Asterix and the Presidential Elections

  

Read any Asterix book and you will get the impression that all events in France are celebrated with a banquet, a meal, a coming together of friends to eat, drink and be merry. How many of us have wondered if this was just the comical writings of a fanciful duet highlighting a pseudo stereo-typical ideal of the French lifestyle?

Everyone wants to vote in France

However, it seems that René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo hit this particular view on French culture pretty much on the head.

As I was discussing plans for my first weekend in Provence, I was told not to make ANY plans for the Sunday. ‘I need to vote’ she tells me. ‘OK, well that’s 10 minutes sorted then, what about the rest of the day?‘ Says little old confused me. After it was explained over a coffee and stern look, I discovered that voting in France is more than just a democratic right. No it is almost a duty and it is not taken lightly by anyone.

And because of the popularity it shaped the entire day. Almost all the TV stations had live coverage, people passed each other on the street and checked each other was voting. Even in the bakery that morning, the lady serving said to us ‘n’oubliez pas de voter’ whilst handing our baguette over. All day with her freinds, everyone was talking about the candidates and what would happen if they did, or did not get into power.

 

Asterix, eat your heart out, but leave this for me

As early evening approached, we were together with some good friends talking about politics and the state of the world. My French is pretty poor so keeping up was both interesting and totally confusing. With cheese, wine, bread, and other extravagant food related items starting to appear I notice that the TV channel had a countdown timer on it. I assumed it was for the closing of the polling stations. I was wrong, very wrong!

As 8 o’clock grew closer I noticed people were starting to move onto the edge of their seats. The pace and volume of the conversations in the room was heating up. Even the rather over stylised television coverage, mostly hosted by young blonde women in low cut tops, was becoming harder to ignore with music rapidly increasing in pace and amplitude.

This wasn’t the timer for the closing of the stations at all, this was a timer for the results! No waiting until morning to see who got 1st, 2nd or 3rd like in the UK. This was almost German style efficiency, and no sign of a French man on strike anywhere. As the timer got down to the last 10 seconds silence fell, all I could hear was the racing heartbeats of an entire nation. Then a sudden intake of breath, no one moved………….. The result…………. and then back to full steam debate about what this all meant, and of course eating and drinking.

Now all the parts of the puzzle made sense. This is a day for more than just an election. The gauls were voting a new leader for the village and the feast was part of the tradition. Take note of Asterix and Obelix. They can teach you more than you might think about the French!

 

A weekend in Provence

  

Picture a weekend in Provence. Sun warming the soul, fun and care free atmosphere to enrich the good in life, time to relax and recharge the batteries. Maybe a spontaneous barbecue with friends, some wine and cheese, or picnic together under the shade of a pine tree or even an impromptu bathroom refit……. Hang on…. a WHAT?????.

It was far to early to be landing without sufficient coffee

In any long distance relationship, one of the most challenging aspects is getting to see each other, and I mean physically as opposed to seeing each other over a phone screen. For this particular visit I had booked myself on a very early flight from an airport 2 hours from home. Result was I arrived in the sun, tired, groggy, and in need of a shower and a coffee.

Maybe I should have had the coffee first.
Maybe I would have been more awake.
Maybe I wouldn’t have slipped on the soap and slammed hard against the tiled wall and then maybe the wall wouldn’t have decided to join me in the bath tub!!!. Soapy, naked and surrounded by tiles I then had the rather embarrassing task of calling for help. ‘Ma chéri, je suis desole,  j’ai détruit votre salle de bains’, ‘My dearest, I am sorry, I have destroyed your bathroom’

 

I was planning spending the day like this!

 

Repairing the destroyed bathroom was now the priority for the day. The romantic meal she had planned for us would have to be put on hold for another time and be replaced with a visit the local DIY store. Luckily for me a DIY store in France is much the same as a DIY store in England on a Saturday morning. Full of clueless people pointing and umming at things they would like to put into their homes but have no idea how to do it, so it didn’t look at all out of place asking my girlfriend to ask where the tile adhesive and grout was, and with the instructions being in French and the last thing I needed at this point was to get back to here place with a tub of white emulsion by mistake

 

 

 

This is how Sundays should be spent

With emergency planning, the rest of the day went well. We found another activity we could do well together and despite me trying to destroy a large proportion of her flat, she at no point tried to thump me! The romantic meal for two was exchanged with an impromptu evening with some of her friends. I overhead the start of the conversation that sounded like ‘Hi, How would you like to meet my new boyfriend, he needs a shower!

