Beki Grinter

Commuting and Every Day life at the half way point

In European Union, France on September 30, 2009 at 9:22 am

Apparently we’re almost at the half way point. Wow, hard to believe it’s half way over.

So, I’m trying to reflect on things. Not unsurprisingly, I’ve lost some of the newness that made me aware of the mundane.

The flyers continue to show up at the house, and it no longer seems odd to me that they advertise uncooked meat. The continued desire to furnish your home with products that have the Union Jack on them does seem bizarre to me. Actually it caused me to notice that France like Italy flies a considerable number of flags. (Also like the United States). What’s nice to see in France and Italy is the national and the European Union flags together. It goes a long way to making me feel like I’m at home to see the EU flag. When we visited Veuve Cliqout, they flew their flag, and the flag of France and the EU. I feel very grateful to France that they’ve invited me to join in their Champagne heritage. The flags you fly say a lot about what you identify with, so perhaps it’s now more noticable to me how little a) Britain seems to fly the flag by comparison, and b) how you never see the EU flag when a flag is flown. While I actually like the relatively limited flag flying, I wish that the UK would embrace the EU. But I’ve spent my entire life wishing that, and I suspect that I will continue to spend the rest of my life wishing that.

Back to mail. We share our house with three other families. But our apartment is not numbered. Surnames and mail boxes outside with surnames on them, do the sort. Apartment numbers are irrelevant.

Surnames are capitalised here. I am not Beki Grinter, but Beki GRINTER. Mail is addressed to the sender on the front and the from address is on the back of the envelope rather than at the top left corner. I still do it the U.S. way, and no one’s told me off. By contrast I always wrote my seven’s the continental way, complete with the line through them, and so here I’m finally in the right script society. (The stroke through the seven is to distinguish it from the one, which if you see the continental way of writing it makes more sense).

I am also Madame here. The use of a prefix is far more prevelant here. It’s impossible to purchase tickets with my name, I need a form of address too. And it’s used. In those greeting cycles, it’s always with an address as well as my name, when the latter is known. Hello or Hi is not enough, it’s accompanied by my form of address.

I’ve always been used to au revoir for goodbye. I have heard far more use of bon voyage since being here. Particularly when I am potentially leaving and the other person is not. Cora is a good example, it’s always bon voyage. Which used to stump me, it’s silly to say bon voyage to someone who is sat behind a check out counter, but now I feel comfortable saying au revoir and merci.

I’m used to the routine of seeing signage and for K&I to start deciphering what it means. At first, it was a combination of survival and novelty. Now it’s almost a form of French practice. What are they trying to tell you? Yesterday, again at Cora, we learnt that “Now at prices you’ve never seen before”.

Now that I live in Europe I have an actual car commute, and for the first time I can really complain about traffic. (ha ha ha, sorry, just think it’s funny I had to come to Europe to experience wretched commutes, at least some of the time). Metz is under construction, so commuting can be exceedingly tedious. Some days I commute in while K works from home, and when I drive alone I enjoy turning on the radio and singing along. Well I think I’m just turning on the radio, but it turns out that in fact also usually sing. It just happens. Here though it’s caused some amusement. Just today for example, I was listening to Virgin radio which plays a good mix of French and English language music. Lilly Allen’s Fuck You (yes, really) is huge here — and it’s frankly very weird to hear it being played in some places, like in the local sommalier’s shop while selecting wine . Anyway, this was an 80s tune, I can’t remember who and I was singing along (I am no great singer, but it turns out that singing along to an English language song, in English, with the windows open, really gets the attention of the person in the car next to you at the intersection. I got a compliment. I don’t sing along to the French songs.

I also don’t sing when I am being followed by a van full of Gendarmarie. I’ve noticed that the French police seem to hunt in bigger packs. I’ve seen van fulls of gendarmarie several times now. Then there’s the local Metz police (I actually don’t understand the categories of French police, but there are categories, like in the U.S. where every entity appears to have its own force, I still don’t understand that). So the local plod tends to hunt in packs of three. They drive peugeots and renaults with two in the front and one on the back seat. In the US this would not be possible because the backseat is where the felons travel. It makes you wonder where the French put their felons. In the boot (trunk)?

I also don’t sing on roundabouts. Roundabouts have a very unique place in my driving history. I learnt to drive in the UK. I probably drove about 200 miles in total in the UK. Then I moved to the United States. I’ve driven across the country once (3500 miles), around the West multiple times (10000) and so forth. The net result is that I have order of magnitudes of practice of driving on the right. Except for roundabouts. The US doesn’t have them (well there are a few, but you have to work to find them). So, now in France, the one thing that really has taken some practice is the French roundabout. I’m used to getting on from the left and proceeding in a clockwise direction, and instead I enter from the right and go counterclockwise. And then there’s the use of the two lanes, inner and outer, along side with understanding the entry and exit protocols. Some of the lane usage and the protocols are once learnt never forgotten, but flipping them around to cope with the different directionality is novel. And critically it comes for me at a time when I don’t think of driving on the right, or switching from a EU to a US system as being novel. So it’s like this blip, I notice that the degree of attention I have to pay at roundabouts is much higher than anywhere else.

Well this is already quite long so I’ll save how I confused the archeological dig outside the Maison d’arrete (the stopping house, aka prison) for large moles or possibly graves. And perhaps eventually I will do the appropriate length post on cheese. De Gaulle is famous for saying “how is it possible to run a nation that has 264 different types of cheese” to make the point about the challenge of being a nation when the local/regional is so well established in the cultural psyche, and he was right about everything but one thing, there are far more types of cheese than that. Over 300 I believe, perhaps as many as 350. France a nation of cheese.


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