Pretty in Pink: My New Driving Licence.

The fearless Amazonian MM returns triumphantly from the administrative jungle with Penelope the Pink Permis.

The fearless Amazonian MM returns triumphantly from the administrative jungle with Penelope the Pink Licence.

Drum roll….  Raise your glasses, ladies and gents. MM is finally clutching her French Driving Licence in her sweaty mitts after a long, medically-assisted gestation by the Préfecture.

My French driving licence is pinker than a baboon’s bottom. It’s so pink that Barbie could use it to dress up as a sandwich girl. Talk about girly – it even has sparkly glitter ingrained in the paper. I was almost expecting a Hello Kitty watermark. I have called it Penelope, in homage to the only ultra-pink female personalities I have ever had any respect for: Lady Penelope and Penelope Pittstop.

 Enough gloating. After two months of calling an unmanned phone, I finally got hold of a human being last Friday, who told me that my licence had been waiting for me for two months. They’d just omitted the minor detail of informing me that my marathon was finally over. The road through French beaurocracy to my French licence had been paved with paperwork and involved an exciting wild goose chase in which I sent a medical certificate to the administrative Gods, who promptly sent it to the wrong town, then lost it, then asked me to get it done again, then told me they’d found the old one after all.

The next Monday, MM was at the gate to La Préfecture. The police security guard delved into the bottomless depths of my Mary Poppins hold-all, rummaged reluctantly through the unwelcoming detritus a mother’s handbag always contains, and hastily waved me through.

Inside, Attila the Pun and Bulldog were still manning the reception desk (see here for details). Attila the Pun’s eyesight had apparently gone downhill, as he had a pair of Dumbeldore-style specs on his nose. Bulldog had still not learned how to smile or apply lipstick. Her jowls were quivering in time to her staccato syllables as she gave her visitor some gyp. The word Monsieur peppered every sentence she uttered. “Monsieur, you have to fill in the form…  Monsieur, you will have to come back… Monsieur, you have not understood what I said…” This quintessentially French use of excessive deference to dominate others has always fascinated me. Paradoxically, by dripping with politeness, they actually manage to patronise their opponent into submission: it’s an art form.

Attila the Pun took off his glasses, gave me my ticket, and sent me off to wait my turn at the great administrative cheese counter. He wasn’t as cheerful as the last time. Had he read my blog?

There were a good few people trying to jump the queue. Or maybe they were all colour blind and couldn’t read the writing on the blue tape on the floor, saying that it was rude to butt in on other people who had already gathered dust for hours as they waited their turn.

Then there was the poor man who had ticked all the boxes and photocopied mountains of paperwork. He brandished his ticket triumphantly in the air when his number flashed up on the screen and leapt to his feet if he had just won the pools… then realised that he had forgotten his glasses at home and couldn’t see well enough to sign for the open sesame he had no doubt been waiting for over the last six months.

A vivarium for the lesser spotted civil servant. Note the Hygiaphone in the centre.

A vivarium for the lesser spotted civil servant. Note the Hygiaphone in the centre.

My number was called, and I went to the designated cubicle. A thin-faced man behind the screen pointed at the seat as he hastily glugged down a plastic cup of water. He smiled at me, then yelled, “How can I help you?” I’m sure that he heard himself loud enough, but I had to strain to hear him despite the “Hygiaphone” – a grille in the middle of the screen that is supposed to let the sound through. This term has always had me flummoxed: it implies that it is to stop anything unhygienic happening. Like what? A piece of spinach getting unstuck from between your teeth and flying into the other person’s face? Subjecting them to the residual smell of garlic emanating from your restaurant lunch? In any case, communication was muffled, resulting in lots of shouting, and requiring gallons of water for the poor, parched civil servant on the other side of the glass.

He asked me for my UK licence, typed my name, then said “It’s not ready yet.” His finger hovered over the button that would bring the next person hotfooting to his desk. I suggested that he check under my maiden name, and he said: “Your maiden name isn’t on your passport”. Uh-oh. I was lucky – he asked for my maiden name, typed it in, and gave me my French licence. I left Cerfa’s palace, legal and happy that I didn’t have to go back again for a while.

I’ll round up this post with a little request: Please go over to Pecora Nera’s blog, An Englishman in Italy, to cheer him on.  He started the same quest as me back in April, but he’s dealing with Italian beaurocracy, which is apparently much worse than it is in France.

Especially for Bevchen: French driving licence glitter :-)

Especially for Bevchen: French driving licence glitter 🙂

To read the whole story, here are the three previous episodes:

Mugshot musings: the first step towards a French licence

Into the Jaws of Administromia

Waiting room witterings: a portrait of France

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Happy Birthday, Mr Blog!

Birthday Cake

  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Hi! Pull up a chair and grab a glass of virtual champagne and a handful of peanuts! Mr Blog and I have been scribbling in cyberspace for a whole year now, and boy has time flown by! All in all, a wonderful experience, accompanied by regular readers whose blogs are great reading -from the States to Malaysia, from Serbia to northern Canada. From flower genetics to family fun, from expatriate toilet humour to intrepid home-building in France, from Croatian adventures to the thrills and spills of Italian administration and sausage dogs, your adventures all make a big difference to this peanut-addicted expat lover of the written word….. So a heartfelt thank you to all of you. You pep up my day 🙂

 

M.M.

 

P.S: If you’d like to read a little more about the region I live in, written in true M.M. style,  pop over to read my entry in the Expats Blog Writing Contest. Did that sound like an order? Sorry 😉 If you’re feeling really generous, you can even leave a comment for me. You can find it here. It is open to listed expat blogs all over the worId. Check out the expat blogs for your area, and why not sign up your own blog there?

 

Wonder Woman and le Franglais.

Just before Christmas, PF nabbed the family car, and hence thwarted my evil plan to use the necessary purchase of pepper corns as an excuse for stocking up on British yummies and buying his Christmas present in the nearby jewellers shop. The next day I turned on the radio and discovered that if I had gone to the jewellers as planned, I would have been rudely interrupted by two numpties in balaclava helmets who had run into the shop and sprayed all its occupants generously with tear gas before smashing the glass cabinets, grabbing all they could fit in their backpacks and running away with it. So hip-hip-hooray for P.F, my loveable and unwitting hero.

However, what really surprised me for just a minute was hearing on the radio how they had left the crime scene: on a scooter. I laughed, as despite my many years in France, when I heard the word “scooter”, I imagined them making a speedy getaway with this:

trotinette

But in French, it’s actually this.

Kymco G3 Mark II.

This event got me wondering about other English words that the French have adopted and now use with great confidence, sometimes describing totally different things than their real English cousins. A thick slathering of French accent apparently makes it convincing enough for the Académie Française to slip it quietly into the French dictionary. English words are made French with an exotic little “le” or “la”, like  “le weekend” and “le burger” (which has so much more gastronomic sex appeal when pronounced “beurre-geurre”). Then there are the “English” nouns that the French have invented by simply by adding a cute little -“ing” to a verb to give it an « oh so charm– ing » lilt.  Like “le parking”: “Excuseuh-me, where eez ze parking?” When you say, “Urr, do you mean the car park?”, you will then be informed with a hurt expression that this is an English term. Si, si, Madame.

Another favourite of mine is “un lifting”, a far more honest vision of a face-lift. When your hairdresser proposes “un brushing”, she’s not going to brush you down like a shedding St Bernard, she’s suggesting a blow-dry.  Also “un jogging” is a difficult one – either a track suit or a jog, depending on the context. When you see a car accident on the autoroute, your passenger will invariably tell you to switch on your “warnings“, with the “w” pronounced in a hard German manner. Hands up who knows what “un living” is? It’s English, and it exists. Si, si. Give up? It is… a piece of furniture. You live and learn.

Tower crane operator cabin

Necessary equipment for a French facelift.

I particularly remember a language quandary at an infant school meeting. I had unwisely arrived late, and ended up sat on a tiny chair beside Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is a frightening mother. (More about her here for anyone who wants more.) She goes to all the meetings, and is always on time. Her kids never lose their fair trade lama hair mittens, but she’s sewn a printed name label into each of them- just in case. She looks elegant all the time, even with her knees jammed behind her ears on an infant school chair. I, on the other hand, am fully paid-up member of the badly-organised mum squad: I sidle in at the last minute, then dig through pockets full of paper tissues and sweet wrappers to find an abandoned colour crayon and a supermarket receipt to jot down the essentials.

The teacher smiled magnanimously at us and said “Of course, your children will need a pair of baskets and one or two sweets, as the weather may be rainy and cold during the day”. I  looked blankly at her, then peered discretely over my neighbour’s shoulder as she diligently recorded everything bar the teacher’s bra size in a dainty notepad she’d pulled from a perfectly organised handbag. She had neatly penned “2 x sweets, plus baskets” with an ultra-feminine pink biro.

I nudged Wonder Woman in the ribs, and politely whispered into her ear. She glared at me; serious parents do not talk when the teacher is explaining Important Stuff. She looked condescendingly down her nose at me before stabbing a perfectly manicured claw at her immaculate handwriting. “Des baskets et deux sweets. It’s  English, after all!” she snarled at me, then turned her attention back to the teacher before she lost Brownie points for not paying attention.

Tagada

Fraises Tagada, alias the French secret weapon against the cold. (Photo credit: hellolapomme)

I switched off and started wondering. Did the French have a secret use for candy? I thought it was just plain edible, but maybe you can be saved by pulling a family-sized bag of fraises tagada out of your anorak pocket after crashing into the freezing depths of the Alps? Set a match to them, and hey presto! An emergency sugar torch to heat everyone up and attract the attention of any superheroes who happen to be flying by. What on earth were the baskets for? Mushroom picking?

Back in the real world, Wonder Woman was gazing at the teacher and thoughtfully sucking the end of her pink biro, much to the delight of the two daddies who had been forced to go there. She nodded her head with knowledgeable approbation as the teacher explained how many pairs of spare knickers we had to provide for the day’s outing. I seriously considered hot-footing it out of the door, hiding behind her Range Rover and mercilessly lapidating her with aniseed balls before she had time to say “Harrods”.

I asked the mother on my right, who appeared less worried about being put in the corner. She had written the word correctly: “sweat”, and amiably pointed to the child sitting beside her.  I finally clicked. Think Rocky working out in the gym. Think Sarkozy running in a park. Ah, ok. A sweat shirt. The baskets turned out to be “basquettes”: laced sports shoes.

That’s your lot for now. I’m off to dream about summer, when we’ll be able to have a barbecue in the sun without hearing the Tramontane wind howling around the house. That’s right, a “Barbe- euh-cul” – which translates from the French as “beard -um- backside“. Bon appetit.

Feeding the French: the great cheesecake challenge.

After so many years here in France, I am proud to have got the hang of most things French. I have learned to accept the sight of my husband drowning his fresh baguette, butter and jam in his coffee every morning, leaving oily pools on the surface and stranded pieces of fruit at the bottom of his coffee bowl. I have learned the great dance I have baptised “the pavement poop trot” to avoid literally putting my foot in it as I walk through the village, and have even successfully learned the basics of French sign language (which uses not only hands, but also eyebrows, eyeballs, head and sometimes arms and fluttering lip movements). I have learned that a car can throw itself out of a tiny street on your right as you drive down a main road because, bizarrely,  he has priority over you (I think this rule was invented to keep insurance companies busy). I eat snails. I know how to revive the remainder of yesterday’s baguette when there’s nothing left for breakfast. Yep, I reckon I’ve done well.

However, I still haven’t managed to successfully master the one cultural bucking bronco I abhor: making dinner for the French. Every time we have guests for dinner, I break out in a cold sweat. So when P.F beamed across the petits fours and Pastis glasses at the huge table of pals a few weeks ago and said “next time, it’s at our place”, my voice dried up and my stomach knotted up as I imagined serving up my burnt culinary offerings to a tableful of people whose gastronomic genes were so much more accomplished than mine.

