A few days ago my wife nearly got us arrested. Picture the scene of domestic bliss – tired children screaming after school, toys all over the place, my wife chatting away to a French friend in the kitchen trying to make herself heard over the shrieking. Occasionally she intervenes to prevent more serious acts of hair pulling, or eye gouging. The phone rings. The caller sounds like a mumbling French salesman. He asks for me. One of our children whacks the other in the eye. It’s impossible to hear anything. My wife tells the man to call back.
He’s insistent, even a little rude: ‘Madame get your husband now.’
‘He’s not here’
‘Well can you ask him to call me, my number is…’
‘No you please call him back’ she hangs up and removes one child’s finger from the other’s nostril.
Twenty minutes later I’m back home and the phone rings. I’ve been alerted that some salesman wants to talk to me. The ongoing battle between the children has reached a new peak. The phone rings. I pride myself on being ruthless when it comes to French telesales. Usually I barely let the caller get a word out before declaring ‘Non merci’ and slamming down the receiver. This time around as soon as the caller introduces himself my finger hovers on the off button. I barely listen to what he is saying, it’s always the same old guff about renewable energy or a cheaper internet or phone deal, but somewhere in the back of my head a single word is echoing around ‘gendarmerie’
Once I’ve established that I am not being asked by a partner of EDF to install a wind turbine in the bottom of my garden, the caller and I begin to get on much better and I understand that
I’m to report to the police the following morning. I mention all this because our French friend who listened to the whole exchange was dumbfounded, not by our tone of voice, or our dismissive attitude, and not even by the fact that Tanya hung up the phone.
‘If you were French,’ she concluded, ‘he would arrest you. The gendarme, in his own eyes at least, is like a God, and you wouldn’t say Tu to God.’
The next morning fearing the proverbial lightning bolt I arrive at the gendamerie.
‘Voila, vous avez demandez mon permis de conduire,’ I say with excessive emphasis on the second word.
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