It is said that French people are the most hypochondriac of all Europeans. Locally I often see individuals, not necessarily old people, staggering from the pharmacy with at least two plastic bags of medicines. Some say this is due to the over-rich French diet (all that foie gras), the habit of sitting down to three course meals of two hours both at lunch and dinner – breakfast usually just a bowl of coffee and a croissant; also to universal French pessimism.
My take on this is quite different. I reckon it is to do with the inability of rural people to use the telephone, particularly their total inability to return calls.
This was understandable when telephones were scarce. We asked the previous owner of La Chaise to 'leave the telephone' way back in the beginning of the Eighties. We meant the number. He understood the physical instrument. So he transferred the line with number to his new house but left us one of those two tone green phones. It took us two years to get a line and number of our own to go with it.
The advent of mobile phones has made life slightly easier, one can at least leave messages, sometimes the owner even picks up. (Forget text messages.) Mobile coverage is now pretty good in the Dordogne. But the best way being sure that the phone will be answered, mobile or fixed, is to call at meal-times, see above about two hour meal breaks. Between twelve and two is good, as is after the eight o clock evening news – but no later than nine in the evening. 'Les artisans se couchent avec les poules' explained one professional, a colloquial phrase that can be misinterpreted. Naturally meal time calls lead to disturbed digestion for both caller and receiver – and crossness for cook. No more soufflés or other dishes that require precision timing.
The lack of telephone savvy makes managing artisans particularly difficult. This coming week I have to chase the sheep-shearer, persuade him to decide on a date to come and clip my sheep. Already I have left two messages to no avail. I shall have to try a little blackmail, tell him I am being pursued by my butcher who wants some elderly ewes for merguez (true). The abbatoir does not like to receive them covered in wool, the employees' job is quite difficult enough (true). Also that Jérémie, with his tractopelle (mini JCB digger), is nagging to come and clean the sheep shed (untrue). Then I will have to remind my butcher of his need for elderly sheep meat and remind Jérémie that he is supposed to come before mid June. Sheep shed cleaning is not something that should be done when tourists are around. And if the shearer cannot or will not come, I shall have to find another one. They don't grow on every tree. And then some where to dispose of the fleeces, probably for free. A country-woman's life is not an easy one.