Saturday, October 27, 2007

Not used to Europe

Yesterday morning, Sophia started to bark, the bell rang and, when I scrambled downstairs, I found a fellow delivering the new phone directories. He spoke to me immediately in English, which is unusual in this corner of the world:

Fellow: "Mister Skyvington? Here are the new phone directories."

Me: "Thanks. But tell me: How come you speak such good English?"

Fellow: "My mother taught me. I'm English. Born and brought up in the UK."

I liked the subtle humor in the bit about being taught English by his mother. This anecdote makes me realize that I'm not yet fully accustomed to everyday possibilities opened up in recent times by the creation of Europe. Indeed, it's perfectly simple and banal for an English guy to decide that he's going to live in the south of France and earn his living working for the French postal service... particularly with a short-duration job contract for the delivery of phone books.

In the future, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find an English fellow coming along here to read the electricity meter... which is not exactly one of the most sought-after jobs in France. Here at Gamone, first of all, the electricity employee has to locate the meter. If I don't happen to be here to inform him of its whereabouts (attached to the far side of an electricity post about twenty meters down from the house), it's quite possible for a newcomer to conclude that there's no meter at Gamone. And the employees who come here to read the electricity meter are inevitably newcomers, because few people would ever wish to retain such a job from one period to the next. The employee then has to figure out how to make his way down the slopes to the post with the meter. Finally, he has to struggle through the thorny blackberry bushes that usually surround the meter. I cut them back whenever I have time, and think of doing so, but they always seem to have grown back in all their thorny glory by the time the electricity employee arrives here.

Incidentally, French people often congratulate me on my fluent French [which I speak, nevertheless, with a strong foreign accent, which is often a mystery for my hearers]. Inspired by the English guy this morning, I really must get into the habit of explaining, simply and truthfully: "My ex-wife taught me." I've often recalled her first lesson. I had just informed my future wife, in faulty French: "Je veux te marier. [I want to marry you.]" She replied: "Two problems. First, only a priest or a mayor can use the verb 'to marry' in a transitive fashion when they say, for example, that they married Peter and Jane. As for Peter, he would use the verb in a reflexive fashion, and say in French: 'I married himself with Jane'... if you see what I mean. The second problem, Willy [as she called me], is that I'm not at all sure that I wish to marry myself with you."

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