Sunday was then clear to spend a day in Provence the way I had imagined. Relaxing with friends, chatting and having fun. Enjoying good food, good wine, great company and the sun warming my pale English skin. A day of pleasure that somehow was made even more special by the chaos of the previous day.

The bridge of love

  

The French love their bridges. Really, everywhere you look there are postcards and paintings of these beloved treasures. They light them up and decorate them. A timeless love affair. It is very fitting therefore that the one we found around Notre Dame was a true bridge of love. Could this be the most romantic spot on the planet?

Pont de l’Archevêché (Archbishop’s Bridge) is the narrowest road bridge in Paris, but arguably one that caries the most traffic, not of cars but of love and hope. The idea is simple. Two lovers write their names on a padlock, attach it to the bridge and throw the key into the river Seine. It is referred to as a Love Padlock.

As I stood there with my girl, both looking at all the locks couples had left behind and some truly romantic stories we both thought the same things.
1. Why didn’t we bring a padlock to do the same and 2. Where are they now?

Some of the padlocks date back at least 10 years. I suspect some much further, but only the well prepared had their names engraved so time would not fade the writing. One in particular stood out, ‘Pètá a Pavel 9.12.2001′ Over 10 years ago they secured their love at this very spot and sent the key into the depths of the river. Wouldn’t you like to know their story? Quite frankly, I would!

 

More recently “Big boo” proposed to “Little Boo”. She must have said yes as there is a follow up padlock telling the world. I am not usually moved by this kind of thing but I have to say it was very touching. Who said men can’t be romantic?

As the mood on that bridge was so perfect we did what any slightly romantic couple would have done. We kissed, for what seemed a lifetime, at least long enough to become accidental love icons to a senior couple that was taking their own photo of the bridge. As I am now sitting in my kitchen writing this post, I am trying to imagine on what fridge or what photo album our perfect kiss will end up on…

With Paris often being described as the world’s most romantic city it is hard sometimes to see past the crowds and turmoil. The magic started as we were walking in the most ancient part of the city, the Ile de la Cité, where Paris was born and grew from. The little stone bridge, on a grey and rainy day, suddenly became the most romantic spot in the world’s most romantic city.

 

French men don’t get fat

  

There is a best selling book you may have heard of, by Mireille Guiliano called “French Women Don’t Get Fat”. This very title kept rolling in my head as I was spending my very first romantic week end in Paris with my girl friend this Easter. And as hours were passing by, I started wondering if by French… she meant Parisians?

Spend sometime on any RER or TGV and you will be reassured that some French women do get fat. I have been there, all squashed against the window as they sit next / on top of you. Just like at home.

No its not French Women but Parisians that don’t get fat, men and women. You see, it is simply impossible, at least without a lot of work and dedicated gluttony, to get fat when you have to walk half a mile just to get your bread. And the French ALWAYS insist on FRESH bread.

I found this out the hard way. Saturday morning and I awake next to my long distance love.  “I will pop out and get une baguette and les croissants, ma chérie” says I, in the hope to impress her with my chivalry. Almost an hour later, I am back with baguette and croissants and she is happy. My feet however are not!

Look how far away we are still. My poor feet!!

Wind the clock forwards to later in the afternoon. After walking the length of the Champ de Mars to the Eiffel Tower and then along the bank of the Seine, she suddenly remembers she had promised her sister to pick up some more Nespresso for the coffee machine. Well… you know, this is not a case where you jump in your car and drive to ASDA. In the French version of this, she grabs my hand, pulls 2 metro tickets out of her handbag, and drags me down the stairs of the closest station.  “Where do we get the coffee ma chérie?” “Nearest shop is on the Champs” says she (NB: les Champs is local slang for Champs Elysées apparently).

