Consequences: A Collection of Cautionary Tales

For all its wonderful food, literature, climate, landscape and… oh, you get the idea… France has been known to outdo even my flagrant disregard for Consequences, their ludicrous administrative procedures (which I won’t go into here) being the key example. I’m fast approaching the end of my stay, so I’ve spent the last week embroiled in phonecalls to the outrageously underinformed employees of SFR and LCL. In homage to this hellish mire of beauracracy, I’ve rounded up a collection of the anti-logic that’s amused, irritated and enraged me this year, on both my own account and that of this great nation. First, however, I’ll share a couple of cautionary tales from my own past. 

Here’s one from my childhood. I’ve always had phases of insomnia, and my night-time wanderings often used to result in strange bouts of creativity. On the occasion in question, I was about six years old, and had recently got hold of a makeup set, none of which, as far as I can remember, ever made it near my face. In a fit of sleep-deprived madness, I decided that the opportune thing to do would be to draw two large faces on the wall – mascara eyelashes, lipstick mouths, etc. I was so wrapped up in a bubble of creative zeal that only after having pretty much committed to the whole face-on-wall concept did I realise that my parents might not appreciate what, in hindsight, was probably a monstrous and disturbing creation.

At this point, my artistic glee rapidly shifted to shame and blind panic. Despite being just young enough to fairly regularly draw on the walls, I was by this point well aware that it was Not Allowed. For some reason, this burgeoning understanding of consequences led me to cover up the sinister, grinning faces with several layers of masking tape, before drifting into a disturbed sleep, sustained only by the hope that Mum and Dad would somehow not notice the large, masking-tapey ovals on the wall. Needless to say, they did. I dare say their reaction (which, ironically, I don’t remember) was more along the lines of amusement and/or worry than the abject rage I was dreading.

Brief picture interlude of me Susi in front of Van Gogh’s top favourite café in Arles, just in case you were worried I accidentally wrote an essay.

You’d think this might have taught me some life lessons, but story number two demonstrates just how little has changed in the interval. Last year I had a sink in my uni room, allowing me to drink copious amounts of tea. Due to the terrifying effect that excessive caffeine has on me, I mostly drank loose-leaf green tea and thus suffered from the ultimate first world problem of what to do with the soggy dregs. While the sensible response would probably be to get a tea-strainer, I instead elected to clumsily pour the excess liquid down the drain before binning the leaves. Over the term, this led to a sizeable quantity of strays making it down my sink, which became progressively less and less inclined to drain. Rather than change my irresponsible habits, I watched, waited and continued, ignoring the small stab of guilt I felt every time I emptied my mug, right up to the point where I could no longer brush my teeth and had to admit I should probably do something. The ensuing panicky hours of poking about with a straightened coat hanger were decidedly not worth the tiny effort I’d saved myself over the term.

All this to say that I’m not always the paragon of forthought that you undoubtedly all see me as. In light of that, please don’t take the following snipey digs at France too seriously; it’s balanced out by a good deal of wonderfully British self-effacement.

Cause: Take water out of pond

Effect: All the fish will die

The pond in the Parc du Peyrou has been emptied, presumably for cleaning. This is quite an upsetting sight.

Poor little guy

Cause: Try to board tram before people have finished exiting tram

Effect: Fail to board tram and have to wait anyway as the now-irate tram exiters push past the growing crowd in the doorway

I kinda thought the laws of physics would make this one obvious, but apparently they don’t apply in France or something. It makes me irrationally angry that most citizens of Montpellier are unwilling to wait the three extra seconds it would take to let people off, despit it usually actively increasing their boarding time.

Cause: Sneakily eat all of the pecan nuts from the Master Crumble as a snack (yep, that’s really what my cereal is called)

Effect: There are no more pecan nuts in the Master Crumble

You might think this would also be obvious, but it didn’t reduce my disappointment at the lack of pecan nuts in the Master Crumble the other morning.

Cause: Repeatedly allow your dog to sh*t in the street

Effect: Streets are covered in dog sh*t

I used to watch a woman take her (apparently rather ill) dog out for a lovely morning dump in front of the door of our old apartment nearly every day. Despite my increasingly blatant death-glares, she seemed to have no clue that she was directly responsible for the faeces-strewn pavement she was walking disgustedly along. One of the few downsides of the low rainfall here is that it forces you to watch the plentiful turds spread distressingly outwards and downwards, before becoming a nice, easy-to-inhale powder.

