Friday, 23 August 2013

The French Connection

What I learned/confirmed on me 'olidays

I've just returned from a lovely family holiday in Brittany, France (hence the gap since my last post) and I'd like to share with you the things I learned and/or confirmed in that week.
I've been to France many times in the past, as a child and into adulthood and I've always loved it there. This post delves into comparisons between the French and British way of life, confirmation of my prejudices and the explosion of at least one myth.

Them and us
There are any number of differences between the French and British, most of which have been documented ad nauseum but, due to the amount of driving I did, the biggest difference I noticed was the road travel.
The French manage to suffer the inconvenience of free flowing dual carriageways as opposed to the grid-locked three carriages made popular in the UK. The price of diesel is markedly cheaper than petrol - which is how it should be (I drive a diesel), and in the entire week I only had to pay to park my car on one occasion. But most noticeable of all was the huge number of road signs the French don't seem to need.
In the UK you need signs to warn you of road works, signs to warn you of wildlife, signs to warn you of low-flying aircraft (although what you're meant to do in the event of an aircraft descending towards you I'm not sure), signs to warn you of crossroads, signs to warn you of happy roads and signs to warn you of impending road signs. This isn't to say that the French don't have road signs they just don't have them every 5 yards, on every post, stacked in threes, one above the other. But even with this distinct lack of signage, I didn't once end up in a ditch, round a tree or impaled on an airplane which would suggest that the UK has gone over the top with its signs (which probably needs a sign of some sort). What the French do have that the UK don't are signs to tell you when you're leaving a town so not only do they tell you where you're going they also let you know where you've been, which is nice.

Life's a beach
I've never been keen on going to the beach and French beaches are no exception. Apart from the fact that the sea is a place that, millions of years ago, our very distant ancestors were desperate to leave and therefore we should take the hint and stay out of, every beach I've ever been to clearly isn't happy where it is and will always try to follow you home. This it will do either internally, by hiding in your sandwiches for you to consume, or externally, by secreting itself in any available crevice - between toes, in ears, up noses, behind scrotums etc. This leads me to believe that if the beach is trying to escape why should we be so keen to go there.
The other frustration I have with going to the beach is the view. Whenever I go to a resort where the female sunbathing population have the decency to go topless I never seem to reap the benefits. Any number of topless beauties can be camped out along the beach, just out of my range of focus, but the ones in my direct eyeline unfailingly have the strangest shaped breasts in the world. These range from the dried out raisin variety to tits that perfectly resemble roof tiler's nail bags (or, if you prefer, a cowboy's saddle bags). I will say however that this tends to be the only true entertainment I get on the beach, finding similes for the full range of boob shapes on display.

Explosion d'un mythe
As previously mentioned I have visited France many times over the years and I'd built up the opinion that you will never see a fat French person. I'd arrived at this conclusion based on their diet and their discipline over meal times but mainly because I don't ever remember seeing one. On this year's holiday however this myth was completely exploded.
I saw my first portly Frenchman in a supermarket but, as the area we were staying in was popular with tourists, I naturally assumed he was British. It wasn't until he spoke to the fishmonger and I couldn't understand a word he said that I realised he was French (although he could have been Glaswegian and I still wouldn't have understood him).
The sight of this large gentleman was quite a shock but I let it pass as a freak anomaly. It wasn't until I went to the beach that it became obvious that this was not a one off. The place was full of French people who, to be generous, were edging towards the rotund.
This display of corpulence gave me another reason to dislike the beach and also reflect on how unfair it is when large people sunbathe. Those who know me will attest to the fact that I am built like a match with a toast rack chest and could hide behind the leg of a flamingo. With a physique of this nature I struggle to get a suntan, as I tend to fall between the sun rays, so it is doubly frustrating when halfway down the beach there is a butterball getting more than their fair share. The only consolation I get in this instance is the knowledge that, due to the fact that they have to apply it by the acre, they spend far more than me on sun cream.

Bad language
Despite enjoying France I am the stereotypical Brit who believes that if you speak slowly, shout loudly or affect the right facial mannerisms you can carry on speaking English and still make yourself understood in any country around the world (with the exception of America, where they still struggle with basic English - it's colour not color etc.) With an expert fluency I have also learnt to say 'Je suis désolé, je ne comprends pas. Je suis Anglais et ne parle pas Français'. Even though this is the only French I know and translates as 'I'm sorry, I don't understand. I am English and don't speak French' I deliver it with such confidence and perfection that it displays a willingness to attempt their language and usually achieves the desired result of a pitying look and a keenness to help me out, more often than not pointing me in the direction of the nearest public convenience*
The above having been said, my wife and I did stumble across a very useful new phrase this year which allows me to be able to use my favourite English expression in a foreign land and 'Tete de bouton' (knobhead) was freely delivered every time a maniac driver deserved a mouthful of abuse.

*Author's note - I should point out here that anyone wishing to find a public toilet in France, but with no-one to ask, should look for the building where everyone coming out is shaking their hands and flicking their fingers due to the lack hand driers.

In brief
As stated at the beginning this post is based around what I learned or confirmed during my holiday so to conclude and in brief here are few other things I would like to impart.

1) I have confirmed - The French are quite happily a law unto themselves. I have often said "F@#k this for a lark, I've had enough, I'm going home" then I've sighed, sucked it up and got on with whatever I'm meant to be doing. Had I been born French I would have f@#ked that for a lark and gone home. This was made evident when the local supermarket, with opening hours of 8am till 8pm, was shut at 6:45pm - it's even called '8 a Huit' (8 till 8).

