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

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