Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Worth a detour?

The least interesting tourist attractions are normally indicated in the Michelin Green Guide as being “worth a detour”. However, it does not mean automatically, that when certain attractions are not mentioned in the Green Guide, they are NOT worth a visit. Yesterday it was time again for a bit of analysis and investigation, in order to test the following equation: “Not being mentioned ïn a travel guide = Not worth a visit”.
In the nearby village Ameugny there is a tiny little shop selling “elf” related stuff, such as postcards with elves on them, plastic elves, terracotta elves, bakelite elves, etc. Look at the website
Behind the shop, called “Pays des Fées” lies, completely invisible from the road, a garden, the “Jardin des Fées”. Entrance fee € 2.50. After having made some overtime in order to afford this extravaganza, we plucked up the courage and bought tickets. The lady, who did the guided tour, was acting a bit strange to say the least. But, when you have been living where she does, at a stone throw away from a spiritual centre of a slightly different order (Taizé), obviously getting hardly any clientele from there, one can imagine that she has been getting a bit strange throughout the years. Once we had passed the barrier, it became clear how gigantic the garden was. Arab countries used to issue stamps bigger than her piece of land… But maybe the attractions in the garden were worth a visit. The pièce de résistance was a grotto, which entrance was supposed to look like the mouth of a dragon, including fearfully real-looking teeths. Not much less attractive was a little pond, fed from the mouth of a giant.
She (or her father, who had started this wonderful fairyland before he passed away) had been hiding all sorts of noise making gadgets in the grass, on tree trunks, in trees, such as bellowing cows, squeaking frogs, tinkling elves, all hidden in secret places, and activated by the innocent visitor. To give the whole experience an even more interesting aura, she was telling about the wonderful healing capacity of such well known plants as Busy Lizzies, Forget Me Nots, buttercups, etc. A new world opened itself to me…
I think the above is sufficient empirical proof for the thesis : “Not being mentioned ïn a travel guide = Not worth a visit”. I would advise anyone, who is passing by here, that the € 2.50 are far better spent on a cold beer on the terrace of L’Annexe on the Voie Verte, or La Terrace, Les Blés d’Or or Café de la Poste in Cormatin….
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Cats, but not the musical

Last year we got a bit startled by strange noises coming from the loft of the toilet block on the campsite. It sounded like something was running around at high speed, but what it was we did not know. Our best guess was a squirrel or a dormouse, both of which are abundantly present in this part of the world. But some campers were adamant that they had heard meowing as well.
We have no cats, so it seemed a bit far fetched, but soon all was revealed when we saw three tiny cats peering over the beams of the loft whenever someone was doing the washing up. A bit later we also noticed a big cat sneaking in to the toilet block in the morning, and sneaking out before lunch time. It appeared, that a cat from possibly a nearby farm wanted to kitten in a restful place, and had found the peace and quiet it wanted in our loft. Unfortunately, because of allergies of one of us, we cannot keep animals in the house. On the other hand, cats on the premises would be ideal to keep the amount of field mice and moles at bay. We decided to try and keep the cats here. We bought cat food, put it down in a quiet place together with a bowl of water, and were hoping for the best. The mother cat obviously ate the food and drank the water. Some wise guys told us, that we had to stroke the kittens every so often, to create a bond between human being and animal. But how to get hold of three red striped devils who shot off like rockets as soon as one only pointed at them?
After a while we found out that the cats had discovered that dangling toilet paper is a challenge for young cats. One can imagine the havoc three kittens can cause with paper they found in two toilets….
The mother was still visiting, but the visits were not so frequent anymore. One day we had to go out for a couple of days. We bought an automatic feeder for the cats, hoping for the best. The feeder is a very simple container with a hole at the bottom. Gravity moves the food from the container into the bowl attached at the bottom of the hole. The kittens obviously did not trust Newton, and decided to give him a helping hand. When we got home, the whole toilet block was covered in cat food. But all good things come to an end. One day the mother appeared, meowed a few times, and marched off into the woods, followed by the fabulous three. One came back for a short time, but by Christmas it was seen last, and never heard of ever since.
It was a very pleasant surprise when two of our campers, who went out for a walk came back followed by a small white kitten with a black tail. For totally unknown reasons the cat seemed to like it here, and it looks like we have got a new lodger on our hands. The cat likes to be stroked, patted, and is constantly trying to get into the house. We have bought some fresh cat food, put water out, and every morning we have a “stroke the cat” session. Every so often, for lunch the cat is being bribed with some leftover tuna from a tin, and the campers are also very caring for our youngest guest. How long this will last? Time will tell….
Well, time has told. The cat disappeared a couple of days ago, most likely never to be seen again....
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Tax evasion

