26 March, 2009

How I know I'm not French.

It has been an interesting couple of days.

For starters, I got a taste of that well-known governmental bureaucracy thanks to an on-going saga to obtain my French driver's license. Unfortunately, my Dutch one was either lost or stolen (it's somewhat unclear), but since it occurred here--after already having officially moved from the Netherlands--I was no longer eligible for a Dutch replacement license.

Upon my first visit to the Prefecture du Gard, I was surprised to find a room absolutely crammed full of waiting people, a long line of windows, and only one actually open for service. I decided there must have been some strike going on or something to explain only one person working. This is after all the administrative body for the entire Gard region, in the land of the fonctionnaire, or civil servant. (The fonctionnaire phenomenon is a whole other story...) Upon my third visit, there was still only one person working, and 58 people waiting ahead of me. I don't get it. When it was finally my turn, I discovered this was one bitter fonctionnaire, who seemed to view rudeness as an effective coping mechanism. I have to go back again, by the way. Hopefully the one person on duty will not also be sucking on a Mediterranean lemon.

In the meantime I got a note from school: the party this weekend begins at "about" 16h12, the parade at 17h19, and dinner at 19h01. Si, si.

I don't get it. The specificity I mean, not the party. Especially in the Mediterranean mañana land that is the Gard...

One of the nearby communes (not in a cult sense of the word) recommended in their newsletter that people use a flamethrower to kill the chenilles processionaires while still in their nest/cocoon. These are awful caterpillars which form creeping, snake-like "processions" in the spring, which are meters and meters long. No idea what the creatures are called in English. I do know they cause severe allergic reactions especially in children and can kill dogs outright (rapid suffocation by swelling of the tongue). Hence the flamethrower.

The next issue of the newsletter recommended, however, that people please remove the part of the tree containing the nest first before incinerating...Unfortunately, I can't laugh too hard as I have discovered several nests in my own pine trees (they prefer to colonize pine). One nest is so unbelievably high...so now I am looking for someone with a gun, because, yes, blowing the nest away is also possible, although not as fully effective as, say, a bonfire. If you hunt in the Cevennes, why don't you drop me a message in the comment section. If you have a flamethrower, that'll work too.

After waxing lyrical to a French acquaintance about making this home the "roots" for my multi-culti children, I headed to "my" little village supermarket. I ran into the one Dutch person I know in the entire region. Pleased to see one another, we were exchanging news when another older customer turned to us and very tartly snapped at us (more of that lemon going around, it seems). Apparently, the least we could do was speak in French, being in France and all. My friend gaped at me. I did likewise, but suddenly didn't feel like talking anymore. Until that is, when the same customer turned to another and started complaining about foreigners like us. The other customer was in heartfelt, loud-voiced agreement. Suddenly I felt like talking again. I approached them, as did my friend, and we both started speaking in rapid-fire French. We were then told that it was basic politeness to not speak a language that others couldn't understand...that in fact what we did was unacceptable. Logically we inquired whether they would keep speaking English in England or German in Germany when they run into a fellow French person. Well, of course we got nowhere (logic having nothing to do with this). It was suggested that we go back to Holland.

Neither of us had never previously experienced anything remotely like this and were somewhat shaken. Besides the highly confrontational language used, it felt all the worse for occurring on "home ground." Of course, the feelings they expressed are felt most likely by more than a few, and I can appreciate that. Really, it cannot always be easy being an older person confronted with the internationalization of your space, or at least the EU-ization of your part of the world. Respect, or even sullen acceptance, were not options they were willing to consider, however.

I have spent my life as a bit of an outsider, having been born in Asia, raised in Africa and lived in the US (where I sometimes felt far more of an outsider because I was "supposed" to fit in), and now Europe. Establishing roots has become more important to me over time.

This could have happened anywhere, but it still felt like a sucker punch.
April 3 Update: unexpected development...I returned to the little supermarket, where they were quick to assure me that someone else who was present spoke to the market owner. She then confronted the one lady for behaving that way in a public space, saying she would not accept that in her market. The lady has since refused to return. The other lady's identity is unknown, so she's still on the lam...


  1. "Go back to Holland?" Really? Oh Tammy, that is almost funny (from a "reading it across the big pond" perspective.)

    Kudos to you for speaking so many languages fluently. If I were there, attempting to converse in my very bad French, they would probably beg me to speak English, or at least use sign language. : )

  2. bienvenue my dear, but of course you just ran into a bad apple. The functionaires on the other hand, sadly, will remain as they are, sullen, unhelpful and just mean spirited (of course not to a one).

  3. Tammy,

    Remember when I visited you in Amsterdam, and I emerged from the shower to discover that you had just received similar treatment from the UPS delivery guy, who you had apparently chosen to speak English to, at your own front door?

    Wouldn't you like to ask one of these folks where, precisely, they would have you go back to, given your pedigree?


Thanks for visiting my blog and joining in the conversation!

Related Posts with Thumbnails