does little but breast feed, sleep and fill his nappy. Phil and Becca are justifiably proud and loving.

It’s good to be reminded too of what the traffic in the UK is like what with chocker full motorways accidents and rush hour jams – it’s good to be back home now enjoying the birdsong on a warm spring day.