Monday, October 28, 2013

Good neighbourliness

I think many people moving to France expect the French (at the risk of generalising) to be just like the British (ditto) apart from speaking a different language. Regrettably, they are often disappointed, as re-tailed in some the comments in the French property forums.

I commented on a recent case in which a British couple had fallen out with their French beighbours who had become - they thought - 'close friends', and despite their efforst to understand what has gone wrong and put it right, they have found their approaches have been rejected. This is in many ways typical, and I added two experiences of British neighbours of mine who are not here all the time but own holiday apartments.

The first concerned a British second home owner and one or two others living in the same block of apartments which at the time was without a concierge. As a precaution they entrusted a (French) permanent resident with a set of keys in case of emergency in their absence (leaks, storm damage etc). It turned out that during their absence, the key holder had let strangers enter and live in their apartments! When this came to light and she was challenged about this her reply was 'Well you were not there, the apartment was empty, I can't see the problem' !

The second tale also concerns handing over keys to a 'friend' while the British owner was absent. While back home she received an angry letter from the chairman of the residents committee, followed by one from the Gendermerie, both complaining of noisy parties being held in her apartment, to which the Gendarmes had been summoned. Her frist reaction was that it must all be due to some mistake, but on investigation it turned out that the son of the woman holding the spare keys had entered the apartment and was holding parties there.

The interesting part of this sad story is that the 'friend' tried hard to deny all knowledge of this, even though an alert neighbour said she had spotted her carrying in suppplies of drink with her son. It took several fraught meetings between the British owner and her erstwhile friend before the latter admitted that her son had taken the keys - and some money the owner had left in a drawer in case of emergencies (need to call a plumber in her absence etc). She eventually offered a half-hearted apology and refunded the money, but all this has left the British owner questioning the mentality of someone she thought she could trust.

A commentator on the forum noted above suggested that a lot of this is to do with French people's inability to admit they are at fault, thus losing face, and instead try denying everything as their first line of defense. My personal view is that it is the more the result of a general lack of neighbourliness and general respect for rules - from non respect for example of tenants association rules about late night noise or undertaking DIY jobs at the weekend, right through to minor traffic violations - speed, ignoring no-turning signs, parking signs, and so on.  , and one must add, widespread tax evasion.

On French TV there are numerous programmes about neighbourly disputes and long standing family feuds, which are symptomatic of this non-caring for others attitude.  I suppose we have to accept this as a cultural difference and as I said at the outset, try not to generalise. But if as a British arrival in France you find yourself puzzled by your neighbours' attitude or behaviour, you can perhaps console yourself that you are not alone. Before I moved to France, I lived in a large apartment block in central London, where I did not meet the occupants of the flat opposite mine for ten years.....As for who lived above and below or at the end of the corridor, they could have been Martians. Living in France can prove to be much the same.