I like to paint a romantic picture of life in France, and for the most part it is la vie en rose, but the hum drum days do exist as do the confusing days.
Because the truth of the matter is that wherever you live in the world life is full of detail, and France is the grand master when it comes to administration.
I often refer to myself as the Queen of admin for much of my ‘ French’ day revolves around just that.
My admin task this week – one that I will admit to procrastinating over – is to renegotiate insurance for our farm.
If I was a real farmer, not a city girl come to farming late in life farmer, or if I was an expert in insurance speak and if I were French – understood the system and vocabulary – I might not have lost sleep.
I don’t think I have a clue about insurance in any language and I certainly have no idea about the responsibilities of French farmers towards the rest of the population. Responsibilite civile, is an amusing thought if it weren’t such an onerous obligation.
But naive fool that I am, I promised myself that I would deal with these administrative situations myself and become familiar with all aspects of life here.
Why have a translator, or delegate this fabulous job, when you can do it yourself?
Who doesn’t want to spend all night thumbing through a dictionary for terms such as, ‘degats des eaux‘ or dommages au tabac blond ?
I wasn’t alone in this challenge; I was aided and abetted by the local representative of the insurance company.
She looked very professional – high heels, fabulous nails and slick blow dry and I am sure she knew her stuff.
We just couldn’t communicate with each other and she couldn’t seem to understand that I couldn’t understand her!
This miscommunication doesn’t happen to me very often now and I, rather too confidently as it turns out, thought I had come to grips with the French language; let me just say, there are still some rather large gaps.
Don’t get me wrong – Madame Assurer was sweet and smiley – and only meant to help me, but she is of a kind who have no idea that there is a world outside their national border and their native language.
With her pile of papers laid out on my kitchen table (always a home visit in the French countryside), she spoke to me at breakneck speed about each and every clause in our policy, only pausing for the smallest breath and an occasional glance my way to reinforce her point.
From time to time I would gather my courage and interrupt her relentless flow; I would say, repetez vous s’il vous plait – she would puff in that way that many French puff and raise her eyebrows as if to say… are you a complete incompetent, do I need to explain this yet again?
Of course I kept apologising for my stupidity …je suis desole madam, je suis tres desole madam.
The nasty little voice inside my head wanted to break out and ask her if she spoke English or would she mind if I did….but I kept my cool and I knew (hoped) she really wasn’t trying to torment me.
The more she tried to explain, the more quickly she spoke and the more my eyes glazed over – you know that feeling when you are sinking deeper and deeper until you aren’t really listening at all.
I knew that I was just as much of a challenge to her as she was to me; I wanted our rendezvous to be over and so did she.
When she had finished her monologue she asked me in her efficient and to the point way if I was clear about everything,
I smiled sweetly and said, ‘mais oui madam, absolument’.
The truth; I was clear about nothing and have spent days since figuring out what would have been so simple in my own language.
Eventually like Eliza Dolittle I got it, ‘by George she got it’. And what a feeling of accomplishment.
I feel like I have solved the riddle of the Sphinx, climbed Everest and parted the Red Sea all on the one day.
My pride is intact once more and I am ready for the next administrative hurdle – I say bring it on!
And for your future reference degats des eaux means water damage ( easy – in insurance terms a no brainer) and dommages au tabac blond means mild tobacco damage!!
You might ask what that has to do with my farm insurance…I am! xv