I remember several years ago when the sudden influx of out-of-staters began flooding into Montana with new money in hand to buy their piece of paradise, rural Montana started changing almost overnight. They wanted improved roads so that their Hummer windshields wouldn't get rock-chipped, wanted their favorite big box stores close by for convenience, and didn't want to smell cow shit. They wanted to be 'gentlemen farmers' and it wasn't long before tension arose between the old-timers and the new-comers. County Extension offices produced booklets entitled "Codes of the New West" specifically outlining how to be accepted into your new environment without pissing off the multi-generationals.
I guess I now find myself needing a "Code of the New Southwest France". I'm sure there are a lot of things about living in France that I will just never "get". Intellectually, I can attempt to recognize, understand and applaud the cultural differences between Americans and the French. In reality, however I sometimes just want "them" to be like "us". I have questioned myself what has triggered this streak of intolerance---language difficulties, construction problems, the 2-hour lunch store closure, homesickness, etc. None or all of the above.
All those years in the 'Big Sky' country of Montana and Yellowstone couldn't help but affect my views about personal space. Americans, especially Westerners, love their space. When I worked at Montana State University, I spent days driving across the most deserted highways from end to end of the state, sometimes hundreds of miles between cars. Doug and I had 21 acres at the cabin, 10 years in Yellowstone, 3+ years on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. Even in Moab, or Livingston, or any USA town, houses are set back from the street, and in subdivisions the double-car garage shields the house even further. Of course, it has been an adjustment to be 'living on the street" in a village house in France, and not an unpleasant one.
Everything changed just recently when school let out for the summer and the French by the millions began taking their month long vacations. Ariege was transformed from a sleepy, poor, quiet department to a hustling, bustling place. Leran has a lot of second homes and the population jumped noticeably. The market in Mirepoix on Monday mornings became almost impossible because there was simply no place to park.
The photo is directly across the street, #23 and #25 Rue du Four, from left to right. A family from Marseilles arrived 10 days ago at #23, a couple with a young girl and a teen-age boy. They will be here for a month. As Doug has described it, within seconds, the pheromones were released, and young teen-age girls that we have never seen started parading down Rue du Four, congregating at #23. We assume that this young hunk must be a rock star. M. Fumeur (the nom-de-plume we have assigned the father as we have never seen him without a cigarette) begins his day sitting for several hours on the concrete stoop at #25 (the home of David, Louise, Jake, Thor & Roy). By 10:30 am he has progressed from coffee and cigarettes to beer and cigarettes. Mme. Fumeur remains hidden most days.
By some evenings, the rock star's fan club is six-members strong (all female) and since Louise's house has a better 'sitting stoop' than does #23, they have taken control of the front of the house. The other night, around 10 pm Doug and I returned from the Leran'Cestral play practice as Louise came back from walking her dogs to find all these kids sitting not only on her stoop but in her window well, leaning against the window. Her husband David is still in the UK working for another few weeks. When she started putting the key in the door they didn't even bother to get up and move. When I talked to her the next morning, she said that she had to close her window because of the cigarette smoke wafting up into her bedroom. The evidence still remained; all the butts were lying in the gutter along with candy wrappers. I offered the two potted plants to Louise to create an obstruction for future sitting in the window well.
That same night, M. Fumeur, the father, was sitting just further down the street in front of yet another neighbor's house. He never once suggested to the kids to move. I should also mention that the Fumeurs do have a back terrace of their own, but it appears that the French do not casually invite neighbors into their houses---they gather on the street. M. Fumeur engages in loud, highly-charged conversations with other formerly quiet neighbors until 1 am. Since our bedroom is directly over the street, we started closing both the shutters and the window but still couldn't drown it out and resorted to buying the noisiest fan we could find.
The actions of these teenagers was disturbing to me. It was invasive. But was it because I am used to large amounts of personal space and they are not? Before le Fumeurs arrived, the street was basically quiet and people did honor the space in front of one's house. There is no way I would tolerate someone sitting in my window well in Moab....but then, I can't imagine it ever happening. Is it because this family is from a big city, Marseilles, or that they are only here for a month? I have asked several Leranians whether we are being intolerant. I remind myself "we are the visitors here" when we feel our space is being violated and the noise prevents sleep. And besides, thirty midnights from now none of this will matter.....will it?