By the time I know it, I am changing lines at Châtelet Les Halles, the worlds BIGGEST underground station. Really this thing is massive, looking after something around 750,000 passengers a day. You can walk for half an hour just to change lines, even more if you are blonde and find yourself looking at the wrong train.

Any one with a belly must be a tourist

By now I am thinking I must have lost a good few pounds in weight over the day. Using the mad rush as an excuse we  stopped at a very nice looking Café.

Relaxing and enjoying the simple pleasures in life, a cold beer, my French girl by my side and my throbbing feet were being forgotten about. But then who turned up but the pee pee fairy. Off I go in search of the local convenience only to find it wasn’t in the slightest bit convenient.

Little did I realise that just to use the loo would require climbing up and down 2 flights of stairs. Shattered and exhausted it was becoming very clear that even the belly expanding pastime of beer swilling could not produce excess calories.

Watching the thin and even thinner population of Paris passing by it was clear. It is not French women that don’t get fat, nor is it French men, it’s Parisians. It is almost implausible to think that a Parisian could get fat. A mile walk for bread. Several miles to get to and from the office and even a mammoth task to go for a pee.

 

The first weekend at my chez moi

  

It started with what seemed like a good idea at the time ‘Come over for the weekend, stay at mine’ harmless words, what could go wrong.

In a normal relationship with a girl within driving distance, it is normal to be seeing each others houses in small doses. A living room here and there, a kitchen for an hour and so on. But in a long distance relationship it all changes. Suddenly there was a girl that had never stepped foot in my home before that was going to be spending a long weekend and have time to see every detail, every crack, and every unpainted skirting board.

Then I remembered an old advert from the 80’s with the tag line…….  ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression’ GULP!

So what do you do when you suddenly start to notice all the little things in your house that might not give such a good impression???? BLONDE PANIC!!!!

Thats the cheese sorted, now for the cake

After the initial panic settled down and I started to think rationally, and repainting the whole house not really being an option, my thoughts turned to coming up with a plan. Part of that plan was going to involve food. Desert was sorted. My cooking skills may be average, but I make a cheesecake from another dimension. Based around a childhood memory of my Nan’s cheesecakes, and a lot of mistakes in the kitchen perfecting it.

Meanwhile, a blog I had been following for a while The Urban Potato Eater was talking about romantic food and even ideas for dates. The blog follows the experiences of a trainee chef and had given me some great ideas. Things were starting to take shape at last.

 

 

Now I had my plan. The house was OK but in no way perfect, so all I had to do was keep her distracted with an old photo album or two, some good music, great conversation and food.

With everything in place there was one thing I was not taking into consideration, well three things if I am honest: My pets. You see. you can explain to friends and family that you are having a romantic weekend, but pets……. The jealous dog, it seems, was the least of my problems though. Even if he was watching us every time we got close to each other. But the cats…. oh no the cats……

Are those new toes in the house?

What I had forgotten to mention the night before is that I have a cat that likes toes, especially toes that escape the bed clothes early in the morning. 5am and out of nowhere, an exploratory single claw attached itself  onto the new and interesting big toe of the French foot, she hit the roof with a YELP!!!!. Good morning dear! just didn’t seem fitting. Of course the same thing happened the next morning too.

There really is very little you can do about pets. I guess the good part about the distractions from pets was that my tired house guest was a lot more interested in them, than any cobwebs in dark corners I may have missed. And maybe next time she will learn to sleep with her feet under the covers. But I doubt it.

 

Shopping in the cyber age

  

It’s fair to say that starting out on a long distance relationship is not without its problems. In the past my comfort zone would not have allowed me more than an hour’s journey to see that special someone, but now she is 13 hours away, at best.

But all is not lost in these days of communication and technology, in fact, apart from the obvious physical gap, most other problems can be sorted out and in many ways enhanced. We communicate much better than I may have done in other relationships, from the things happening in the day, to trying on new clothes and even watching the TV. It can all be done in this day and age with a little creativity.

To start with I recommend you both have an iPhone with Facetime capability. We tried Skype, we tried other alternatives and in the end Facetime really does give us the quality and reliability we needed. The other advantages soon become apparent. iMessage must have saved us a packet.

