19 Mar 2009

Eliza Doolittle… ‘By George, I Think She’s Got It.’

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

VA In Your Inbox

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Linda Carswell

Hi Vicki,
Does that ‘mild tabacco damage’ mean internally or externally???
I’ve seen how the French smoke!!!

mondo cherry

Well done you! A huge effort indeed, and if I ever need French translation for insurance vocab I know who to come to!

And you made me smile with “By George, I think she’s got it” which is one of my favourite moments in one of my favourite movies!

Clare x


Great post and well done!

Can’t imagine the complexities of farm insurance in any language (not to mention actually running one).

Good on ya :)


Bravo Vicki, we are all so very proud of you for enduring your ordeal with such stoicism! Like you I don't enjoy such matters, I generally leave it to MOTH who actually looks at dealing with any form of bureacracy as a sporting challenge.

Somewhere in this wide brown land there is a Sanatorium full of Public Servants permanently 'resting' following a run-in with my boy. There have been many times when I & any number of the kids & their mates have crouched behind a closed door listening in amazement to one of MOTH's famous phone 'interrogations'. However, I reckon even he would have met his match with Madame Assurer!
Millie ^_^
P.S. Mr. FF owes you a night out for this!


Bravo Vicki for taking on the French insurance system with so much patience and aplomb! Lee :)

ness lockyer

Glad it was you Puss! ‘Lost in Translation’ would have been me for sure, thumbing through my phrase book…how embarassment! lol
Ness xx

A Gift Wrapped Life

Wondered where you were the past few days……….you had larger challenges! Hope you had a few drinks after that ordeal. She wansn’t smoking during all this was she? Now, that would be funny!

for the love of a house

I think talking to an insurance company in your native language is a monumental feat, so speaking to one in French would do me in! I would have to ask them one of the few (but oh so important when in France!) phrases in French that I know….où sont les toilettes?

Mrs. G

Congratulations on your triumph. I salute you for your tenacious desire to succeed. I’m afraid that I have yet to conquer the administrative duties required in my own native tongue. You are amazing.

Mary Jo from TrustYourStyle

I don’t know how you do it, but I’m enjoying your recounting of this adventure very much!

xo Mary Jo


Congratulations, insurance hurdle over! And now your French vocabulary has been so enhanced!

Paris Atelier

Tobacco damage? I don’t even understand all of the insurance mumbo jumbo in English, I couldn’t imagine trying to figure it out in French! Congrats on figuring out the whole thing!!!
Best wishes,

Olga Granda-Scott

I had a similar experience when I stayed at a friend’s in Bormes and she asked me to renew/update her insurance for her. Since her payment was past due, they wouldn’t renew her until the check had cleared. Then they would send a new bill, I tried to explain that they should take the money while they had me, but no, they ad to follow protocol. It wouldn’t been that bad except that their hours were so hard to work around. You must be used the work hours in France by now, but it still drives me crazy when I’m trying to get business done there.


I’m not sure anyone could or should understand any of that nonsense..
They would be taking away her job
Quelle nightmare…


Wow…, what a task. I’m Swiss and doing our “American” taxes here, and I find it to be a breeze…, if that is even comparable.

Fifi Flowers

Hello my friend! I’m popping over quickly to let you know that you will have MANY guests in your kitchen tomorrow… I do sooooo hope you don’t mind but your kitchen is lovely and soooo fashionable… I will send proper cleaning crew to take carry of any messes they might make… see you tomorrow… au revoir!

Zita - Mlle Magpie

Oh, Vicki, I am SO familiar with what you’re talking about after having lived in Paris for three years in the 90’s, LOL! And how about those “tampons”?!!! No one can do it like the French! I must say, that is one of the things I do not miss about living in France :)


Delightful post, Vicki! I am so with you. This week I had to work out an administrative problem in Spanish and the woman I was speaking with thought I was from Brazil…she couldn’t place the accent…I think my little bit of this and that language has thrown my accent into the pool of cultural confusion. I avoided this tasks for seven months! My paperwork was lost…dates were confused…vista buena turned into vista bueno…and I pridelessly collapsed into English…KUDOS to you for your “I can do it” attitude!


Wow, I am impressed. If I ever become a farm owner in France, I know who I’ll be looking to for insurance related advice :-)

A Thousand Clapping Hands

I was rooting for you like a cheerleader as I read this! My hat is off to you, Madame! THAT is what I call a challenge! Wonderful post, Vicki!
Wishing you a Happy Spring down on the farm,

Callie Grayson

yeah for you.
i am not good at that sort of thing and I have to say, I rely on my dad….. for helping with negotiations of car buying, house buying and other sort of things that have the barter system of purchase. It stresses me out beyond belief and I can’t do it!

I am proud of you!

lady jicky

I was thinking how wonderful “damage tabac blond” was – you know, damage from Caron’s perfume Tabac Blond. Oooh they are so different in France thought I – only to find out its from puffy old smokers lungs! LOL
Not very glam after all!


I can totally sympathize. The one thing I don’t miss about living there is getting matters like this sorted. As everyone would always tell me in those situations: Bon courage!

The Pink Poodle

dear ViCki…well done!! I am proud of your courage..your obstinance?? /persistance…

You must have felt like saying…something similar to…”j’suis australien…est je ne sais pas”?? non comprendez vous??
soooo PLEEEASSSE EXPLAIN!!!!” per pauline hansen..(hope you get this ?? )…(if not…forget it!)…

hope you have another wonderful weekend..and my hubby LOVES the surfing books..especially the Vietnam one..

xx andrea


Well done – I get lost amongst my insurance details – couldn’t imagine it in French! Amanda x

the sweet life with olives

hi, thanks for visiting my blog… it helped me find yours! wow, what a life. can’t wait to read all your back posts. got as far as you kitchen… hello? fabulous is am understatement. best to you in france, from italy

Linda at Lime in the Coconut!

Oh Hardy kudos to you…tackling insurance in ANY language is no easy feat!!

To a beautiful weekend!!

High Desert Diva

Kudos to you for even trying to figure it out in French. My eyes would have glazed over in English.


I am glad you conquered the insurance gauntlet! It sounds mind-boggling.Have a wonderful weekend, Vicki!


LOL! That story is too too funny! I can totally imagine you and the insurance agent in a dialogue. I agree, Insurance is complicated…I’ve been in the insurance business here in the U.S. for over 10 years now, and i’m still perplexed…look at the AIG mess!

But thanks so much for leaving me a lovely comment! And did you see I have your book on my sidebar as a “must have favorite” for interior design inspiration?

Bon week-end!

the paris apartment

Honestly I don’t know how you did it. It takes everything I can muster just to call Sprint.
Bravo madame!


Sounds like you won the battle but not the war!! Great post, and wonderful sense of humor, and we all need that these days…thanks so much for taking time to pop over, all the best Chrissy

Pamela Terry and Edward

There is nothing I hate worse than dealings with insurance companies. And that is in English! I can only imagine what a wreck I would be if I had to negoticiate my way through a policy in French! Bravo to you! You should quite rightly feel a huge sense of accomplishment!!


I am sitting at my desk chuckling out loud at this post ~ which could NOT have come at a more opportune time for me.

Earlier this week I met with an English speaking financial guru. However after an hour of variable annuities, non-qualified funds, age-based something or other, longevity risk, parametric simulation, and on and on – my eyes began to glaze over. I’ve come to the conclusion I might be better off putting my dollars under my mattress!


totally off the subject..but I was Eliza in our little town’s production of My Fair Lady…the rain in Spain, baby..
But I digress…”je suis desole, je suis tres desole” :) I remember saying that SO many times in France anywhere and everywhere– with an added American “je suis stupide” which always seemed to make any french man or woman crack a smile..good job you did it!


Hi Vicki, I almost cried for you going through that ordeal, french paperwork is such a nightmare. I spoke to an olive farmer in Alenya last week, she is English and has lived there for 31 years and still gets so anxious about contracts, insurance and regulations. Remember… The Rain in Spain falls mainly on the plane, your picture did make me smile. I hope your time with your visitors went well and hope that you have a great weekend. hugs Margie.


Thank you for another peek into your French world! You are a brave one! Also, thank you for stopping by and asking about Lily. She’s still on spring break with the girls, I guess.

Alison Gibbs

Way to go Vicki!!
I hate dealing with it in English let alone in French – I am sure I would have handballed it on to somone else to deal with. My eyes would have glazed over and I would have drifted off to sleep!!LOL


What patience… Congratulations on surviving the French system of “individualism”.

PS…an olive farm in southern France…sounds so romantic.

The Daily Connoisseur

Vicki- having lived in France myself, I completely understand your plight! I tend to think that my French is pretty good until I am met with a local who speaks so rapidly I can only gather a few words here and there and completely miss the point!

Bravo to you for your efforts!


I adore hearing about this insurance encounter, Vicki. It reinforces my faith in you as a formidible woman and my personal fear of “legalspeak” in ANY language. Brava, brave girl!


I would love to experience a him drum day in France.
I hope you get everything worked out, good luck.

Di Overton

My daughter Charlotte who lives in Paris speaks fluent French but is still stumped when it comes to their bureaucratic jargon. Well done you to work it out.

la la Lovely

Way to go. You are right insurance in your own language is difficult enough let alone another. Somehow its always the things that we dread that once accomplished we feel so good about!
xx Trina


Tabac blond means mild damage? Are you kidding? this is meant not to be understood.

I can relate to this as I tried to navigate the equivalent here in the US. But I have to say, the French win hand down because they love to hang on to obsolete, random clauses. Things are not dynamic in France as they are here, and bad ideas can endure.


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