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!

Explore posts in the same categories: At Home In France

8 Comments on “Comment Ça Marche?”

  1. To help keep you out of further trouble:

    – The speed limit is 90 kpm on normal roads, 130 kpm on Autoroutes (except when its raining & then its 110kpm), 50 kpm in towns. All except otherwise posted.

    – Except in large cities ALWAYS stop for lunch no later than 1:00PM. Closer to 12:30 if possible. OR, if available, try the cafeterias in the big Hypermarkets or the Autoroute stops. They’re better than you think.

    – Dial 12 for information. 17 for the cops, 18 for the fire brigade, 15 for medical emergency and 13 to talk to an operator.

    – There are no narrow roads in France. There are, however, a large number of wide cars.

  2. Abra Says:

    Sadly, the number 12 no longer provides information! However, calling it did give me the useful information that if you look at you do get a list of numbers.

  3. Eric Says:

    Wow… It sounds like the French phone system completely sucks.

    411 in the US is old and busted. Only the old geezers use it. There’s Google’s free 411 and also sms. Dozens more… but Google is the easiest.

  4. Michel Says:

    Do you not have a cell phone?
    If you have a GSM phone (T-Mobile or AT&T), buy a cheap SIM card, slip it in and voila you have French mobile service at cheap rates. It costs about 0.80 Euros per minute to call the US, and is very cheap to call landlines and even other French mobiles.
    Absolutely essential.
    In Millau, did you see the new bridge? If so, any pictures?
    And no one follows the speed limit in France, unless there are the R2-D2 cameras on the side of the road, but those are conveniently marked well in advance.

  5. Abra Says:

    We don’t have a cell phone here, but we’re going to get one, lest anyone think we’re geezers! And we don’t follow the speed limit either. We go slower. That’s because…well…every morning we read the local paper and see how many people have been killed in auto accidents, and…we’re just not that macho!

    We did see the bridge and it is indeed gorgeous, but we didn’t manage any pictures because we were late in both directions. Because we were going under the speed limit. Next time for sure.

  6. markemorse Says:

    Oh, dear. This was the hardest thing about expatriatism for me: getting accustomed to daily failure…language, customs, the way you present yourself, etc.

    It gets easier! Just keep laughing about it…

  7. RaiulBaztepo Says:

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language 😉
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  8. PiterKokoniz Says:

    Hello !! 🙂
    My name is Piter Kokoniz. Just want to tell, that I like your blog very much!
    And want to ask you: will you continue to post in this blog in future?
    Sorry for my bad english:)
    Thank you!
    Piter Kokoniz, from Latvia

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