I’m consistently impressed by just how false the stereotype of French rudeness is.
Since arriving in France this week, and especially since arriving in Moulins, I’ve been greeted with genuine kindness and friendliness. Despite my being sweaty (I’m not acclimated yet, and it’s hot), exhausted, jetlagged and out-of-practice at speaking French, people have been patient and considerate. I’ve been “officially” welcomed to Moulins more times than I can count and had dozens of very pleasant interactions, ranging from the ladies at the post office – who patiently explained to me what I need to open a bank account – to the pharmacists with whom I had an animated discussion about why pseudoephedrine is practically banned in Australia due to its value as a precursor for meth-amphetamine. I can say for certain that the stereotype is at best a faulty generalisation, and to me it seems like an outrageous falsehood. That’s my experience, anyway.
By contrast, the stereotype of the evils of French bureaucracy is completely true – and the locals themselves are usually the first to complain about it. Each civil or official document you need to acquire is wrapped up in a web of Catch-22s; to open a bank account, you need a justificatif de domicile – they recommend a phone bill – but to get a phone bill, you need a phone, and to get a fixed line, you need a bank account. There are always alternatives, but you need to shrewdly bargain and cajole until you’ve got just the right sort of documents, then you get to enjoy the supreme pleasure of waiting for something – anything – to happen. All administrative business in France moves at a snail’s pace – and the fear of being eaten doesn’t seem to have sped them up at all.
My last couple of days have been dominated by bureaucratic chores – but it isn’t as bad as it sounds. It’s a good opportunity to practice my French and it also means that I have good reasons to explore the town, seeking out the various agencies I need to deal with. So far, I’ve organised a mobile phone number, made appointments at two different banks, visited the post office, gone to the pharmacy, done a little shopping, bought my discount rail pass, had lunch with some professors from my school and enrolled myself in a course about beekeeping. Phew! I also did all this under cover of violent, flood-causing lightning storms interspersed with periods of 28+ degree sunshine. Weird weather for sure.
All these errands have just about taken me to every corner of Moulins that I can reach on foot. It’s a gorgeous little town and – I think – well worth a visit, even though the locals will tell you that there’s nothing to do here. From here on out, I have many more administrative tasks to do and I should probably do some shopping so that I’m not left contemplating cereal for dinner again. It was only through the kindness of one of my housemates – the only one so far, actually – that I managed to have something other than cornflakes for dinner. I was going to go out, but, well…
To see an album of my (few) photos so far this month, click here. Not interested? To read about the fable of the tortoise and the hare, click here. Personally I hate this story – or at least how it’s interpreted – “slow and steady wins the race” is not at all the moral of this tale; it’s that complacency and arrogance lose the race. Which is a perfectly good moral, and one I think is sensible. But let’s not be naïve – a less arrogant hare would have beat the tortoise a hundred times over. The tortoise stinks at racing. I’m sure he has other strengths, but a racer he is not, and if the hare had been less arrogant, the moral of the story would be more like this.
Anyway, à bientôt!