By the end of 2006 we received a letter about tourist tax (taxe de séjour). As of 2007 we had to pay tourist tax, and we were supplied with ample examples of how the tax form worked, how to fill it in, and how we should calculate the tariffs.
It looked more complicated than it was. Campsite are normally rated with stars, and gîtes with ears of corn. The more stars or ears, the higher the tariff. since we are not registered with any organisation, we had no stars and no ears, and hence we should have to pay the lowest tariff, i.e. € 0.20 per person per night. children under 18 went free, and when the price per person per night was less than € 5.00, they did not have to pay tax either. It was obvious that, no mater what, we had to pay tax for the gîte guests. But the campsite was something different. At the time our tariff was € 5.00 per tent per night and an additional € 2.50 per person per night. Most campers were couples with one tent, and hence they spent exactly € 5.00 per person per night.
This should wake up the creative bookkeeper within every Dutch person.
Asking € 4.99 per tent and € 2.50 per person would result in € 4.995 per person per night; rounded off we got the dreaded figure of € 5.00 back again.
Before the tax was brought into effect, we had “lowered” our price for a tent to € 4.98 per tent per night. This brought our price per person per night (for 2 people in one tent) to € 4.99 per person per night. Doing this, we only had to pay for the lone traveller (€ 4.98 + € 2.50 = € 7.48 per person per night).
The first year, 2007, we paid exactly € 0.20 tourist tax (for 1 lonely camper), as opposed to € 61.60 for the gîte guests.
The second year we paid € 1.40 for the campers and € 71.20 for the gîtes.
However, knowing now that the tourist tax is actually used to boost tourism, e.g. by setting out walking trails with direction signs (Balades Vertes) evading tax this way looks a bit childish. This insight, combined with comments from a number of campers that we were actually too cheap (although hardly anyone decided to pay more voluntarily), made us change our policy radically and increased our prices on the campsite.
If we would have to pay tourist tax at this very moment, we should pay € 62.00, and the high season has not even started!
We sincerely hope to pay the tax man, with a smile on our faces, at least double this amount; thanks entirely to our campers!
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Perseverance pays off!

