Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fuming About Le Fumeurs

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?


Anonymous said...

I don't think you have to be from "Big Sky" country to resent the uninvited intrusion of people into your personal space. I hate smokers because they are SLOBS...they leave their butts all over the if we should clean up after them and feel honored to do so! And I have bronchitis often enough to deeply resent second-hand smoke!

Luke loves food...too much...but I don't leave my food and wrappers, etc. in other people's places of residence...and my gluttony doesn't make any one else gain weight! I understand exactly how you feel!

Unfortunately, you are probably going to have to "grin and bear it" for the month of August....because after that "the annoyers" will be gone...and it is not worth the trouble to start a "mini-war" (thus confirming to the French what rude war-lovers Americans are)!

Maybe you could start singing "patriotic songs" and John Phillip Sousa "marching music" to drive them all away! Give "the annoyers" a taste of American "culture"! HA!

All I can really say is Bon Chance!

Anonymous said...

Nancy- Ironically we are experiencing the exact same problem in our new home. We live a few blocks from the University of Denver and we moved in in late April. We have rental houses on either side of us, each house containing approximately 5 boys per house. So each weekend in May (the weekend begins on Wednesday or Thursday) the two houses would alternate nights for parties, they seem to know each other. Most of the parties would last until about 3:00 a.m., Dan and I are considering buying stock in those red plastic cups used at keg parties since they are spread all over our lawn,the alley and the street after each party. Not to mention the beer bottles and cans. I now know most of the current music being played LOUDLY at college parties and have concluded that everyone college girl owns several lacy camisoles which they wear solo or with another babydoll style top to every party. The first week we were here before we had hung blinds I was in Madeleine's room and looked out her window to see five guys smoking pot right outside her bedroom window. Also one day when she was going in the backyard she came running back in and said "Mom, there is a teenager in our yard". I went out there and there was a kid sitting on the ground petting our dog Hula. I said "Hi can I help you?" and he proceeded to tell me how much he likes dogs and he just wanted to pet one. He was clearly very stoned, but nice. His name is Kevin. So, it has been much more quiet this summer since they all went home but school starts in a month and I am dreading it. So, just to make you feel better (or worse) it isn't just in France, I think it might just be the price of living in close quarters. Sadly, this is the best we could afford in the city of Denver.At least we both know there are definite seasons to the noise and maybe that will make us more able to tolerate it. I don't know, it bums me out too.
Love, Amy

nancy said...

Thanks for all the feedback. You're right, I don't want to start a war on my street, because everyone else is great. We are counting the days until Le Fumeurs are gone, but know "this" will be their yearly time. Maybe when (IF??) someday I can actually converse better in French, I could even explain to M. Fumeur my frustration. It definitely is the price of living in close quarters, and no one twisted our arms to purchase this house (like the first one). Amy, so sorry to hear about your situation---can you 'grin & bear it' too?

Anonymous said...

It's always something - invasive, loud, stoop-sitting smokers in France, partying college kids in Denver, or dirt bikers riding in their backyard. We realized long ago we will never have enough money to buy solitude, but a little civility sure would be nice.

I remember seeing the "Codes of the New West" in a real estate office in Montpelier, Idaho in 1992. In Grand Junction, you were considered a "newcomer" if your grandparents were not born there.

Moab awaits your return, and by then, all the jeepers will be gone, right?
Thanks for the interesting narratives.
Kathy & Dave

Anonymous said...

I think the march music is a good idea but that would probably drive YOU nuts too. I was going to suggest an evenings worth of Hank Williams and Asleep at the Wheel full volumn.
What the hell...throw 'em a party.