Cause: Go to the beach for several hours over midday on a 31°C day

Effect: Become horribly sunburnt and slightly delirious

Bonnie and I tested out a new beach yesterday. It was really pretty and pleasingly sunny, but we may have stayed longer than was wise, resulting in patches of lobster-skin that are currently making my life less than comfortable.

The causeway to the beach
Cool-duding on the beach. This is what it’s called when you look inappropriately nonchanlant while wearing sunglasses (and preferably headphones and a leather jacket)
The ultimate French gesture: the Full Body Shrug. Works better when not on a bike.

Cause: Attach mezzanine-ladder to the wall using screws which apparently serve only a decorative function

Effect: Incredibly perilous ladder that can in no way be said to be attached to the wall

It’s Bonnie’s turn to have the actual bedroom, so I’m now living on the mezzanine in the living room. It’s actually quite pleasant, but is marred by the terrifying lateral motion of the ladder, which is the only means to access the lofty heights of what is now known as “The Eyrie”.

Cause: Close ALL of the things for the school holiday

Effect: NOTHING can happen

This wouldn’t be so immensely frustrating were it not for the facts that
1) The school holidays last a fortnight, and occur approximately a million times a year
2) These particular school holidays were preceded by Easter, so have lasted what feels like several millenia

3) I need to get in touch with various offices (such as the Erasmus department and my volunteering organisations) in order to leave the country, and I can’t.

Cause: Play music at several thousand decibels in every bar in town

Effect: No fun is had by anyone, ever.

I should acknowledge two things about this: firstly, I am slightly exaggerating, and secondly, yes, I’m incredibly middle-aged. But seriously, why play music that’s too loud to talk over in a bar that isn’t for dancing in? I have no problem with clubs (OK, I do, but that’s a separate thing) or concerts, but I’m already absent-minded and a bit deaf, which makes conversation nigh-on impossible in a lot of bars around here. I’m looking forward to a quiet night in my local when I get home!

Cause: Drink slightly more tea than usual

Effect: Panic about predicted shortage of tea and collect far too much thereof from all possible sources

I’ve got through approximately 600 cuppas this year, going by the rate at which the excessive supply my generous friends and family have provided me with has been disappearing. For one heart-stopping moment the other week I thought rationing would be necessary, but fortunately my friend Chris brought some on his visit and there is now, once again, a reassuring surplus of Tetley.
Should the zombie apocalypse occur, I’ll be ready. *Longbow and spade are artistic license but I’m sure we’d work something out on the weapons front if it came to it.

Cause: Anyone (including Rowan) switches on the smoothie machine

Effect: Rowan jumps out of her skin

Yep, our new house has a smoothie machine, which makes a very loud and startling sound that I still haven’t got used to. On the plus side, milkshakes. 


Cause: At no point change your course on the pavement, despite seeing and acknowledging your collision course with another (angry, English) pedestrian

Effect: Exponentially increase English person’s anger.

When this anger reaches breaking point, both participants are forced to engage in a silent standoff with various possible outcomes including an elbow to the ribs, a full-on collision, or an aggressive series of shrugs and/or hand gestures.

Cause: Finally learn French to a satisfactory level

Effect: Forget all of English

I finally feel pretty comfortable speaking and writing in French, although it’s clear by this point that I’ll never be perfect. And that I’ll never get to grips with noun genders. However, I now struggle with basic conversations in English, producing Frenchisms such as “Does that see?” (Ça se voit? = Can you tell?), “‘Ang on” (a French-ized “hang on” rather than the actual French equivalent) and “How does that spell” (Comment ça s’écrit = How do you spell that?) I’ve also come out with some genuine nonsense such as “Boke topples” for “bottle tops.” I fully expect this situation to worsen, given that I’ve just irresponsibly booked myself onto an intensive German course in the summer…
Et voila, c’est fini. If my schedule goes to plan (HAHA) there will be another post next week, before I leave. This is code for “expect a post in around a fortnight, when I’m in England”.
Bonus picture: Here’s a selfie atop of Pic St Loup, the local mountain. It should be noted that I could have got someone else to take it, but apparently I’m still hooked on “ironic” selfies.

One thought on “Consequences: A Collection of Cautionary Tales

  1. Pingback: Anniversary post: Tales from my childhood | Just an anglophone

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