After we had been summoned by our mayor to start paying tourist tax, we found out that somehow in the process we had ended up on the address list of the Office de Tourisme (OT) in Saint-Gengoux-le-National. Saint-Gengoux is the “capital” of the Canton Cormatin is part of, and is located approx. 10 km from here. The OT in Cormatin (only open during the summer months) is a branch of the one in Saint-Gengoux.
Early 2008 all of a sudden we received an invitation for the assembleé générale of the OT. Of course we went, got a lecture on the costs made the previous year and on the achievements of the same year, and were asked to join up with the OT. For € 30 we had the right to leave brochures or flyers in their office, and for € 2 extra we would get a mention in their yearly brochure and on their website. Well, € 32 is not the end of the world, so we coughed up the dosh and were all of a sudden full fledged members of the OT. What was going to happen next was a bit of a mystery. By the beginning of 2009 we found out that at least our Camping à la ferme was mentioned on a poster displayed on the door of both OT’s, and we were invited to come to the yearly meeting of 2009. During the meeting we were a bit more pro-active, and asked what we actually had been paying for last year. Proudly the chairwoman showed us the brochure for 2009, where our name was prominently displayed under Campsites as well as under Gîtes rurales. For a mention on the website however they needed some more information.
In June 2009, after numerous visits to the OT, phone calls and emails we finally got a mention on the website. At the same yearly meeting we were asked if we would mind to host the vin d’amitié for a Balade Patrimoine organised by the OT Cormatin. The Balade would start in Cormatin, and would end at La Tuilerie in Chazelle. They would visit a couple of old buildings with an industrial past, like a derelict watermill, a former power plant and our old tile factory. We would serve drinks for the walkers and give them a guided tour around the drying shed and the kiln. On 15 July, late in the afternoon, around 20 walkers strolled through our gate. We had the tables ready, glasses, drinks and cakes were on standby, and after a little welcome speech we gave them the promised tour.
The whole thing turned out to be quite a success. The people were genuinely interested, had lots of questions which we answered as good as we could, and some even asked whether they could have a look at one of the gîtes that was empty. And, although the whole process of getting from the OT what we wanted took a long time, it has already paid off. We now get inquiries for the gîtes through them, and we have already had a number of campers which would not have found us if not through them.
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Monday, 20 July 2009

Friends in high places

When we moved in here, in September 2005, we tried to make an appointment with the mayor of Cormatin as soon as possible after we arrived, in order to get his approval, if necessary, for our plans. In the Netherlands the gap between magistrates and the population is quite big, hence we did not know quite well how to tackle this problem.
Anyway, we thought we just would pop in at the Mairie, register ourselves and ask for a carte de séjour. We knew that a carte de séjour was abolished in France, at least for EEC inhabitants, but it seemed a good enough excuse as an introduction to seeing the mayor. Although France has the name of being extremely bureaucratic, everything went very smoothly, and we left the Mairie with the date for an appointment with the mayor.
When after a couple of days we turned up for our appointment, the mayor was not there yet. This is also not unusual. Most mayors of these sort of villages are farmers, shopkeepers, etc. as well, and being mayor over a village of 500 citizens is really a part time job.
After a quarter of an hour the mayor turned up, an d he had a very relaxed interview with us. We told him exactly what we were planning to do, he knew our house and the previous owners well, and made it very clear, that as long as we would employ an architect to take care of building permissions, he had no intention what so ever to interfere with our plans. After this visit we could start looking for an architect and for builders.
The whole renovation was finished by September 2006. For that reason the gîtes could not open until May 2007; however, the toilet block was finished in May 2006, coinciding with the arrival of the first campers.
Although the mayor was passing by our property every morning, jovially waving at us when he saw us, he never stopped to have a chat. Since it is better to stay on good terms with a mayor in these sort of villages, we decided to invite him and his wife for drinks one evening to celebrate the “official” opening of La Tuilerie de Chazelle as a tourist trap.
Of course we were quite nervous about the whole affair, everything went very smoothly. He had his grandson with him, and he and his wife were very impressed with what we had achieved.
But everything has a price tag attached to it. We had been presenting ourselves as being in the tourist trade, not realising that our mayor was also the chairman of a conglomerate of small communes around us. And this conglomerate had decided, that everybody in the tourist industry, hence B&B owners, gîte owners and camp site owners, had to pay tourist tax as of the start of the new season. And guess who’s signature was prominently displayed under this letter!
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Friday, 17 July 2009