How can you go shopping together?
It’s simple. Stop worrying who is watching and take photos, even videos of things you are looking at buying. iMessage them to the eagerly awaiting other party and wait for the reply.

If like me you need glasses to get by with every day life you will know the perils of buying new specs. After all you pay a lot for them and you are stuck with them once purchased for a good year or so. My one big issue when I am looking at new specs is that I can’t see how I look with them on, as I need my glasses on to see, and a second opinion is always handy. I could ask my Mother, or one of my friends but its a lot more fun and has a lot more credibility to seek the advice of the woman you are dating.

So here is what I did. I looked around for the 10 -15 pairs I most liked, or thought I did with my limited vision and took photos of myself with the front facing camera on my iPhone. This may have looked odd to the watchful staff but they let me get on with my little game without question and with less interruptions that if I was simply browsing like others in the store. Once back home we sat on ether end of Facetime and talked over the selections, voting, pointing out the good and the bad until we drew up a short list for both normal glasses and sunglasses. Then all I needed to do was re-visit the opticians and get them ordered.

The same works for clothes, take the phone into the changing room with you (you might want to put the phone on silent for this one) and snap some pics. Then grab a coffee and iMessage the ones you like, spark conversation. Does my butt look big in this and can I pull off those colours. It’s fun and it’s probably what you would be doing if you were physically in the same location. Technology makes the world a much smaller place.

Make technology work for you would-be blondes. All you need is an iPhone and a data connection. The rest is simple.

 

The Flowers to France

  

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Boy may be blonde, yet boy knows a girl like flowers. Girl has birthday, boy wants to impress and send her flowers… Now, I guess it takes being a bit blonde and confused to turn this into an “almost” epic fail.

Little did I know this lovely girl I was meeting on Facebook through common friends had not put her real name, but instead a sort of nickname, for discretion and reasons of peace (we all know how unpleasant it is when all our work colleagues want to add us on Facebook. I have been there, we have been there, we all hope it won’t happen yet it does…)

Flowers ordered and on their way - But to who?

So blonde boy tricks friends into giving girl’s address. Friends not being blonde get their own back at blonde’s smooth approach by PURPOSELY not mentioning girl has an alias, and a very different real name. Blonde candidly believes that girl can share her name with a vegetable… She is French, which makes her exotic after all, and those French are all about food as every good Brit knows. Then it all goes quickly, too quickly. I went ahead and found a French outlet of Interflora and placed an order. I was very pleased with myself. Nothing tacky, nothing over the top. Just right and with some nice Chocolates as well.

Then a few days later, while still feeling smug about my en route flowers, she announces, ‘you do know that’s not my real name don’t you?’………… A rather awkward and stunned silence later, and after learning her real and name and the story behind it, I quickly order a card from Moonpig.com so as not to look like a complete fool. The good news is that the card got there without problem. The flowers, however, were lost in translation.

The plus and the minus of living in a apartment building is there is more than one surname living at the same address. And it turned out that someone in her building just happened to have had the same surname as her pseudonym (or close enough for the delivery guy to assume anyway) and she was very pleased with her flowers and her chocolates from someone she had never heard of. Maybe something about the French that she was not even questioning why she had received flowers from some random guy in England she had never heard of.

At this point I was unaware of who had the flowers. I knew they had been delivered as I could see the tracking information, like any good blonde nerd would check. ‘Did you like your flowers?’ inquires I. The next 20 minutes are taken with a series of rather embarrassing phone calls where I had to admit I genuinely believed she had the same name as a vegetable, leaving her with the task of trying to locate her own birthday present lost somewhere in her building.

 

Now imagine the following conversation where the woman I am trying to impress has to explain to a 60 year old French woman that the flowers she has are not hers after all. Rather they are for someone else with a totally different name, sent from someone in another country that doesn’t even know here real name, has never met and seems intent on proving to the world how blonde he can be. Luckily she managed to convince the recipient of the flowers they were in fact hers after all and recover them.

 

 

 

The positive side was that she got to meet one of her neighbors and explain how dumb the English can be, and she did get her flowers as you can see from the photo. But if I can’t even send a bunch of flowers to South of France without my hand being held, how am I going to manage sending myself?