Protesting is a way of life - but it makes you hungry

We do things differently in Britain don’t we?

A PROTEST march interrupting Saturday shopping in the centre of Ipswich is, though not totally unthinkable, a rather rare event.

Here in Toulouse, where I have a apartment with street views (immediate) and ceilings (high), protesting is a way of life.

There’s always someone angry about something and marching in the streets is normal - no one bats an eyelid or shrugs a gallic shrug.

This is a country in which the revolution lives on.

And this weekend dear readers, I found myself, along with my clever friend Maraid - she’s a doctor who knows about Orion’s belt but can’t help with a chest infection - wandering through the city centre when we came across a couple of coppers on motorbikes.

I tend to avoid the French police - they have the reputation of being a little bit trigger happy and they generally look most unfriendly - but I was intrigued to find out what was going on so I edged a little closer.

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I said to Maraid: “Perhaps the President of the Republic has come to welcome me to France?”

“Maybe James, but maybe he’s in Paris with Carla. It’s probably a protest again.”

Mariad, of course, was right. As we turned the corner we were confronted by an angry mob.

Without a moment’s hesitation I took out my camera to capture the moment, the first instinct of any journalist. And without a moment’s hesitation one of the protesters took the camera out of my hand and beckoned me and Maraid to stand next to a protestor. I didn’t hesitate. He didn’t hesitate again and took a picture.

Adorned with a placard and poster Maraid and I found ourselves protesting as token foreigners. It only later emerged, after we translated some of the literature, that the cause we joined was concerned with better rights for disabled people.

So with a police escort, claxons loud, banners high and lots of shouting we made our way to the city’s central square for more shouting and claxons before heading off for some light shopping and a three course lunch.

Being angry makes you so hungry.

* IT’S SUCH a shame about British Airways isn’t it?

I, and others I know here, have been forced to stop using the airline after it proved too unreliable. Not only at Christmas were all our plans put into jeopardy but now there’s little point in booking a ticket with them if they are going to be on strike.

These people will end up striking themselves out of a job if they’re not careful.

* AS SOMEONE said to me recently “Did you come to France for the dental treatment?”

It is true, dear readers, that after six months here in Toulouse I am now on first name terms with my dentist. Due to problems too ghastly to delve into in the pages of a pleasant publication, I have had untold nastiness with a molar which eventually had to be taken out by a somewhat flippant surgeon.

My dentist, Daniele, informed me this week during one of her regular poke abouts that another molar is in a pickle and I am likely to have to go through the same procedure again.

“I’m very sorry,” she said “you had some bad treatment in England, perhaps.”

I’m rather sorry too. Not only will this seriously curb my crisp eating but has left me wondering what other bits of my body the French are going to take away next. At least I’ve finally understood why pureed vegetables are so popular here.

* IT’S NO good pretending I am a fluent French speaker but, dear readers, I am making progress. I can understand far more than when I arrived and I have noticed fewer and fewer incidents where I smile and nod and pretend I know what’s going on.

I still make mistakes.

Last week I asked a French friend if she had a nice time in the mountains, or so I thought.

Thanks to my pronunciation I actually asked if she enjoyed a tuna in the Pyrenees. No wonder she was somewhat confused.

This week I have begun evening classes just to tip my toe into the world of demonstrative pronouns and verb conjugation. I have already taken a test to establish my level and I am officially “fairly strong”. I was rather pleased.

As I said to my French friend Sophie, who’s French but eats Pot Noodles, “I hope they realise I’m English.”

She replied: “One way or another James, they will know you are not French.”

* THE CLOCKS have gone back or forward or whatever they do. Thank goodness. Here in the Haute Garonne the weather is gorgeous, the caf�s are busy, and the pavements have become a lunch venue - it is like Toulouse is coming to life. I’ve even spotted the odd man with a squeezebox adding a little ambiance to the streets.


Dear Readers,

This week a lady called Angela has put finger to keyboard to tell me that I am not alone in finding France both delightful and impossible all at the same time. Indeed, frustration is a hallmark of the French experience and often a topic of conversation amongst the expatriot community of Toulouse. And as for securing the internet - a hurdle I cannot face to jump - three months isn’t unheard of.

If you feel like dropping me a line please feel free to do so at

A Bient�t


Dear James,

I just wanted to say how much we empathised and still enjoy your articles. We felt that we were going through the same things as you at the same time. We purchased a small house in Nice at the same time. It was so reassuring that you also found the bureaucracy frustrating, it was, and still can be, at times, very stressful! For example we have found it impossible to get a phone/internet and sky which means our son will not come and spend time with us (could have its positive side I suppose!)

We cant leave our jobs and move yet but we are glad that you are enjoying the French way of life and we look forward to the same in the near future. Looking forward to your next amusing article.

Kindest regards

Angela and Paul Rayner

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