Getting to know your neighbours

Living in a beautiful old house, located at the edge of the forest, and about 2 km away from the nearest other house has a few disadvantages, which I was not aware of before we moved. One of those is the fact that there is no neighbour in sight when you want to practice your French. Before we moved to France in 2005 we had taken French lessons at the Alliance Française in the Netherlands, knowing that speaking the lingo is essential if you want to be part of your new environment. Once settled in here, we found a lady and retired teacher in a nearby village, Agnès R., who gave French lessons for foreigners.
But apart from those lessons, there were not many occasions to speak French. The conversations we have at the till in the supermarket, the baker or the Tabac, do not go much deeper than “Bonjour, Madame. Une baguette s’il vous plait. Merci, au revoir, bonne journée!”
We decided that we had to come up with something better.
By accident we stumbled on the various ceremonies in Cormatin. There are five in total; the last Sunday in April (day of the deportees ’40-’45), 8 May (liberation day 1945), 18 June (call to arms by de Gaulle from London 1940), 14 July (Bastille day 1789) and 11 November (armistice day 1918). Those taking part gather at the given time at the Mairie, and from there the group walks to the monument, the mayor puts flowers down, asks for 1 minute silence (which lasts 10 seconds), delivers his speech, the Marseillaise is played, and finally the Mayor invites everybody for a vin d’honneur in one of Cormatin’s bars. And during this vin d’honneur one can finally practice his or her French, and pick up the latest village gossip.
Needless to say that we were quite keen on these events. Everything went smoothly until the last Sunday in April 2007.We drove to the Mairie, past one of the two monuments, and we noticed that the flowers were already there. It was around 11 o’clock, which seemed to be the standard time for these ceremonies. Some of the regulars were having a beer on a terrace, and we could only assume that we were too late. Although the crowds at these ceremony normally consist of the Mayor and his deputy, the town council, the sappeurs-pompiers, a few veterans and a handful of people who are interested in this sort of thing, we were quite keen on not missing one. At least we showed there that we were interested in village life.
To make sure we did not miss out on the next occasion, 8 May 2007, we went into the Mairie to find out at what time we had to gather. A terrorist attack could not have caused greater chaos than our relatively simple question. The secretary did not have a clue, and asked her assistant, who also did not know. The deputy mayor was vaguely aware that there was something going on that day, but could not confirm the time. People were phoned, it was suggested that the information was faxed to the local newspaper, but the fax got lost in the process….
Finally the Mayor came out of his cubicle, asked what the problem was, went back into his office and came out with his diary; nothing in there either. In the end they rang the newspaper, and they confirmed that the wreath laying was planned for 11 o’clock on 8 May. We finally went home after half an hour, with the assurance of the Mayor that, because we were such “sympa” people, we would get a written invitation for the ceremonies in the future.
And we have never missed one since!
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Festival Violons en Cormatinois?

The guitar festival in Cormatin has come to an end. The last concert took place in the small Romanesque church of Chazelle, which is literally next door to us. On the program were works by Bach for solo violin, played by the young violinist Nicolas Dautricourt.
Looking in retrospect at the festival, there certainly was something strange about it. Not only was there not even one concert in the church of Cormatin, but on 3 concerts out of 5 not even a trace of a guitar was to be found…. A bit strange for a series called “Festival Guitares en Cormatinois”!
On the other hand, who cares when the music is good. We walked up to the church from home at about half past eight in the evening, armed with two cushions in order to be able to sit a bit more comfortable. Arriving at the church the whole in-crowd of Cormatin was there: the mayor and his wife, Pascale P. and some other members of the town council, the jeweller of “La Gadrielle” Patrick V. and his wife, the gardener Remy M. with wife and kids, who live in Chazelle, half the people who are involved in helping out at every event, the representative of the Conseil Général of Saône-et-Loire, our cultural attaché (as we call her) of the “Journal de S&L”, heavily perfumed with her favourite perfume “Gauloise” (stale cigarette smoke), in short, everyone of any importance in Cormatin and surroundings was present. Luckily there were also quite a few faces we had never seen before, or faces we only knew from the concerts around here. Anyway, it is the music that counts, and not the ambiance. Dautricourt happened to be a very talented violin player, who gave Bach just that little extra which turned the evening into an excellent concert night. The public gave him an ovation, followed by rhythmic hand clapping, the French way of begging for an encore. And it worked; he gave them two.
This time the planning with regards to selling drinks was slightly better organised then during the last concert we saw in this series. This time there was a proper break, during which one could choose to buy one or more of the four Cd’s Dautricourt had recorded. The buvette was open, and the sales of “Crémant de Bourgogne” could not have been better. And the cushions? We did not need them this time, for the simple reason that the church did have chairs, and they were much more comfortable than the run of the mill church bench!
The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Concert in Chapaize