2) I have learned - No matter how much silage a French farmer puts on his field it's never enough (I can only assume this is something to do with EU subsidise)

3) I have confirmed - My legs should not be permitted to be displayed in shorts and in public.

4) I have confirmed - No matter how good your holiday, there's nothing like your own toilet.

5) I have confirmed - France is a wonderful holiday destination and if you haven't already been, you should go.*

*Author's note - Contrary to appearances this post is in no way sponsored by the French Tourist Board (I am open to offers though).

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Right About What I Know

I always try to be careful when writing about work but there are certain generic work situations that warrant a closer look.  After all, it's well known that you should write about what you know and the following post is what I know about work.  I also happen to be right about what I know, which is handy.

Ring The Changes

Highly intelligent people, practically minded co-workers, colleagues with qualifications coming out of their ears.  We all know them and possibly work with a few.  These individuals are responsible for designing the most complicated technology, ensuring the wheels of the economy keep turning and leading us mere mortals to greater things, however in my experience not one of them can replace a used toilet roll.
How many times have you gone into a trap, taken a weight off your mind and reached up only to find an empty cardboard tube hanging forlornly from the holder?  Sometimes it can be worse in that there may still be a single sheet attached.  It's as if the last user has deliberately left one sheet to justify their decision not to change the roll - "Ah but it's not down to me, there's still some left on the tube look".  The problem is you can do absolutely nothing with a single sheet of toilet paper, unless you are trying to dry the tears of a grieving mayfly.
It's not just the inconvenience of it all, it's also the sense of panic it induces when you realise you've completed the necessary evacuation but are faced with the horror of having no 3 ply ultra-soft toilet tissue to send you merrily on your way.
This said however there is one similar situation even worse than not changing the roll and that is nearly changing the roll.  This is where the last user helpfully balances a full roll on top of the empty roll - a full roll that you reach up to use only to knock off and watch roll along the floor, just out of your reach and out under the door.
Now I know the aforementioned professionals are probably paid huge sums of money for their abilities to change the world but surely it's not so far beneath them to change the roll and, if dear reader you are one such person who has left an empty, you should hang your head in shame.  And don't think it's up to the next person to check, after all they have more pressing concerns whereas you have just relieved the pressure of distracting thought.
Work Language
We all have certain language we use in our work places.  This could be a series of acronyms meaning little to those not in the know - and in some cases meaning little to the person delivering said acronyms.
Some language could be aimed at specific individuals, depending on their capabilities - "She's so far up herself she's virtually inside out" or "He's a fu@#ing moron".
But there are particular professions that use completely unnecessary terminology and which make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, namely emergency services and estate agents.  Not similar professions I grant you but they have one thing in common.
Ask a policeman to describe a car or a bus or a truck or van or any other road transport as anything other than a "vehicle" he (or she) will self-combust.  And ask an estate agent to describe a house or bungalow or flat or apartment or any other type of residence as anything other than a "property" they would slap you in the face with a flat iron (or "property iron" as they know them).
Why do these people insist on doing this?  I can only hope for the sake of their families that they don't continue this at home.
Imagine - "Darling, have you seen the vehicle keys?  I suspended them on the vehicle key retaining device when I entered the property last evening - the evening of the 26th of October at approximately twenty hundred hours - and now I can't ascertain their whereabouts.  For the benefit of the tape my wife has just stabbed me in the groin with a toasting fork".
Out Of Hours
Social situations with work colleagues can be awkward, depending on the kind of working relationship you have with particular individuals but I've found that there is one situation that tops them all.  Bumping into a work colleague in a supermarket has the potential to be incredibly cringe worthy.
There you are, wandering the aisles looking for bargains when a work colleague comes toward you.  Nothing particularly worrying so far until you realise that you only have one item in your basket, a tube of haemorrhoid cream, and they have clocked it straight away. You have a brief conversation about the weather or your child's latest ailment or similar, all the while trying to hide your basket from view whilst at the same time checking out their trolley, which you notice is filled with top of the range luxury items.  This leads you to believe that their partner must be a high earner because there's no way you can afford what they have and they are at least three pay grades below you.
You hide your jealousy and finish the conversation with a quick "well must get on, see you in the morning" and move to the next aisle to find your 'own brand' biscuits.  You find your biscuits, add them to your pile cream and go to move on only to find your colleague approaching from the other end of the aisle.  You can't turn round because they've already seen you so you pass them with a chuckle and little witticism, "We must stop meeting like this, people will talk" and move to the next aisle.
In the next aisle you select some sand paper (or 'value' toilet tissue as it's otherwise known) and look up to find your colleague again coming towards you.  Again there is no escape but you've used your only comedy line so now all you can do is smile, raise your eyebrows and walk on (noticing the fact that they have the ultimate in ultra-soft toilet tissue).
It then dawns on you that you are only three aisles into the shop and there is a strong chance that your entire shopping trip will involve bumping into your colleague all the way round the store so there is now only one option left.  You're going to have to spend the next half an hour hanging around in the spices aisle, waiting for them to leave.
Nobody ever buys spices so if you find yourself in this aisle and there are other people there you can bet your bottom dollar they are avoiding their work colleagues too.
Of course if you find your work colleagues loitering in the spices aisle there's a strong possibility that they are avoiding you.
Continual Improvement
Everyone can find work hard but then again that's why it's called work and sometimes these things are out of our control but for those things that we can control we should make every effort to improve for everyone's sake.
So come on people, if you see an empty toilet roll holder put a new roll on, use language that everyone can understand (including you) and avoid having to loiter in the spices aisle by doing your shopping on-line or alternatively go shopping at midnight when the only people you'll need to avoid are the 'onesie' wearing weirdos.