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How to impress your neighbours in France


Last week I was invited to a neighbour’s house for drinks. I don’t know the neighbour so well, or at least I didn’t before last week…

Recently I was interviewed for a French magazine. It’s a local magazine and as a special edition the November version was published in English and promotes the links between my part of northern France and the UK. I was interviewed in my capacity as an expat in France who commutes to London on a regular basis.

The lady from the magazine asked me if I had any special French friends or neighbours who had helped me particularly. “Yes” I said “there is one who has been really great. This person more than any other has helped me to integrate into the village, gives me advice on keeping chickens and growing veg. Tells me who everyone is and stories about them”.

Then the interviewer asked if there was anyone who has not been nice to me. “Not really, but one neighbour doesn’t talk to me very much and sometimes ignores me”.

Oh said the interviewer, I wonder why?

I told her how my helpful neighbour had told me that the not friendly neighbour has a nickname in the village (nicknames in France). Many people do here, such as “Monsieur Partout” (Mr. Everywhere). In London where I come from nicknames are a sign of affection, mine was mushroom as a child, apparently because I didn’t grow very tall. My uncle Terry was “Cannon Ball” because as a kid he used to headbutt things and people. Anyway, my friendly neighbour told me the unfriendly neighbour’s pet name – and I have used it. I told the interviewer. She gasped in shock and her eyes widened. “Non, non non” she cried “You must never say that word, it is very very rude, very insulting”.

I can’t tell you what it is as it’s so bad, but suffice to say it is not surprising the man does not speak to me and I will have to apologise. My friendly neighbour clearly has an even more unusual sense of humour than I realised and I shall have to watch this. Sometimes he tells me things that are so outrageous that I think he is just pulling my leg and then I find out that these strange stories are quite true. Once he told me that a man in the village had been growing cannabis plants in his garden and some cows had got in and eaten some of the leaves and got high. I didn’t believe that for one second but it turned out he was telling the truth (Cows eat grass).

Anyhow, the interview was published, the bit about the rude word was kept out and the bit about my helpful neighbour was kept in. I asked the interviewer to respect the privacy of my neighbour and not mention names.

Well, it seems quite a few people have seen the interview – the neighbour who invited me for drinks thinks I meant her. Another neighbour thinks I referred to him. Apparently there is much discussion about who is the most helpful Frenchie to the only Brits in the village or Madame Merde as I believe I am affectionately known as since my septic tank erupted into the garden thanks to yet another helpful neighbour…

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