Wednesday, 31 March 2010

French Undressing

A certain reviewer of French Life Blogs suggested that his idea of the perfect blog would contain posts about 2CVs, mushrooms and lingerie. As I am allergic to mushrooms (and, I suspect, 2CVs) I am left with just one area of expertise - and the subject does seem to tie in nicely with my last post.

The Times newspaper states that the English are now buying more underwear than the French. Incroyable I thought at first, but then realised it could very well be true. It is so easy to go into Marks & Spencers and stock up on your 5-pair pack of tried & trusted pants and to grab a couple of bras in the size you have been wearing for the past 5 years. Not so easy in France. In the Department stores the lingerie departments often have a whole floor to themselves and the displays can be bewildering – but so beautiful. Two impossibly stylish assistants (dressed in black) will be pretending to have a conversation but will be keeping an eye on you. After 30 seconds one of them will offer assistance and suggest that Monsieur relaxes in a chair. (Monsieur would usually prefer to stick pencils in his eyes rather than go shopping but always seems amenable to these trips). I will then be quizzed as to what I am looking for, the purpose (business or pleasure), and then asked what size I am looking for. My response brings a snort of derision and she will eye me up before choosing a selection in a size I have not worn since I was 12 years old. She will then accompany me into the changing room and, despite the fact that I have been able to dress myself unassisted since I was a toddler, she will then take a very hands on approach, adjusting straps, checking the fit (I have to admit that she was right about the size) and generally tweaking until she is perfectly satisfied. She then flings open the curtain to ask Monsieur for his opinion. He seems to approve – as do several other shoppers passing by! She then trusts me to get dressed by myself and I am then led to the counter where I pay before my husband sees the price.

Most towns in France, whatever their size, have small independent lingerie shops and these are even scarier. One amusing experience occurred in a shop in Montpellier where I discovered that there wasn’t even a changing room. At the back of the shop an attractive blonde woman had stripped to the waist and was trying on bikini tops while her husband vainly attempted to protect her modesty. Armed with my newly acquired knowledge regarding my size I decided to buy without trying and hurried my husband out before she decided to try on the bikini bottoms. We are still not speaking!

Friday, 19 March 2010

French Dressing

I see that once again, Britain has been voted the worst dressed nation in a European web poll. Quelle surprise! But I don’t think it is so much what we wear (nylon tracksuits aside), but the way that we wear clothes. How often have you left the house with your coat hanging open? The French take fastenings very seriously and if a coat has buttons or a belt they will be secured and tied as designed, and the whole ensemble will look neat and tidy. It’s not a matter of spending a lot of money on designer clothes – even the cheapest outfit will be styled with a jauntily tied scarf or the addition of a stunning brooch (and I’m generally talking about women here)!

French men also have ‘the knack’ – have you ever seen a Frenchman with a jumper tied around his waist? Non. If he has to carry a spare jumper it will be draped casually over the shoulders and have the two sleeves folded into each other at the cuffs. I think there must be a secret school where they learn how to do this, with another lesson on how to tie their winter scarves so neatly!

Tourists in France are instantly recognisable by the fact that they like to wear as few clothes as possible as soon as possible. At the first sign of sunshine (or a temperature in double figures) the British will immediately don shorts, t-shirts and sandals. The French will continue to wear polo neck jumpers, trousers and jackets until mid-end June in case there is a danger of a sudden cool breeze in which they might catch a chill.

Now, just don’t get me started on Americans and their fashion sense…. (two words I never thought I would find in one sentence!)

Friday, 12 March 2010

Snow, Snow, thick thick Snow

Usually the only conversation I have about the weather is when my next door neighbour comes out onto her balcony to fan herself and laugh at me catching the mid-day rays. This week I haven’t even set foot on the balcony as it has snowed. Proper thick snow. 30 centimetres of the stuff. Naturally the whole departement ground to a halt – the airport was closed, trains stopped running, the autoroute was blocked for hours and even the frontier border at Le Perthus was closed. Perpignan was a ‘ghost-town’ as none of the roads or pavements were fit to use and everybody stayed indoors. I had wanted to go for a walk to take some artistic photographs of snow-covered palm-trees but, having performed an Olympic-standard triple-salko on the corner of my street, decided to stay at home and watch the weather on the news.

