Category Archives: The French

Inevitability, a swelling confidence and some pig sex

16km running today, and just under 20km on the bike. Both a bit slow, but it’s all about the distance. Also spent most of the day running round the pig fields i) trying to stop piglets escaping (there are 10 in total) ii) trying to stop pigs having sex.

The French have a saying “le client et roi“. Literally “the customer is king”.

Considering the French beheaded all their royalty long ago, the phrase has a certain truth to it. This was once again demonstrated today in the local opticians as The Glasses Saga entered its second phase. If you haven’t been reading the blog I recommend going back and reading the post with Daniel Powter’s mug at the top of it. If you don’t know what Daniel Powter looks like then just scroll down until you see a man who looks like a Freemans catalogue model with a beanie hat on. If the hat is black and the guy looks like he might be best suited to modelling footwear then it’s me. If not, you’re there. Read that, and then come back here.


I had a certain sense of foreboding this morning. Yes, for sure, I’d been told to turn up at 11am sharp on Thursday to pick up my new pair of glasses. Yes, for sure, I’d double and triple checked this and also told them to phone me if there was a delay. I’d covered all the bases. I had a bit of paper with a date and time on it, and that’s as good as a blood oath in France.

However, there was still a small flickering nugget of doubt in my mind. Not a linguistic doubt. Not a doubt that perhaps my average French had failed to get the message across. But a flickering doubt that if the French still had an opportunity to make my life a misery they would take it.

So, off I set to the local town. It’s local in the sense it’s 10km away. I debated running, but decided instead to take the bike. It was a fine day. My worries melted away. This was the sort of day when NEW GLASSES WOULD BE GOT.

I felt a swelling confidence.

At least I hoped it was my confidence.

I almost bounded into the optician. The French words and phrases for the conversation ahead had been prepared mentally (“glasses” “last week” “eleven o’clock” “Thursday” “brilliant, thanks!” “oh, they look lovely!” “thanks for all your assistance!“).

I was ready.

Ready for a world with the brightness and contrast controls set back to zero. Ready to see again! Whee!

The first tinge of self-doubt hit me when the original “optician” (or glasses sales representative as I suppose you need to call them, considering they can’t actually do eye tests) avoided me when I came in and ran off to hide in a back room somewhere.

10 minutes passed. Eventually she was forced to reappear and I collared her.

“I’m Mr Thomas” I said cordially “here for my glasses.”

I smiled in a way that suggested I was unhappy with the six day delay, but I was willing to put that behind us in the spirit of moving forwards towards a new situation where I was once again the owner of non-tinted glasses.

G.S.R’s face contorted like a dog sucking a polo.

“Ahhh” she said, like the air forlornly being let out of a child’s bike tyre.

“My glasses? ” I continued… “You said they would be ready today.” My smile had cracked slightly. I sensed something was wrong.

The polo was pushed around a little more. “Ahhhh…” (second tyre deflated) “…the glasses….” she said.

“The glasses….?” I prompted.

“…. they are not ready yet….the glass has not arrived in the post….”

Silence. A long silence. The Earth rotates. Civilizations rise and fall. Galaxies move apart. The sun begins to collapse.

She speaks again “…it will be ready on Saturday.”

“Saturday?” I say. The words croak from my mouth almost reflexively.

“…. Or maybe the week after. We will call you when they are ready.”

My mouth flapped like a goldfish. I searched for words, but none were there. So I just walked out (ss you can see confrontation isn’t one of my character traits. Mute acceptance of shitty things happening to me is more my style). As I went back out into the street my first thought was “At least it’s sunny! Maybe people won’t stare at my sunglasses!”

As I walked the short distance back to my bike I was proved wrong once again.

Seeing as the day was going so badly, I figured I’d go for another run after dark tonight, in the sunglasses and luminous cape, so I could terrify the local OAPs.

I figure if France is going to make me miserable then I’m going to make a few old French people terrified in return.

Until tomorrow!

Dolphin fin! Oat husks! Loving each minute of every day! ZEST 4 LIFE!

Today was a tough day. I was tired. I managed to drag myself around 10km, but it wasn’t pleasant, and I also had to cycle 16km for the milk later in the day. Feeling quite wiped out now.

I’ve been thinking a bit about diet today. Or “fuelling” ones body for the rigours of long distance running.

Most committed runners (and you probably have to be quite committed to run 10km+ a day) seem to follow a very similar diet/daily schedule:


5am Leap out of bed! Eat grapefruit skin and hazelnut shells! Go for run! FEELING BRILLIANT!

6am Back! Shower! Kiss beautiful wife! Eat more grapefruit skin and have bowl of oat husks and nettles! I love oat husks! FEELING A-O-K!

7am Go to work on bike! FEELING ALIVE!

10am Morning snack! Organic prune concentrate with bluebell flowers! ZEST 4 LIFE!

12pm Lunch! Dolphin fin on Ryvita (x1)! Want two, but can’t because I need to go for my lunchtime run! STILL FEELING GR8!

3pm Snack! Two bread crusts and one pasta swirl! FEELING GREAT TO THE MAX!

7pm Home! Kiss beautiful wife! Eat 3 more pasta swirls! Go for run! WORLD IS WONDERFUL!

10pm Go to sleep! Amazing day! LOOKING FORWARD TO MORE DAYS LIKE THIS!

If you follow a lot of running blogs then you’ll have seen variants on that. People like this are normally positive, outgoing, square jawed and list their interests as “saving endangered species; rock climbing; helicopter flying and loving each minute of every day as if it’s a brand new sunrise!”

My approach to fitness is somewhat different.


8am. Wake up. Wish I was dead. Curl into ball. Need wee. Get up. Walk bleary eyed into kitchen. Stub toe on cat. Curse cat. Fumble for breakfast cereal. Shout at wife. Eat ALDI chocolate flakes until I feel sick.

10am Morning snack. Search cupboards desperately for crisps. Wife has hidden crisps. Shout at wife. Eat carrot. Feel sad. Find crisps! Eat crisps until feel sick. Hide empty bag.

12pm Want peanut butter sandwich. Bread has gone green. Just eat peanut butter out of jar until feel sick.

12.30pm Go for run even though can’t be arsed. Tummy ache. Wish I’d gone for run before eating peanut butter.

3pm Snack wanted. Annoyed crisps have run out. Eat more peanut butter out of jar. Internally debate whether to eat cooking chocolate or not.

3.10pm Finish off cooking chocolate. Feel sick.

7pm Shuffle through takeaway menus desperately trying to find one that’s open. Have argument with wife over empty peanut butter jar. Cook tea that involves potatoes. Have big cake for dessert. Have seconds. Feel sick. Have thirds.

2am Go to bed after playing on the Xbox all evening and watching “My Lesbian Transsexual Big Brother” on E4. 

The miraculous thing is my sophisticated and balanced lifestyle and dietary choices appear to produce largely the same rewards on the track as the oat-husks and dolphin method.

I’m reminded a bit of when I was waiting around at the start line of my marathon last August. Beside me an earnest young French guy and his friend were discussing strategies for the race. Both of them looked like an American Marine fully loaded with kit for an offensive move against an oil producing middle eastern country.

I was fascinated as to what all the bits dangling off them actually were, and as I moved closer I could see it was row after row of energy gels, energy drinks and energy bars. Having idly looked at the price of them in the supermarket I was worried one or other of them would be mugged on the way round. You could have got Ernst and Young in to break them up and used the the resulting capital to stabilise the eurozone.

Anyway, I continued to listen and they were animately planning a strategy for when they’d drink or eat each of the items. All 42km was being planned out with millitary efficiency. “Drink this one here because it contains dextro-something, that one there because it’s a recovery protein-a-doodah”. It was fascinating.

I felt a little inadequate at this point. I’d had a bowl of Sugar Puffs and a banana. Immediately doubt began to cloud my mind. Was a bowl of Sugar Puffs sufficient? Why hadn’t I brought along energy gels? Was everyone looking at me and laughing? I felt a food nakedness I’d never felt before.

