Comment Ça Marche?
Knowing how things work is the secret to a happy life. I can say this categorically, having tested the proposition numerous times over the past couple of days. Try these examples on for size, and perhaps you’ll find a number of them to be too tight, as we did.
Our friends said they were 4-5 hours from us, and sent us the directions. After 7 hours on the road we arrived near midnight, having missed several important turns, not to mention dinner. How did that work? Pretty well, because they have excellent manners, fed us a delicious cold supper, and didn’t chastise us for keeping them up half the night. But why did it work like that? Because they drive 120 kph, the actual speed limit, while we are much more timid on narrow back roads in the pitch dark.
We did try to call them to say we were en retard, not to mention feeling retarded about having lost our way, but unbeknownst to them their brand new phone service gave us the hands-down world’s rudest message. A charmingly bright automated voice said “votre correspondant ne désire pas recevoir votre message, au revoir” and hung up. Comment ça marche? My correspondant doesn’t wish to receive my message? Just my message wasn’t desired, my desperate middle of the night lost on the road message, or any message at all? There was no way to find out, because the damned thing hung up without even ringing the house. That worked badly, needless to say.
After a lovely visit we stopped for lunch on the way home in the scenic and touristical town of Millau, about 1:00. We went to a restaurant described in guidebooks as “an institution.” We weren’t well dressed, being on the road, but the hostess agreed to seat us. The bustling restaurant turned pin-droppingly silent as we walked to our table. Wow, that’s some feeling. After a 15 minute wait we realized that people were being served very slowly, made our apologies to the hostess, and left to find a quicker meal. I imagine the place was abuzz over that turn of events, but we weren’t there to hear it so we didn’t really care. We arrived at the little kebab joint nearby, only to find that because it was after 1:30 we couldn’t be served. How all that works is that you need to be dressed nicely on a Saturday afternoon, and be in your seat before 1:30. I think we knew that once, but somehow thought we’d be able to manage. A little meal of indifferent bakery goods on the park bench was the result of having to re-learn that lesson.
Then we were once again in danger of being late and needed to make a call from a phone booth, but didn’t have the number with us. We stopped two passers-by to ask how to call for information. The first, a teenager, said he had no clue and finally convinced me that this was true in more ways than one. The second, an older lady, said that we could get a number at the Post Office if it were open, but since it wasn’t, there would be no way to get a phone number one didn’t know. WTF? Comment ça marche? The whole United States would grind to a halt without 411, wouldn’t it?
Not to rant relentlessly, but you know what I mean? It’s the flip side of having a bakery right next door for a warm morning croissant. At home we know how to get things done, control the flow of events more or less to our satisfaction. Here sometimes it seems that we might as well put bags over our heads and run naked through the streets as if we had been badly brought up. Which, by French standards and with regard to comment ça marche, I suppose we were.
But to end on a sweeter note, how about this beautiful plum tart our friend baked for us?
Now there’s something we understood, and we definitely knew what to do with it. As I said, knowing how things work is the secret to a happy life!