It’s the little things.
It was early evening when we arrived for our very first holiday at our house in Castelnaudary, having driven all the way from London. We had unloaded the luggage and my husband was just trying to park the car in the street, when a man from a neighbouring house ran out. Coming from a part of the world where people put bollards and chairs outside houses to protect “their” parking spaces, I immediately assumed we were about to take his. My heart sank at the thought that we had just broken the record for upsetting the locals in the shortest time possible.
Our neighbour had come out to say that he was about to leave for work in his car so, if we waited a few minutes, a bigger space would be free.
That same holiday we were having lunch in a local restaurant for the first time. It is only a small restaurant but very popular because of its reasonable prices. We ordered cassoulet and as John, my husband, wasn’t bothered about the wine, I asked for a bottle of white. The waiter said simply “You can’t possibly drink white with cassoulet, I’ll bring you a bottle of red”. He came back with a bottle of Corbières.
At a later date we treated ourselves to the menu gourmand at a more expensive restaurant. This menu involves the chef selecting the dishes you are to eat. he waitress asked how we liked our steaks and I said well done for me, please. She shook her head and told me that was impossible, the most the chef would do was medium rare.
But hello? I’m the customer paying for these meals. If I want to drink pink gin with cassoulet and eat steak that resembles charcoal, isn’t that my choice? Obviously not in the Aude, where it is more important to treat food and wine properly than to try and keep some misguided Englishwoman happy just because she is paying.
Corbières is now one of my favourite wines and the medium rare steak was beautifully cooked and very tasty.
When we opened an account at the local branch of a major French bank, we were seen by a very charming bank officer. On finishing the formalities she told me that I would receive a debit card but my husband would not get one until his French had improved.
I couldn’t stop laughing as I wondered what policy in the staff handbook covered her decision. It must be something like: “Foreign customers of the bank will not be allowed to access their own money using a debit card until they can demonstrate the required level of proficiency in French”.
John’s French is coming along nicely.
The inhabitants of the Languedoc have a reputation for being robust and determined individuals. The people we have met in the Aude have been welcoming, generous and helpful and they definitely know their own minds when it comes to those little things in daily life.