August 6: French, paint

View through the guest-room window

Mika from the restaurant used to have his own builder/decorator business, and may have again one day, when he gets his driving license back. Joel is full of admiration for his ability to fix just about anything, so when Mika offered to decorate our new apartment, he barely even quibbled at the quote. Mika only works lunchtime, so he can put in the hours.

He got his girlfriend Marie involved too. I met her for the first time yesterday in our new toilet, she looking rather sultry in the heat, scraping off the revolting old blue Greek-goddess-themed wallpaper. They both address me as “vous” in the formal, polite way. I asked Mika to “tu” me (I “tu” him, in the friendly, informal way), but he said no, he can’t, as he started off vous-ing me. I am the boss’s wife, after all, as well, now, as the micro-employer. This is a totally wierd part of things in France that I don’t like. The only other person I address consistently as “vous” and will never change is my mother-in-law Denise. It used to be embarrassing – something people would note, that we both address each other as “vous”. I “tu” all the rest of Joel’s family. Now, however, as we’ve stuck with it over nearly 30 years, it seems rather solidly old-fashioned, an echo of another time, when a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law recognised and respected each other as the two true loves of a man they both adored, and didn’t feel forced to be giggling, shopping girlfriends. That’s my take on it, anyway.

All of this might make you think I’m in charge of my French. Don’t be fooled.

A colour mishap

What with all this decorating, yesterday I had to pay another visit to Leroy Merlin (which, translated in a French-American dictionary is Home Depot and a French-English one is B&Q). Mika had given me a list of things to seek out and, when all else failed, to ask for. I stuck with the seeking option for as long as possible, but in the end I knew I was going to have to actually ask for stuff. As I had feared, I wasn’t taken seriously. When you say to someone at Home Depot or B&Q, “Excuse me, can you tell me where those white nail-y thingies for holding the phone wires are?” They just reply, Aisle 32, and off you go. When your vocab doesn’t actually include “thingie”, you seem more troublesome. You start to stumble and mumble under the glare of a tired assistant. I phoned Joel at one point to ask him how to translate, quickly and idiomatically: “Don’t treat me like an idiot, honey, or I’ll punch your lights out, ok?” I phoned Mika eventually, too, and handed the phone over to the paint-mixing man as if it were a hot potato. He not only had a wierd, unintelligible accent, but a lisp, too. He was eventually very helpful, and, as luck would have it, my bucket of paint exploded in the centrifugal mixer, dripped out, and was subsequently traipsed all over the floor by oblivious customers. Well, it gave me the opportunity to see the paint spread around, and after some doubt, I decided I really do like the colour.

All I can think about it moving into the apartment – it’s very distracting when it comes to novel-editing. Ted knows something is up. Look, he’s already packed his toys and has his set of keys, ready to go.

Ted is prepared for our move

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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