Category Archives: French culture

A Visit to the Doctor

It was just a small cultural exchange.

My gynecologist, Madame C.B., always prefaces her annual checkup by holding up her hands with a slight apologetic smile as she says “My hands are just as cold as always.” This time I told her, “Well, in English, we have a saying that goes “Cold hands, warm heart.” I asked her if there was an equivalent expression in French, and she said, “Oui, nous disons “Mains froides, coeur chaud”!  Then she asked me if I would repeat the saying in English so she could tell it to her young son, who is studying English at school, which I did.  It was a nice, friendly moment.

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A visit from Monsieur G. or “SOS our heating system is smoking”

Last September, Monsieur G. made his annual visit to clean our furnace. The furnace is located “down below” in one of our seven basements (caves, in French). Before I explain why there are seven basements in our house, let’s get back to Monsieur G.

There was nothing remarkable about Monsieur G.’s visit. Although retired, he comes every year when my husband telephones him, as he has for 18 years. It’s important to know that he also installed the heating furnace, which is an old puffing red monster of a box. When you push the Start button, it growls into life, with a huge, dragon-ish rumble. I avoid going into the basement because I find it subtly threatening in some nebulous way.

Monsieur G. likes to come as long as it doesn’t conflict with his wild boar  – sanglier – hunting schedule.  After he finishes his work, he and my husband talk for a few minutes, then my husband asks “Monsieur G., how much do I owe you?” Monsieur G. names a negligible amount to show that he really doesn’t need the payment at all. Then my husband says, “Oh, well, it should probably be X euros”, which is always 20-25 percent more. Monsieur G. then says, “Well, okay if you want”, and both he and my husband are highly satisfied with the deal.  Afterwards, my husband tells me what Monsieur G. said his price was, and then what he paid him. Since the payment is always at least 50-75 percent less than what he would pay for the same work in Paris (if, of course, we had a furnace in Paris which we do not), he is very happy (trés content!).

However, last year, there was a potentially disastrous development in the furnace saga. Two days after Monsieur G.’s visit, I went down into our courtyard because I smelled smoke. As I walked down the stairs into our courtyard I heard a rumbling noise coming from the basement that houses our furnace-dragon. Convinced that it was on the verge of exploding (à la the engine room of the “Titanic”) I ran upstairs and told my husband.  As do all courageous knights, he immediately headed for the basement to confront the dragon. That is, he turned off the furnace with a flick of his finger on the button.

After an SOS phone call to Monsieur G. who quickly arrived (as this was not a scheduled hunting day), we awaited his verdict. He came out of the basement after about thirty minutes to announce sheepishly that he had forgotten to replace one of the nuts after his cleaning job. This had caused the furnace to vibrate, and unbalance the fuel mix, so it started smoking.

So the monster was subdued and our old stone house was warm for the winter.

A bientôt –

Sharoux

P.S. More on the seven basements in another post….

Sweeping snow off of strawberry tunnels

Last week, during the first week of March, we had one foot of snow. This was the first time it had snowed in and around our village for four years. This is not too important, in itself. I’m sure that the Ohioans and the Norwegians would yawn and roll their eyes after all of the snow they’ve seen this winter.

No, the really important thing was that our near neighbors, who are primarily winegrowers but who also have peach, cherry, and apple orchards also plant strawberry plants that they sell to market distributors. They plant the strawberries in December. A bit early, you say?

No, because the first seasonal fruits to reach the markets in France are called “primeurs” (“firsts”). This means that these fruits and vegetables command a premium price, so a grower is motivated to plant at the earliest possible moment. Which leads me to the subject of this post.

The plants were coming along fine, in rows, sheltered under low plastic tunnels that protect them from wind and cold weather. But – nobody counted on it snowing. So, the night it snowed – all night long – Monsieur, Madame, and their son who is in charge of the family business, took their brooms and continually swept the snow off of the tunnels to keep them from collapsing on the plants and, by extrapolation, ruining the strawberry plants and their chances of making a profit from the sale of these primeurs. And there were a lot of rows and a lot of tunnels.

We had invited our neighbors in for a visit (the apéritif in French) and they told us about it. You know, that event really made an impression on me. We are so very far removed from the actual act of growing the food that we buy and eat.

But I’m sure I’ll think about them sweeping snow off of their strawberry tunnels the next time I eat strawberries.

A bientôt – See you soon.