You of course know what happened. I noted their race numbers and checked the race results when they came out on the website. They both finished about 15 minutes behind me. Losers. Goes to show you that ultimately, when you’re running, what you use as “fuel” isn’t really that important.

Here’s another example. Last year I cycled 173 miles in a day, in a mammoth cycle starting at 5am in Portsmouth and ending up in South Wales at about 10pm on the same day. This followed a previous day where I’d cycled 100 miles through France and slept overnight on the floor of a ferry (for 5 hours). Athletic science suggests that such a mammoth feat of cycling and endurance would need extensive dietary planning and management. Over the two days I ate two kebabs, a beefburger, a chicken sandwich, 3 packets of crisps and a Mars bar. To be fair the beefburger came with an egg, so that was pretty nutritionally balanced. Protein!

What I’m trying to say is not just that I’m awesome (I am, but we don’t need to linger on the fact) but that running should be the most democratised and accessible of all sports. It needs no technology or investment beyond some Good Shorts and running shoes. It should be a sport open to all, and yet like all sports there’s an element of elitism and “sports science” that has to come along and spoil the fun. If you’re challenging world records, or crossing the Sahara then yes, diet, cadence, breathable-wicking-space-age shirt material and barefoot-pronating-heel-strike-reduction shoes might be important. Yes, a balanced diet of carp bladder and zebra hoof might win you those extra milliseconds you need to complete with the Kenyans….

…but for everyone else: running is the thing that lets you slap on a pair of shorts with a big hole in the groin and eat chocolate and crisps guilt free.

So bear that in mind.

Until tomorrow!

“They moved as a pack. I didn’t stand a chance. There was blood everywhere. I was lucky I got out alive.”

Someone pointed out to me yesterday that there has been a certain element of negativity towards the French in my recent blog posts. I was aiming to rectify this today by writing a long list of things I love about France and the French. I sort of got stuck after 4 items, so we’ll save that for tomorrow. So, a bit like making sure you finish your starter before the main course arrives, I thought we’d gouge out the last bit of anti-French melon and pop it in our mouths before the plate gets taken away.

Queueing. How hard can it be? I think it’s a measure of a society as to how well it’s citizens can queue. I have a special relationship with the French approach to queuing as during a scramble for water at 30km into my first marathon a French guy managed to push me off the track and into a race marshall. At first I blamed him, but then I realised I hadn’t understood fully the process of standing in line for goods and services in the land of garlic and baguettes.

Queueing in France is a two stage process. Stage 1 I term “UN Food Truck Arriving In War Torn Village“.

Lets imagine we’re waiting to go on a ride at a French fair. The ride has not arrived yet, so there is an element of confusion.

Pre-stage 1 the French will begin to hover around the entrance to the ride like wasps around a jam sandwich. There will be chaos, but it will be organised chaos, like a flock of birds which wheels and turns as a single organism. As an outsider you need to be careful not to be drawn into thinking you can join in this phase. The British do not have the genetic conditioning for it. As a Brit your instinct is to assume that a queue will organise in an orderly fashion at some point, roughly working on the first-come, first-served basis. As a Brit you must remain stock still near the ride entrance as the French wheel and turn around you.

The queue must coalesce soon, and you must wait for the moment. Poised. Like a panther, ready to strike.

The moment arrives!

At this point the French will surge. Children, animals and defenceless old grannies will be trampled, crushed or pushed aside as the flock moves as one to try to establish queue superiority. If you’re not prepared for this, you can quite find yourself not only pushed behind the pouncing flock but also random French people that have run from hundreds of metres away, drawn inexorably towards to the carnage.

The French love this bit. You can see the joy in their eyes as six year olds are flung to the floor and walking sticks are kicked out from OAPs. This isn’t just survival of the fittest. This is survival of the Frenchest. I get the feeling if Darwin had just popped over the Channel in the Beagle and watched the French queueing we’d have had the Origin of Species  about a decade earlier. If you’ve ever been to one of those live action re-enactments where 40-something men poke one another with rubber swords all day then that’s what it’s like.