As mentioned earlier, this area is rich in culture. The many old, Romanesque churches are good examples of this heritage. All churches are owned by the state, and as in many other countries, the Roman Catholic church is loosing its grip on the masses. The result is that many churches only have a church service once every month, if not less often. Luckily, because the state owns the churches, they are sometimes used to host other venues, such as concerts. A beautiful example is the Church of St. Martin in Chapaize. It is still in use for services every so often, but on Saturday evenings throughout the summer it is used as a concert hall. Recently the volunteers organisation of Chapaize Culture had organised a concert here.
Click here for the website of Chapaize Culture
The theme of the evening was Baroque music, performed by an orchestra in period cloths. The company was called “Les Symphonies du Roy conducted by Daniel Ribolet. On the program there were compositions of Charpentier, Lully, Telemann, Rameau, Corelli and Bach.
This small orchestra had an interesting composition. There were 6 reeds (5 oboes and 1 bassoon, 4 brass (3 trumpets, 1 French horn) and 1 percussionist (kettledrums). There was a master of ceremony, or narrator, who introduced the pieces. He was dressed in a livery, with a long, white wig. The musicians were dressed in the uniform of the Musqueteers of the French king. After each piece they were supposed to stand up, put their hat with feathers on, bow to the audience and take off their hat very elegantly, the 17th century’s way. Fortunately they played better than they bowed.
The orchestra, although clearly an amateur orchestra, played with gusto, and in general quite well. Only 2 of the brass players had every so often some trouble in keeping up with the rest, in terms of rhythm and tempo as well as in terms of melody. This was distinctly noticeable in the Corelli Sonata for brass only. The director, one of the oboe players, is a teacher at the music school in Montceau-les-Mines, and certainly the other reed players were most likely some of his more gifted students.
In general one can say that the concert was a very enjoyable one.
Not all concerts given here are performed by French musicians. Because there are a lot of Dutch and Swiss people living around here, either permanently or temporarily, there are regularly concerts by Dutch and Swiss ensembles as well. Certainly the madrigals performed by a Dutch choir still sticks in my mind, not in the least because of the superb acoustics of this church.
The only drawback of this venue are the church seats. Even after five minutes I will develop an acute back ache; however, we bring our own cushions, which makes “sitting” out a concert possible!

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tuileries in Bourgogne (1)

