Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Vive La France! or The Joy of Having a Dishwasher

Apologies for those who've come seeking news on the ups and downs of life in northern Spain. This post is dedicated to a recent trip I took with R (the boyfriend) to France. Ostensibly it was to pick up a ton of goodies my mum had left me there, but, given the 900 km (one way) drive, we turned it into a week's holiday - "Any excuse!" I hear you say, and yes, you are right.

But what the hell, R was in desperate need to escape from work for a while, and I decided that after the last four or five hectic, and increasingly stressful years at the academia I did indeed deserve to lengthen my summer holiday that little bit more before getting serious about the studies. So off to France we went.

Now, I'm not going to regale you with tales of what a fabulous holiday we had, oh no. But what I would like to do is a sort of comparison between my experiences in Spain and our week in France. R, by the way is Spanish, just so you know where his comments are coming from, culturally speaking.

Basically, France is great, as you may have guessed from the title of this piece. The cost of living in Spain having gone up recently (well, it's been constantly and noticeably going up for a long time  - my latest electricity bill included a re-billing for the last quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of this year, the government having decided that we really hadn't been paying enough) we discovered that France was not the extortionate hell-hole we had been expecting and that prices were, in fact, quite reasonable. What's more, some things were even cheaper, including petrol - this despite the fact that French fuel prices include road tax - and many supermarket basics, like natural yoghurts (a staple for R).

Also, R was extremely surprised at how pleasant everybody was. He was amazed by the smiling cashiers in the supermarkets (of which we visited plenty), the friendly and professional waiters and the nice optician who fixed my glasses for me for free.

Posing on"Kitten" Street, if you read Gatines in Asturian - I have reputation to maintain after all.

On top of this, we had a couple of excellent nights out at the neighbours' (French and English) and he thought everyone was brilliant. The village we were in (La Jonchère, in La Vendée) he declared a tranquil haven, adding that, were it to be in Spain, there'd be dogs running around the streets barking and neighbours shouting commentaries across the village at each other.

The only thing R decided wasn't as good as Spain, or better, was the wine, which was fair enough I thought.

As for me, I decided the drivers were much better behaved. In fact, I caught myself going round a roundabout the 'Spanish' way i.e. staying in the outside lane even though I was taking the last exit, and blocking off the poor French person on the inside who'd been doing it correctly - so accustomed am I to the bad roundabout drivers here, it seems, to my horror and shame, that I have become one.

However, the pièce de la resistance of the holiday was the dishwasher. Honestly. I've been washing-up by hand for the last eight years at least, more really if you add all those years spent as a student before coming here to Asturias, and now I had my very own dishwasher. What bliss! Needless to say I took full advantage before coming back home to my sink and Marigolds.

What I will add, is that a week is never going to be enough to see the downside of things wherever you go. The day before we left, we were served in the supermarket by a cashier who paused for a lengthy chat with some friends, leaving us waiting for her to finish before we could get hold of our shopping. When she did deign to serve us it was with not a word of apology or explanation.  And then on the way home I was overtaken by rather impatient van driver who decided that the speed limit wasn't to his liking and/or that he didn't want to be stuck behind a scruffy, Spanish Skoda. Obviously, things aren't perfect in France, as they aren't anywhere, but, to quote a well-known UK ad: What a refreshing change!

Oh, and one more thing - I had good giggle on the way home at passing St. Pee - well, you have to, don't you?

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