What amused me most were all the complaints - Why don’t all villages have a ‘chasse-neige’ (snow-plough)? - Which schools are closed? – Who is in charge of the deneigement? (I love the way the French always have the perfect word for everything)! The English have a perfect right to be surprised by snow when it happens every winter and the whole country grinds to a halt because of a lack of grit. But this is the Mediterranean, famous for the sunny weather & mild climate. Snow-storms like this have not happened for over 30 years – and it really is a surprise!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Ryanair - fight or flight?

Flying Ryanair is a necessary evil as due to the price and the fact that they seem to fly into the right place I have to use them regularly. In fact, I book so many flights every year that I now look on it as a game – and it is very important that I win!

The setting for the ‘contest’ is the bookings website but this is highly dangerous as this is Ryanair’s ‘Home Ground’ which gives them a huge advantage as it is easy to get led astray by the tempting adverts of ‘Flights Just £9 – book until midnight on Monday’. These flights are extremely well hidden as (unlike other more helpful budget airlines) you can’t look up a month’s worth of flights in one go, and if you manage to find one of them they are more likely to cost £50 by the time you have pressed all the buttons and discovered all the costs for ‘optional charges’ and taxes. To give yourself an added advantage, start by clicking on and you can actually choose the highest price you are willing to pay for a ticket. Not wanting to be greedy I type in 19 euros as a fair figure which then gives me a good starting point to enter the site and battle then commences.

Armed with my knowledge I go back to the Ryanair website and select my flight – Girona to East Midlands, 14 euros (including tax) + 5 euros online check in (expected & unavoidable). On to the next page and they attempt a swift uppercut by assuming I want to check in a 15 kilo bag for £15. I swiftly dodge this by clicking on Hand Luggage only. They fight back by suggesting I might want to be one of the first passengers to board the plane for an extra £4 which I laughingly ignore as I hold the world record for the Boarding gate sprint. Shocked by my hidden strength they parry back by offering insurance which I swiftly dodge by scrolling down to the ‘no thanks I don’t need insurance’ which is spectacularly well hidden among a list of countries. We have made it down to the information section and all the totals are reading 0 extra! By this time I am feeling very smug, particularly when they seem to remember my name and fill in all the details of my address for me. Unfortunately they do not remember that I never pay for extras and offer me a text message reminder of my booking for 1 euro. Again, thanks but no thanks. All I have to do now is to ignore the button offering to add me to their mailing list (which I have already subscribed to as it is free!) and click the continue button. They have one last desperate attempt to sell me insurance but I manage to ignore it and get through to the payment page – also known as ‘round 2’. This is the shortest round of all as I deliver my killer blow – by using a ‘Prepaid Mastercard’ to pay for the flights thus avoiding their ridiculous ‘administration fees’. Ryanair are on the ropes and I am declared the winner!

Just as a quick footnote to this blog, I have to say that Ryanair thoroughly shocked me recently. I know better than to order food (not so much because of the inflated prices but because it is completely unpalatable) but I have occasionally been known to buy a drink. Even though it cost more than the flight, I treated myself to a Gin & Tonic. The steward plonked down the plastic cup, a tin of tonic water and two hand-wipes. I was just about to complain when I realised that the hand-wipes were in fact sachets containing Gin! As you are not allowed to bring on board anything sharper than a banana, by the time I managed to open them there was more gin on the tray and the passenger in front of me than in my glass. Ryanair, I salute you!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Let the buyer beware....?

I’ve always felt that the French property buying system is excellent – particularly compared to the UK system where so many things can (and do) go wrong and properties can be taken off the market just when you think you are about to sign the final contract. It is so reassuring to know that here in France, once you have signed the Compromis de Vente and the 7-day cooling off period has passed, the property will become yours. This is particularly weighted towards the buyer as, once the seller has signed the Compromis he is then committed to sell whereas the buyer has the advantage of having one week to change his mind.

This makes me wonder what Mikhail Prokhorov was thinking in 2008 when he made an offer of £360 million for the luxury Villa Leopolda in Villefranche-sur-mer in the Cote d’Azur . According to an article in the Daily Mail, he put down a deposit of £36 million and then, due to the global credit crisis, changed his mind. French courts ruled that under the terms of French property law he has lost his deposit and must also pay the owner an additional £1 million in interest.

On a happy note we hear that the owner, Mrs Safra (widow of a billionaire banker) is to donate the money to various charities – and hopefully this sum will not make too big a dent in Mr. Prokhorov’s estimated £6 billion bank balance.

The full article can be seen at: