27th February 2011

What's a passport for? No, not a silly question. It always used to mean that you were off travelling somewhere. However, for expats it's essentially an identity card. The French have their carte d'identite, which they use ubiquitously at shops to delay queuers. No way will they use plastic - it costs too much!
With this in mind, I was aware the clock was ticking as our 'essential IDs' will be out of date Mar 2012. Passports are supposed to last 10 years, but effectively it's 9 and a half as Customs won't let you on the plane during the last bit. But then I read the renewal system is changing. Typical! British expats will no longer be able to renew passports via the Paris consulate. From 1 April the consulate will still receive renewal requests but will do so on behalf of the UK Identity and Passport Service (IPS), which processes passports within the UK. What it means is that expats like us will receive passports directly from the UK. You know what that means - yet more expense. But it's already a massive rip-off. An expat's passport in France costs 178 euros, compared to 77.50 pounds (includes free postage) for UK residents. That's 356 euros for the two of us. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on the ukinfrance.fco.gov.uk website to check for further price hikes. Understandably, Him indoors says in future you'll recognise UK expats via the threadbare caps being passed round at communal events.....

20th February 2011

Spring's in the air and new beginnings are budding. Sometime this year we're moving to Gaillac, land of sunshine and vines. We've just signed the Compromis at the notaire's office. New laws mean that they give you a detailed report listing all that's wrong with the property (termites/asbestos/ghosts...), then give you 7 days to change your mind! Not good for my nerves. Don't they realise I'm the ultimate 'On the other hand' person?
In the meantime, the family of 7 adult children who've inherited their parents' property, have invited us to Gaillac today to see if we want to buy any furniture in the house. Furniture (meubles) is generally very expensive in France, the cheapest outlets being stores like Conforama, But, Fly or the depot-vente places. However, I know from past experience with Him indoors never to buy self-assembly. In France it's doubly complicated, with indecipherable French instructions translated from Korean and never enough screws. (Told him not to make a Korea out of it!). Of course, there's always the Vide Grenier or Brocante shops, but the prices are often a joke.
So, I've spent the last few hours brushing up my haggling skills, but pleading poverty just won't wash somehow. They already know that I have to keep Him indoors in the style to which he's always been accustomed....

13th February 2011

Yesterday we enjoyed a good night out with our friends at the local cinema Le Querlys in St. Antonin. Really enjoyed The King's Speech but, where were the chocs on sale in the foyer, where the usherette of yesteryear offering Kia-ora and Mivvys? Don't be silly. C'est la France. Commercialisation hasn't yet arrived.
However, what was striking about the film was the underlying message. It's no good sticking with old, rigid prejudices. Doesn't matter whether you're King or mere mortal like the rest of us. N'importe quoi you live in Cairo, steeped in the old repressive mores of your country. Sometimes problems require you to get rid of all that inner baggage, forget what other people think, ignore the standard rundown ways of your countrymen. The Royal family have had to learn over the years since George VI that you can't continue with old rules, however traditional, in today's world. Anne was allowed to marry her Commander, Charles married Camilla. How different would Margaret's life have been if they'd let her marry Captain Townsend, the love of her life? There are lessons to be learnt. As King George VI and Winston Churchill discovered: you can succeed if you do the unthinkable and travel that extra mile.
But for Him indoors, the 'important' lesson he learnt was via the French subtitles: he now knows how to swear profusely in colloquial French!

6th February 2011

New digital driving licences are arriving in France. At first glance, I didn't worry too much. As you know I'm of the 'constructive negativism' ilk. Always have a back-up plan should the worst happen. So, I kept my old English licence, whilst Him indoors obtained a French paper licence (admittedly at the suggestion of the gendarmerie, but that's another story). A good plan because, whilst UK ones need replacing at 70, there wasn't any age limit on the French ones. And clearly (although not so clear these days!), with the onset of age comes fading eyesight so neither of us wanted to be faced with future medical tests. Even less, the horrible thought of having to take another driving test in French. Can you imagine?
But now, what have they done? Just when I thought it was safe to go out, Sarkozy has introduced a brand-new plan. As from 2013 new digital licences will be introduced, to combat fraud they say. They will include a digital photo of the driver, to be updated every 15 years, and drivers will be able to check the number of points more easily (don't tell Him indoors in either case!). But, there's also some insidious small print: you need to take a medical test.