It may be clear by now that we live in a tuilerie; to be more precise, in La Tuilerie de Chazelle. Chazelle is a small hamlet and part of the community of Cormatin. When we came here, we thought that a tuilerie was a roof tile factory. However, we found out that at least in in this part of Burgundy a tuilerie does more than just making roof tiles. We have found a few roof tiles, numerous floor tiles, rectangular bricks and wedge shaped bricks with the inscription of the founder of the factory “Marembaud Noël, Chazelles, Cormatin, S&L”, but we have never found a single roof tile amongst the rubble where we found the others.
The founder of this factory, Monsieur Noël Marembaud, lived from 1855 to 1936. The previous owner of La Tuilerie de Chazelle, the grand daughter of Monsieur Marembaud, told us that the factory stopped production in 1924; then it was turned into a small holding. If we assume that the guy started his factory at the age of 30, the factory must have been producing bricks and floor tiles over a period of approx. 40 years.
Tuileries are usually located near a river (because of nearby clay sediments, in our case from the river Grosne), outside a village (because of the smoke pollution) and at the edge of a forest (because of the availability of fire wood). In the area here, which houses a number of rivers, such as the Grosne, the Guye, the Grison and the Saône, there are quite a number of old tuileries to be found, some in good shape, others completely run down. Some photographs of the various tuileries in the vicinity can be found on the following web page. Some Tuileries in S&L (71)
How did a tuilerie work? The clay was dug from a nearby quarry with shovels, and transported to the place where the clay was mixed. The clay mixer was a big barrel with a heavy mixer, which was propelled by horse power. When the clay, after adding water if necessary, had achieved the right consistency, the clay was formed into bricks by a brick press (one at a time!). After the bricks were formed, they were stored on a sand bed in the séchoir or drying shed. These séchoirs were usually long, low open buildings, where the wind had free play in order to dry the bricks naturally. The bricks were ready to go into the oven, when the sound they produced whilst the artisan was hitting one brick with the other had the right pitch.
the "four" or kiln is a very primitive “furnace”; it is usually a tall square tower with a roof, and big ventilation holes right underneath the roof. The walls are very thick. The kiln of La tuilerie the Chazelle has inside dimensions of 2.75 x 3.15 m (9’ x 10’-6”) and 1.8 m (6’) thick walls. The total height is approx. 10 m (34’), and the distance between grade level and the underside of the smoke or ventilation holes is approx. 5.5 m (18’). A kiln has two entrances. The lower entrance at grade level is approx 70 cm (2’- 4”) wide and 1.75 m (6’) high; the higher entrance lies opposite the lower one at 1.75 m (6’) up to 3.5 m (12’) and is 1.75 m (6’) high as well. Obviously they used the lower entrance when starting stacking the bricks up to a level of 1.75 m (6’). After having filled up most of the kiln area up to this height, they could not access the kiln any more from this entrance, and hence the filling continued through the second entrance up to a level of 3.5 m (6’). Once this level was reached, ladders were place outside the kiln against the walls, and the last layers of bricks or tiles were lowered from above through the ventilation holes. With regards to the stacking, there was one peculiarity. It was not enough to stack the bricks in such away that there were gaps between the bricks.
Our kiln has two tunnel shaped openings in the walls at ground level (which are now bricked up, but clearly visible). The first stones where stacked in such a way, that they formed a tunnel from the fire tunnels in the wall to the wall on the other side. Once the two tunnels were formed, the stacking continued the normal way. The bricks were stacked first, on top of the bricks the floor tiles were stacked, on top of those came the roof tiles, and the highest layer consisted of lumps of lime stone. Once the kiln was filled up, the entrances were bricked up and the fires were lit. The fire tunnels were filled up with faggots, and when these burned well, the fire was fed with logs and finally with coal. The whole process took about a month, from loading, firing, cooling to unloading. The capacity of our tuilerie was very small.
Assuming that the production consisted of bricks only, each cycle produced approx. 16000 bricks. Winter was used to get wood from the forest, but of course no clay could be dug from the quarries. there were possibly only four cycles per year. However, most houses in this area are built of stone, and bricks were mainly used for decoration around door and window openings. Hence the supply of bricks was possibly more or less equal to the demand.
As far as we know there is still one traditional tuilerie active in Bourgogne. The Tuilerie de la Chapelle de Sarre in Corbigny, Nièvre (58) still produces wood fired bricks, floor tiles and roof tiles. The factory has worked uninterrupted for 250 years. The old kiln however, although still in tact, has been replaced by a four room kiln, where the production is circulating continuously. Hence there is always one room being loaded and heated up, one fired, one is cooling down, and the last one is being unloaded. And although a proper factory, and not a tourist attraction, we were given a very interesting guided tour by one of the friendly workers there.
Click here to read the continuation.

