Sunday, February 18, 2007

The French Have Some Quirks

Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the early 1800’s, I believe, and made all sorts of insightful comments about America and the American character and politics. Looking back from our vantage point nearly 200 years later, he made some remarkably concise and accurate comments. My comments on France will not be nearly so long-lasting or intelligent, or particularly creative either. But by god when you travel, you need to whine.

I think my biggest complaint about France is the amount of dog shit. IT IS EVERYWHERE. The French do not bother to take their dogs to appropriate places to do their business, nor do they clean up after the critters. One must indeed watch were one steps. It’s in the road, on the sidewalk, on your doorstep, on the gravel, in the grass. Thank goodness for gravity or it would be floating through the air.

There seem to be no garbage disposals. Shocking. No French houses have them. We looked everywhere to buy them and they are not for sale. The French don’t seem to know what they are. Composting is a good solution if you have a garden. If you don’t, then of course you must add it to your garbage and take it out regularly before it begins to smell. Covered garbage bins are a good idea. But why not have garbage disposals? I’m told, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that garbage disposals remove a lot of volume from landfills, and it’s a lot of volume that feeds varmint, crows and ravens and breeds foul smells and vermin. The solid waste stream is also enhanced by having ground up food items introduced into the mix. So, apparently the garbage disposal is convenient, and also a good thing for municipalities. Except here.

French drivers have a thing for speed, or perhaps it’s an aversion to being behind anyone. I’ve passed one car on French roads in nearly a month here, and I think that woman had lost her glasses or was on her first solo trip, or had been mortally wounded, or something. But everyone has passes me. One minute there is no one in my mirror, and I look back again and there is a line of three cars. The French have a very leisurely pace of life, outside of their cars anyway.

Why do the Europeans put toilets in little rooms by themselves? A toilet without a sink makes no sense. It requires an extra door and a wall to segregate the toilet and to what purpose? Apparently so that someone can use the sink while you are using the toilet. And then you can switch places. And speaking of switches, why are the light switches outside the bathroom?

Closure hours are a mystery but they do have an unintended side effect. Closure hours, for those who haven’t visited France, involve the closure of almost all businesses except restaurants between noon and 2:30 or 3:00. Businesses close down, the workers go home for lunch or go to a restaurant, take a nap, make love to the spouse, go back to work. I’m not sure how many hours the French work in a day but I do know there are four rush hours. When Nancy and I were on our epic bike trip in 1987, we encountered the closures for the first time and no one had explained it to us. Say you are riding your bike from town to town, and you arrive ready for lunch, hungry beyond belief, sweaty, smelly and on a budget. You find all the grocery stores closed. No where to buy lunch fixin’s. You’d be angry too. To this day we haven’t figured out why everything has to close, banks, hardware stores, bakeries, garages, jewelry stores. The only thing you can do is carry supplies with you, or wait, or spend the money to eat in a restaurant. The good thing is that no one lives too far from work if you always go home at lunch. This eliminates the long commutes and urban sprawl we see in America.

But you gotta love the French. They may not have garbage disposals and have an excess of dog shit, however they did tell us not to involve ourselves in Vietnam or Iraq.


leslie said...

I think the French have been taking their long lunches for a loooong time. Americans probably took long lunch hours before everyone lived in cities. It took Darrell a while to get used to that. We finally learned to plan ahead for our picnic lunch or else eat a big meal at home and take a nap. I love it. It seems so civilized. I don't think it happens in the north or in Paris anymore.

leslie said...

Don't you think the garbage disposals have something to do with the old sewer system? They didn't have them in Holland either, I can remember Darrell showing ours to Pa and then taking him next door the the Chiles to show him theirs. He couldn't believe it.

leslie said...

I'm learning to leave short posts. I actually thin the French are pretty good drivers, they really seem to be aware of what is going on around them, it takes some getting used to but I bet when you get home you'll look at American drivers a little differently, I think it is the Dutch who are the crazy drivers, and the Germans with their headlight forcefield, if they flash, you move. Just drive at the speed you are comfortable, don't worry about them, I don't think they care if your are going slow, they just like to be in front on those little, windly roads.