So Stage 1 ends. The dust clouds settle. The injured crawl from the battlefield. The walking wounded apply tourniquets and push dislocated joints back into place.

As a Brit you’ll inevitably be at the back of the queue by now. Probably hundreds of people back, with a black eye, bleeding shins and an unconscious child at your side.

You have to accept this.

No non-French person can win Stage 1. What you need to do now is steel yourself for Stage 2 which I term “Feeling Your Life Drain Away Like Sand Through The Fingers Of Death Himself“.

Here the flock undergoes a strange transformation. Once a French person is in a queue, he or she will stay there quite happily for days. French society is based on extreme levels of bureaucracy. Most French people will spend a sizable chunk of their lives standing in a queue waiting for a bit of paper which enables them to go and stand in another queue to get another bit of paper. This makes them happy.

Once they’ve fought for superiority the French will contentedly stay in a queue all day. They won’t get frustrated if it doesn’t move. Indeed, they’re happiest if it moves along at the speed of an arthritic tortoise. The French take great pleasure at conducting business as slowly as possible once a queue is formed. Payment by cheque is practically encouraged as it takes ten times longer than playing by bank card or cash. Cheque books are also normally kept at the bottom of large handbags which take upwards of 10 minutes to search. Behaviour that would elicit tutting and sighing (and probably a fist fight) in a ASDA queue just causes French people to serenely smile and sigh in happiness. Nothing makes a French person happier than standing in a queue all day, especially if they’ve had a good fight to assemble that queue in the first place.

What this means in a practical sense  is by the time you, as a foreigner (stuck at the back of the line) reach what you’re queueing for, it will be shut. It always is. The thing you want to do will always be shut or closed by the time you finally get to the front of the queue. Every. Single. Time.

So, what tactics can we use to beat the French queuing system?

There are no tactics. As with many of my important facts about the French they are absolutely useless other than allowing you to mentally prepare should you ever find yourself in the situation I’ve outlined.

Oh 11.5km ran today. Forgot to mention that.

See you tomorrow!

It’s time we talked about bodily fluids

15km today, and a lovely bimbly run which I enjoyed a lot.

I did have to stop for a wee at one point. This, of course, means I have to tell you another important fact about the French.

Specifically French men.

French men have no shame when it comes to weeing in public. None at all. Not a jot. I’m not sure if it’s genetic or cultural, but if you drive through France keep an eye on the roadsides for blokes merrily weeing in full view of the traffic streaming (heh heh!) past. I personally can’t wee in public. I can only wee if I’m in a bathroom and the door is locked.

In fact, I can’t wee in a locked bathroom if there’s someone hovering outside. That freaks me out too.

Actually, If I’m being honest I prefer to wee when there’s nobody else in the house.

Or within 3 miles of the house.

Thinking about it, if there was a nuclear war and it reduced civilization to a a handful of people dotted across featureless nuclear deserts, then one fringe benefit would be the opportunity to have a really good peaceful wee.

Anyway, standing in full view of passing cars clutching my danglies fills me with dread. But as any runner will tell you, like Paula Radcliff when you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. Unlike Paula though I plunged headlong through hedges and gullies as I tried to find refuge far from the road. Paula would have just let it go there and then. I admire her for that.

While we’re (I’m) talking about wee I have to bring up the general state of public French urinals. OH MY GOD. I don’t think I’ve ever been into a French public toilet and not staggered out afterwards with a handkerchief over my mouth, sobbing in fear, desperately begging nearby people for assistance. You’d have thought the average French male would be well practised in directing the flow of his bodily fluids considering they happily do it in full view of the public and must pick up tips from one another. But go into a French urinal and I can only assume most French men stand in the middle and twirl like Julie Andrews on a hillside in the Sound of Music. Only this time the hills aren’t alive with the sound of music, oh dear god no.

Now I’m feeling a bit sick.

Still, it was a decent run. I still looked like an idiot in my sunglasses, but I’m getting used to that now.

Until tomorrow!

“It’s 106 miles to Paris, we got a full tank of gas, a Garmin, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses”.

Imagine it’s dark. Like proper dark. Not a sort of half-dark wishy washy sort of dark, but a real deep black sort of dark. Imagine you had a pot of black paint, and then left it in a dark cupboard. In a bag. At night.

That sort of dark.

So imagine it’s that dark and you’re going for a run. What item of clothing or accessory would you feel would be least useful in such a situation? That’s right. A pair of sunglasses. However, as I pounded for 10km along unlit, utterly dark rural French roads tonight I was indeed wearing a pair of underpowered prescription sunglasses. If you haven’t been following the blog so far, and I don’t blame you if you haven’t, yesterday’s post shows how a series of unfortunate occurences led me to be stuck in the world’s 5th largest economy without a pair of glasses for six days.

I’d never run in the dark before. I’d certainly never ran in an enhanced extra-dark where natural darkness was accentuated artificially by beachwear. To offset the fact I was in a world of dark I brought a headtorch. It’s not a great headtorch, and occasionally flickers when it bounces up and down. I figured I better supplement it with a bit of high visibility clothing. All I had was a fluorescent yellow jacket – the type you wear on the side of the road when your car breaks down. It was slightly big, and by the time I’d put it, the flickering head torch, my black cap, sunglasses and shorts on, quite frankly I looked absolutely fucking ridiculous.

Still, run every day, that’s the Janathon promise, so out I went. It was actually a quiet and peaceful run, all things considered. For me at least. I think the woman I passed letting her dog out for a wee may take a while to recover. Old, frail, and partially blinded by my flickering headtorch, I think all she could see was a ghostly fluorescent apparition with shoulders as wide as a truck and two dark pools when the eyes should have been. She certainly went back into her house quicker than she came out.

I’m hoping I achive local legend status and the French equivalent of the X-Files team come out to try to trap me.

I’ll be like a slightly crapper version of the Chupacabra. A mysterious figure that sweeps past in the night, wheezing, puffing and hunting for prey with its adaptive night vision. Be good children of France! Sleep well tonight! For he walks among you!

Until Thursday.

Start Time
Jan 7, 2012 6:38 PM
10.00 km
Avg Speed
5:44 min/km
Max Speed
4:25 min/km
932 kcal
106 m / 168 m
61 m ↑ / 50 m ↓

Escaping pigs and a contact lens in a haystack

Do you know who this guy is?

I’m impressed if you do. No?

I’ll give you a hint. Top selling singles artist of 2006. Hmm?

Still struggling? Don’t blame you. It’s Daniel Powter. Famous for the “Had a Bad Day” song. Oh my giddy aunt have I had a bad day. You’ll have to bear with me as I relate this. It’s a long, sorry tale of woe and misery.

Like most bad days it started early. I was shaken awake by my partner who informed me that one of the pigs had escaped. This particular pig (Maybelline) is heavily pregnant, about to give birth, and refuses to stay where she’s put. I should say at this stage our pigs are reared outdoors, which is virtually unheard of in France, and there are a lot of them, so we have a series of pens over a couple of acres where young, old, testicled and non-testicled pigs etc. are sectioned off as needed. Actually keeping them where they’re supposed to be is a constant struggle. Pigs are bloody clever.

After herding the pregnant pig back into her pen and fixing her gate (which she’d barged through) I set to the first job of the day, securing a second pen for two other pigs that needed to move because they’d turned their existing pen into a quagmire. Pigs are hard work, outdoor pigs quadruply so.

After working on this for a while and nearly finishing I popped off for my run, but my leg was bleeding and incredibly sore, so I jacked it in after 4km. I was a bit upset, but I figured it was best to rest my leg rather than push it. Wouldn’t want to have a bad day I though jovially to myself.

I am such an arse.