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Health care and language problems

The website of La Tuilerie de Chazelle
Blog of La Tuilerie de Chazelle by Sue

Last year July I was admitted to a French hospital.
The reason for this little escapade was as trivial as it was strange; it started all of with what seemed to be a heavy allergic reaction to an insect bite. I was rushed off to the Intensive Care in Mâcon, where they found out that my heart rhythm was far too slow. By then nobody worried about the insect bite anymore! Because the surgeon in Mâcon was enjoying himself on a beach somewhere, I was rushed off again to the Hospital in Chalon-sur-Saône. Within a week I left the hospital, this time in the possession of a brand new pacemaker. The first check-up was very satisfactory, and life went on as usual.
In January however, a little red spot developed where the scar of the operation was, and a couple of weeks later there was a hole in the skin which clearly showed my pacemaker. A hole with a view…. Half an hour after I had seen my GP I was back in the Intensive Care in Chalon, where the nurses still recognised and remembered me, most likely as the slightly eccentric foreigner with an unpronounceable name, who made a real codswallop of their language. However, this time it was not for less than a week. I stayed there a full three weeks, which is a very long time, even considering the beautiful view I had from my room on the Cathedral in Chalon.
Health care in France is well organised. Everything centres around your Carte Vitale (Health Insurance CPAM). The GP scans it, you pay € 22, and a couple of weeks later the € 22 are in your bank account again. At the pharmacist you do not pay at all; that money is settled directly between the pharmacy and CPAM. The same applies to the hospital. I (luckily!) never saw one bill from them. After hearing all the horror stories about NHS in the UK and the changes in Health Care in the Netherlands, I must say that the French are very efficient. There is plenty of staff around, you can’t get away with not eating, and even a guy who was hanging out of the toilet window (it was big enough to sit in, hence not one of these small hole-in-the-wall things) to smoke a fag, was found out almost immediately and discharged very quickly. It is also interesting to see how important food is in France. In my case the old pacemaker had to be removed first; the two weeks after the removal I had to be on antibiotics before the new pacemaker was installed. The morning before the first operation the surgeon walked in to tell me I was going to be operated on around lunch time. I had not been not allowed to eat from midnight until after the operation.
Finally, at around 18h00 the surgeon walked in again to tell me that they had rather a lot of emergencies that day, but that I would be operated on around 19h00. Approx. 20h00 I went to the theatre, and at 21h30 I was back on the ward again. At 22h00 the surgeon nipped in, asked me whether I was hungry, and asked a nurse to organise a cup of soup, some meat and some bread for me.
The second operation was performed in time. I went to the theatre at 9h00, and was back on the ward at 10h30, quite hungry as well. When I asked for something to eat, the nurse looked at me as if I came from a different planet. It appeared, that one was not supposed to eat at all until 2 hours after the operation. Obviously the nurses were in this case more familiar with procedures than the surgeon….
Despite having lived here for over four years now, despite not having satellite TV, hence only “watching” TV1, TV2 and TV3, and despite having had French lessons with a 100% French teacher, I would not dare to say that I speak the lingo fluently.
However, the communication with the nurses and doctors went very well, not in the least thanks to the patience of the French staff. But sometimes one cocks things up….
Whilst I was attached to a monitor and to several bags full of antibiotics, I had to ask for facilities to go to the toilet. But how do you ask for those sensitive things in French? To go for a pee I picked up quickly, because I heard other people say it. “Faire pipi” sounded a bit childish to me, but so be it. But how does one asks for the facilities “to do one’s business”?
The dictionary would be my saviour in this case, at least, that was what I hoped for. I had a choice of two words; “(child.) faire caca” or “(pop.) chier”. Who would use children’s language, when popular words are available? When I told the nurse that I would not mind to “chier”, she did not blink an eye, but made it very clear that I should have used the verb “faire caca”. My room mate on the other hand was in stitches. When my wife brought in a proper dictionary the next day, the verb “chier” had changed status, from popular to vulgar!
The other thing my wife managed to get hold of, was a list with “hospital and doctor related phrases”, from the Internet.
In bed I was wearing one of these green hospital gowns. I needed a clean one, and with my newly acquired list, I was able to say to the nurse: “Je voudrai une casaque propre.” There were two of them in the room; one was in stitches, but the other one asked, without betting an eyelid: “What time is the race, and what is your number?’. The better dictionary solved this riddle; I had asked for a jockey’s coat!
The moral of this story: Do not believe everything you find on the internet, and when you have to go into a foreign hospital, do not forget to take reliable dictionaries with you!