Their reaction was the classic one I have become accustomed to since I first came to France: “Oh, are you going to boil us some meat and serve it with mint sauce?”, followed by laughter. I have learned not to take this personally: somehow, the old reputation of English food being inedible has stuck to the Brits like spotted dick and custard to last night’s unwashed bowls, and we’ll never shake it off.

P.F laughed, put his glass down and leapt to my defence. My knight in shining armour retorted that English food was brilliant, and that once they had tasted my fabulous cheesecake they would eat their words along with it.

Thanks to PF’s luminous suggestion, I was up at 7.30 on D-Day, ferreting through drawers to find the recipe, and trawling the net to find the French equivalent of cream cheese on Google. One 40km round-trip later I had bought myself a few packets of digestive biscuits at the “exotic foods” shelf of a hypermarket. The juxtaposition of the humble Digestive biscuit with the word “exotic” had me flummoxed; Digestives remind me of my mother, sitting on the carpet with a cup of PG Tips, a biccy and the Sunday TImes whilst the Cornish rain runs down the window pane. Comforting, yes. Homely, yes. But – with all due respect to my mum – hardly exotic.

But I digress. I suspiciously eyed the “Philadelphia” cream cheese package:  it was the closest to real English cream cheese from the cheese counter in Waitrose that I was going to get. I crossed my fingers and launched myself into the recipe, the one supplied by my mum, the one had helped me to conquer the heart of P.F back in my student days…..

Here’s the result (or what’s left of it). It was demolished by my guests, which was the compliment of the century. The rest of the meal went fine too; the words “mountain” and “molehill” came to mind as I saw everyone happily chomping away.

My mum’s lemon cheesecake.

I have included the recipe, just incase anyone got here after desperately typing “equivalent cream cheese in France” like I did. This is the uncooked variety, and not what I believe is the U.S baked version.

Lemon cheesecake.

For one 8″ (20cm)  round tin.

Ingredients.

For the base:

200g crushed plain Digestive biscuits (McVities sablés anglais, original)

110 g butter, melted.

For the cheesy bit:

300 g of Philadelphia cream cheese

115g caster sugar (sucre semoule)

2 eggs, separated.

2 lemons (plus two more if you want to decorate with lemon zest).

300 ml of double cream (crème fluide, I bought’ Elle et Vire” brand, but they’re much of a muchness).

6g gelatine powder (Vahiné brand, you’ll need two sachets of the stuff).

Method:

Crush the biscuits, mix with butter. Refrain from eating, press into the base of a loose-bottomed tin. Put in fridge. (If, like me, your kitchen is not equipped like Nigella Lawson’s, you can use any dish, just line it with baking sheet first so that you can remove the cheesecake afterwards).

Grate the zest from the lemons and squeeze their juice.

Beat the cream cheese and sugar together until it goes soft and is easy to beat.

Add the two egg yolks, beat again.

Softly whip the cream, then fold gently into the cholesterol cream cheese mix.

Add the lemon zest and mix gently.

Put the two sachets of gelatine powder in a small bowl and add 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Stir and leave it alone. Heat the remaining juice in a small saucepan until hot but not boiling, remove from heat. Add the gelatine mixture to this and stir until it has dissolved. Whilst it’s cooling, whisk the egg whites as firmly as you can.

After a few minutes of cooling, add the gelatine mixture to the cream cheese mixture and stir well. Fold in the egg whites.

Spoon heavenly mixture on to the biscuit base, and place in fridge.

Lick out the bowl, feel all that fat, lemon and sugar hitting your happy hormones and wonder why people look for happiness in all the wrong places when it’s right under your nose at the bottom of the bowl.

I left my cheesecake 24 hours to get its act together, then decorated it with lemon zest. Otherwise, clever people can put a blackcurrant coulis on the top, or whatever floats your boat….
Bon appetit!