When I got back I returned to working on the second pig pen. As I sorted the fencing out I glanced down the field taking in the mid-morning view. To my surprise my eyes fell upon two pigs far away in the distance, the other side of the valley in a neighbours field. “I didn’t know our neighbours had pigs” I thought, absent mindedly to myself. “In fact” I thought further “they look a little….like…. our pigs”.

Expletive uttered.

I was now at a full sprint.

Yes, two other pigs had escaped, and were busy eating their way through our neighbour’s crops. As I ran, I could hear shooting. To add to the drama the local hunt were out and French hunters – normally drunk, careless and spoiling for a kill – would certainly take a pot shot at anything boar-like. Or me. Calling for assistance from the runthomasrun family we all hurtled into action, rounded them them up, re-penned them, and then moved their pig-house into their new, secure area.

Cool. Done. But I needed to put straw in the newly repositioned house for them to sleep on.

Back I went to one of our straw bales and began bundling straw into a big bag/sack to take over. As I did this a bit of the sack flicked up and hit me in the left eye. Immediately I realised my contact lens had gone. After running inside I desperately looked in the mirror for 5 minutes to see if it had just been knocked off the centre of my eye, but I couldn’t see it. I was now faced with two options – 1) the contact lens was still in my eye somewhere 2) my contact lens was literally in a f***ing haystack. A contact lens, in a haystack.


Now to add to the fun my glasses had broken a few months ago. Having an eye test in France isn’t as easy as turning up at an opticians and having an eye test. Oh no. France has a mass shortage of ophthalmologists, so the average wait time in our region is 9 months. NINE MONTHS to have an eye test. The only glasses I had remaining were a pair of prescription sunglasses I wore when I was 15. So one pair of sunglasses with a 20 year old prescription. I needed to do something. I thought perhaps I could phone up my optician in Scotland and ask for them to send me my most recent prescription details. Then perhaps I could buy contacts or glasses online right? Good idea?

Of course not. Sing it Danny P.

I phone them up. They have no record of me.

“Do you remember the optician?” the girl on the phone asked.

“Yes” I say “she was a mad Irish woman who scared the shit out of me”.

“Oh yes, I know who you mean. When did you last have your eyes tested with us?”

“Er…. 3 or 4 years ago?”

“I’m afraid we can’t give out your prescription over the telephone”

“Could you mail it, or e-mail it?”

“I’m afraid we can’t give out your prescription details if they’re older then 3 years. Sorry”


OK. So what now?

Time to visit a French optician. Perhaps I can appeal to their softer side. Perhaps they’ll help me as a foreigner stuck in their land, adrift with only a pair of sunglasses to wear in January. Sunglasses of a design fashionable 20 years ago, but now so retro they cause cars to slow down as they pass me on the street. Think Wayfarers, but a sort of NHS lo-fi copy rendered in silver leopard skin print.

I negotiate with the optician. This has to be resolved.

Here I must point out something interesting – if you ever visit France, take a look at people’s glasses. They are nearly always incredibly stylish designer label frames with index-thin glass. This is because the French get their glasses paid for them by the state. They can also get new pairs of glasses virtually weekly, all paid for. Most ladies here have a pair of 600 euro glasses per colour swatch, or outfit. Why not?

It takes 30 minutes to explain to the optician that the state won’t pay for my glasses as I’m a foreigner and the only benefits I get in France are a fortnightly bin collection. I explain I want a cheap pair built to the same prescription as my sunglasses. I am now looked at as if I’ve crawled in off the street and started begging in the shop. She goes to the “cheap” draw (moths fly out as she opens it) and hands me a few pairs as if she’s handling radioactive material.

I pick a cheap pair, and then select the cheapest nastiest lenses. All in all it’s still going to cost a fair amount, but I don’t have much choice. All through the conversation I have been confirming that the opticians can make the glasses there and then. Immediately. That day. As I wait. Oh yes! No problem! She takes my glasses away, works out the prescription, brings them back, prints out the invoice and get me to sign it. I do so. “At least”, I think, “I’ll be in normal glasses in a couple of minutes. I might not be able to see more than 5ft in front of me, but at least I’ll look normal”.

After I’ve signed, she smiles.

I go to hand my bank card over. “Oh no” she says “you can pay when you collect the glasses”. “I’m collecting them now!” I say, with a hearty laugh. Oh you cheeky French person you! “No” she says “we don’t have any glass in stock to make the lenses. You’ll need to come back… ” she thinks for a moment, and then plucks a day at random “…. next Thursday.” She sees my slack jawed astonishment. “At 11’o’clock!” she finishes up, assuming I’m upset because she’s been a bit vague about the time, and British people clearly like to know exactly when to return to an opticians.

6 days. SIX DAYS. No glass? Lets think. What should an opticians have in stock at all time? LENSES FOR THE GODDAM GLASSES. It’s a GLASSES shop, you should have GLASS in it at all times. It’s like Top Shop informing a customer that they don’t have any tops in because they didn’t think anyone would be looking for a top in TopShop. AND WHY DID YOU LIE TO ME FOR THE BEST PART OF 30 MINUTES? Nnnnnrggggggh!

I’m tempted to launch into a “my grandfather fought for your freedom in World War 2 you ungrateful French bastards, get me a pair of glasses now!” rant, but being British I of course politely thanked her for being so helpful and left without even a whisper. Yeah!

So here I am. For six days I’m going to have to live a life as a virtual recluse. I may, or may not, have a contact lens jammed round the back of my eye and to top it all, until I go back to the UK in 2 months time I’m going to be living life as if the world is being beamed into my eyes like ITV4 on Freesat or a 240p Youtube video.


Start Time
Jan 6, 2012 11:03 AM
4.00 km
Avg Speed
5:38 min/km
Max Speed
5:00 min/km
359 kcal
153 m / 175 m
10 m ↑ / 20 m ↓
Tagged , ,

A porcelain virgin, a guaranteed gift and a LOT of staring

Well, 11.5km today. WELT-WATCH(tm) reports that my leg appears to be getting worse, with the wound weeping like James Blunt after stubbing his toe. Common sense would say to run less, but I laugh in the face of common sense. Wh’a ha ha! Weather was nasty, windy and raining, so rather than take the quiet back roads I thought I’d run on the main road, wearing black, at lunchtime (when most French drivers are drunk) to see if I’d get run over by an articulated lorry. Basically I’m turning the art of jogging into an EXTREME sport.

Ah, the French. As I’ve stated before I’m a British person (what is the correct term for a British person abroad? A Britishman? A Britisher? Brit I suppose…) living in rural France. Though I’ve been here for three years I can profess only to have the shallowest of understanding about the French culture and people. But I have observed some useful facts that I will relay here.

Hopefully these will help you if you ever come here on holiday or, heaven forbid, decide to live here.

Eight tips to survive life in France:

1) French people stare

In most cultures staring is rude. In Britain if you’re caught staring at someone you feel a sense of shame and avert your eyes. In France it is the norm to penetratingly stare at anyone and everyone. This is somewhat disconcerting. My girlfriend has taken to staring back and occasionally waving (which freaks the French out no end and is endlessly amusing).

2) You cannot give a gift in France without the person feeling obliged to give you a gift back

The French cannot accept a gift without feeling an enormous pressure to give you something in return. This is cultural, and common to nearly all French people. Their worst nightmare is someone turning up unannounced and handing them a gift. Without time to consider a reciprocal gift many French people panic and offer ridiculous things in return (“Thank you for this potato, would you like my car?”). You can use this to your advantage.

3) Collectible nativity scenes

The French have an odd relationship with religion. They profess to be not really bothered about the whole religion thing, but actually take it deadly seriously. Part of the festive tradition in France involves eating a type of cake that contains (embedded within it) collectible porcelain figures taken from the Nativity. You genuinely get a box with a collectible figurine chart including Baby Jesus and the (famous?) Nativity sheep amongst others.

I can’t imagine school kids desperate for swapsies (“I’ve got a Virgin Mary, have you got Balthazaar?”) I’m also not sure how knowing this will help you in France, but if you do have a deep need to collect porcelain Nativity figurines but feel embarrassed doing so, this is the place to visit.

4) French TV is terrible

It really is. You get three sorts of shows on French TV.

i) An old swarthy man with a bad moustache, paunch and greasy hair and young, slim blonde haired co-presenter discuss politics,

ii) An old swarthy man with a bad moustache, paunch and greasy hair and young, slim blonde haired co-presenter discuss the arts,

iii) An old swarthy man with a bad moustache, paunch and greasy hair and young, slim blonde haired co-presenter discuss current affairs.

You occasionally get an American import dubbed into French. Never watch House in French. You not only have the uncomfortable fact that Hugh Laurie is doing an American accent, but you get the added horror of him speaking dubbed French in an American accent.

My tip for French TV is not to watch it. Or if you’re swarthy and have a paunch, try to get a job doing it.

5) The French cannot make bread

They really can’t. French baguettes are shit. Apart from baguettes the French cannot make any other sort of bread. Eating a baguette is like eating a bag of air. They are as filling as fortune cookies.

Bring your own bread. Or make your own.

6) You can’t buy decent chocolate at a decent price

Mars bars here are about 2/3rds of the size of the UK Mars bars. If you can even find decent chocolate in a shop it’ll be 14 times the price it is the the UK. Impulse purchases next to the tills in supermarkets are limited to chewing gum, fruit sweets and cough lozenges. Terrible.

It does mean that your average French family will be overwhelmed if you give them a tin of Roses or Quality Street as a gift. To a French person this is like casually offering them a yacht or a 10 day all expenses paid holiday to Florida.

Import chocolate, and you can make friends for life.

7) Nowhere is open when you need to visit it

Shops in France shut when you need to use them. Lunchtime, Sundays, Mondays and (where we live) often on Tuesday too everything shuts down. Local Holidays, Bank Holidays and after 7pm everything shuts.

In the UK if you woke up at 3am and suddenly thought “my god, I really want to buy a toaster” you could. Somewhere within 20 minutes would be a 24 hour ASDA full to the rafters with hundreds of toasters. In France if you decided you wanted a toaster you’d need to plan the purchase weeks in advance. This is charming at first, but there are times where you just want to scream and bang a baguette against your head.

My top tip: Buy a toaster before you visit.

8) Status is everything

And finally there’s the question of class. You remember the French went nuts and beheaded all their royalty? You know the phrase Libertéégalité, fraternité (Liberty, equality, fraternity)? Utter bollocks. The French are obsessed with class. People rarely date or marry out of their class bracket. We live in a fairly poor area (which is 90 minutes from Paris, but still poor) and Parisians visiting here treat the locals like farm animals or subhuman mutants. The French are the most classist nation on the planet, and no amount of beheading convinces me otherwise.

It is also a deeply sexist country. When I took out some car insurance in my partner’s name (with both of us on the policy – her as the lead driver) the company sent ME all the insurance documentation for both of us, clearly thinking that I’d only trouble my “little lady” if I felt she could cope with it. Breathtaking. If that happened in the UK it would be on the front cover of the Daily Mail. Here it’s normal.

The benefit for foreigners is that the French find it very hard to identify the class of incomers. So they use national stereotypes. What they think of the British would fill a library, but by and large they think most British people are landed gentry and probably rich. Of course while this means you always get ripped off, it does mean that most French people are desperate to be chums with you as there’s a certain cachet to being mates with a Brit.

I’m not sure what any of that has to do with running, but hopefully its been of some use.

If it hasn’t, then I can only apologise for wasting your time, and I’m going to stare at you until you go away.

Start Time
Jan 5, 2012 11:26 AM
11.51 km
Avg Speed
5:34 min/km
Max Speed
4:59 min/km
1068 kcal
142 m / 172 m
20 m ↑ / 30 m ↓