25th July 2010

For some time, the French government has promised easy ASDL connection for all. But, take this with a pinch of salt. For those who do manage to get onto the internet, when they look on French websites like Costorama, what do they see? Lots of colour, glory, techno language and opening hours, but hardly any hard facts to aid the consumer like what their goods actually cost.
Many are the expats who bought large properties in rural areas several years ago who now find that because their village hasn't got Wifi and is unlikely to get it anytime soon, there is real depreciation of their property value. Apparently they should buy expensive satellite connections, and..er no..there are no grants available towards the cost. Many of the special offers from companies like Orange for bulk packages including TV and phone are useless to those without fast connections, and they can't get the free TV either.
Ironically enough, there is one French company that has a wonderful website, full of facts and ease of access to consumers. Its name? You guessed it, the French tax office! But for the rest of the WiFi-free rural zone inhabitants, the internet is as elusive as before. Nothing moves fast in France - ask the poor old snail, and you know what happens to him: he gets taken with a pinch of salt and covered in sauce. C'est la France.

18th July 2010

Everything's fine living here as long as all's going well. But when things go wrong? Double the trouble. It's not just having to use a foreign language; attitudes in France are very different from those back home in Birmingham. There, the general air of pessimism was renowned. In shops everywhere could be heard the refrain: 'I don't suppose you've got one of these', the customer wondering why he'd even bothered to ask, so unlikely was the trader's answer gonna be. So France was bound to be the same, wasn't it?
Living in the middle of nowhere, one of the worst things for me is when the internet goes down. I have one of these 'blinking' liveboxes, but it's not supposed to blink. Disaster. Ringing France Telecom is a nightmare: the usual musical tones, then the Queen asking you to press 1 for this, 2 for that etc. And then, when you finally get a real person - impossible to explain the technical jargon for what's gone wrong, even more the answer. But, my fairy godmother was at hand! I found an English-speaking service that actually had technicians at hand to help. Not only did they come chez-nous, they fixed the problem (a chewed wire underground + changed our old rusty phone socket) for free! Now that's something you don't see everyday. The tel. no. is charged at local rates:
See. I told you everything'd be all right!

11th July 2010

It's hot. Too hot to eat hot food, but you can get tired of salad every day. French legend has it there was once a beautiful girl called Ferline, whose poorest suitor brought back some strange seeds from a trip to S. America. He planted them in a sunny spot and, after offering Ferline his harvest, they fell in love. The fruit was called pomme d'amour until the 18C. And the fruit? Yes, the humble tomato. The town where Ferline grew up was Marmande in the Aquitaine, which holds a Tomato Fiesta every year: this year it's in the Place du Marche July 23 - 25th.
Try this wonderful cold soup recipe. It's absolutely delicious and, above all, easy - especially if like us you've managed to grow some tomatoes yourself this year.
Provencale tomato soup
Bake 4lb large ripe tomatoes in the oven, after seasoning with salt, pepper, pinch of sugar, and drizzling a little olive oil over them. After 1hr, the tomatoes should have burst and have black tops. Remove from oven and leave to cool. Pull off skins and put tomatoes and all their juices into a food processor. Puree and add some creme fraiche. Eat lukewarm or iced. Garnish with a little chopped cucumber or red pepper plus a sprig of parsley. Enjoy!

4th July 2010

4th July - an important day for the Americans. In 10 days it will be an important day for the French. And for the English? Exactly. Why are we all so different? Although the French are noted for their lack of irony, an unknown called Darren Tulett is the television presenter fast becoming France's most famous Briton. Following the world cup debacle, he introduced a Monty-Python-type programme called "Match of Ze Day". Whilst Sarkozy called a crisis meeting and held talks at the Elys̩e with striker Thierry Henry, Mr Tulett was teaching self-deprecation. Although the highbrow Le Monde says the dysfunctional French team is a 'mirror' of French society Рselfish, money-grabbing and 'split into clans', Tulett brings a TV montage showing "Zidane is rubbish" - the country's most recent superstar.
Tulett's show is now a hit on Canal Plus, France's premium pay-TV channel with around eight million subscribers. With all our disillusion with the English team, at least we wanted them to win, unlike the French, who actually wanted their team to lose! Something had to be done. So meet Britain's most unlikely unofficial ambassador. Tulett says "At least a dozen French strangers have stopped me in the street to say: 'I never much liked the English, but you have reconciled me with England."
Who'd have thought it.