Tag Archives: neighbors

Minding my own onions

“Do you have your passport? And don’t forget to bring a sweater. It can be really cold in those airplanes.” Our French cleaning lady has taken charge of our household and our lives. She tells us off when we’re late for work, warns us for eminent dangers on French highways and always knows best where it concerns our household.

Others fuss over us too. Neighbors give me unsolicited advice about our hedge (“it really needs a trim”) and our garden (“is it meant to look that messy?”). The postman has showed concern about the design of the nameplate on our mailbox (“really weird”). Villagers informed me I walk my dogs too much (“just chain them in your yard”) and that I pick up too many of their droppings (“leave it!”). A complete stranger told me off for biking with my dogs. “Think of their little feet!” she yelled before she nearly caused a traffic accident. Interestingly, fellow foreigners have complemented me on my bike’s special mount that enables dogs to safely run along.

After a careful study of local meddling in this part of France I’ve come to the conclusion that approximation to Switzerland is partly to blame. Being quite opinionated, a quality that many French have, has become mixed with the Swiss tendency to overorganize. It affects the entire population. “Are you sure you locked the front door?” a ten-year-old asked me when she saw me leaving.

The trick is how to deal with these well-intended interferences with my life. “Mind your own business” (cela ne vous regarde pas) is considered rude and so is the playful “mind your own onions” (occupez-vous de vos oignons). But “i’ll manage” (je me debrouille) isn’t nearly strong enough.

Turning a deaf ear seems the best solution. “The kitchen should be cleaned twice a week,” our cleaning lady reproached me recently, “at the very least.” As she rambled on, I thought of raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens and anti-tank grenades. By the time I’ll leave our village I’ll be stone deaf.

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The real France

Yvette rolls her eyes and clucks her disapproval. “Do you remember the Parisian who lives at number 23? We haven’t seen her for ages!” Though Yvette is 82, she keeps a close watch on everyone. Yvette lives with her 85-year-old brother Maurice. “Living with your sister is actually worse than being married,” he jokes. “I can’t divorce her.”

Yvette and Maurice are our neighbors in Anduze, a village in the south of France where Spouse and I bought our first house. The region enjoys an abundance of wine cellars, hiking trails and medieval castles. Unfortunately, unemployment is very high. After a few blissful years spouse and I had to move to the other side of the country. We let our house in Anduze. Maintenance offered us the chance to revisit.

We were welcomed back with open arms. “It’s not the same without you,” our neighbor Monique said. “Are you moving back?” the baker’s wife asked hopefully. “I don’t allow Dutch people on my terrace,” the owner of our favorite café said with a grin, “but I’ll make an exception for you”. We were informed about births, deaths, the dry weather and the shortcomings of monsieur the mayor. This is no simple gossip. It’s care for the village, its inhabitants and surroundings and comes with sunshine and the easy lifestyle that characterizes the south of France.

The contrast with our new habitat couldn’t be bigger. People here don’t know their neighbors. They don’t care who the mayor is and what decisions he takes. The weather allows for lush vegetation, which people fight with trimmers and chainsaws. They are too stressed to tolerate the mooing of cows, the leaves of a tree on their terrace or a teenager turning up his music. There’s no café here, the only place for people to meet is in the traffic jams morning and night. The average income is twice as high as in Anduze but people seem four times as unhappy.

When I say goodbye, Yvette grabs my hand. “Will you say hi from us to your girlfriend?” Maurice asks me if we’ll come back soon. I’m already dreaming of it.

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