Flophouse in Lockdown

The invisible enemy.  Yes, I have a passing familiarity with this one.  It has come for me twice in the form of cancer and Horton’s disease.

Coronavirus, however, is different; we are all now subjects of the Empire of the Sick.

A pandemic is a game changer for everybody.  In France we have been under lockdown, aka “shelter in place,” aka confinement for the past couple of days.  This has been horrendous for so many because the logic of disease containment now takes precedence over individual liberty.  Whatever the individual circumstances, the fact that one can no longer simply walk down the street whenever one wishes is a psychological blow to any member of a free society.

But it is necessary.  The new subjects of the Empire of the Sick must live for now under new rules.  To have the best chance of coming out of this healed and whole, we must respect them.

That is the lesson I have learned and learned again prior to this pandemic.  The doctors and other medical professionals are not talking to hear themselves talk. Nor are they bit actors in some national (or international) conspiracy to do you wrong.  They are on your side and they want you to live.

So if they say, “six months of chemo” then you damn well do it.  Think of “30 days of confinement” as the equivalent – a prescribed course of treatment necessary to saving your life and that of all the people around you.

However, some freedom remains in the Empire of the Sick. For example, the freedom to go above and beyond what the doctors have prescribed.  Right now the terms of our confinement allow for jogging and shopping which includes the daily walk to the bakery for bread.  How many of these trips are truly necessary? Is having a fresh baguette really more important than the risk of exposure? Yes, dogs must be walked and food must be procured but, for crying out loud, we can choose to keep those forays to a minimum.

Another important freedom is the right to control the amount of incoming information. When I was diagnosed with cancer my first impulse was to go read everything I could find on the Internet.  Terrible, terrible idea. Between the mortality statistics and the folks telling me that kale would cure my cancer if I just had enough faith and a positive attitude, all I had to show for my time was confusion and depression.  So I chose to stop listening to everyone and focused instead like a laser on my oncologist and the team at the clinic.

Limiting the input saved my sanity then and now.  A few trusted news sources, the French government, and the public health authorities in France and the US (Dr. Fauci!) are all that is getting through the filter right now.

And finally the “one day at a time” principle is applied, well, daily here at the Flophouse.

In the Empire of the Sick dwelling on what may be tomorrow, next month or next year leads to useless anxiety and a squandering of the now. We do not know what will happen in the near future and what the world will look like when we come out of this. But we do know that today we are (pick one or insert your own) warm, fed, well, not alone….

There are books to read, movies to watch, gardens to tend, and quilts to mend.  We have chickens, children, and cats to care for.  There are neighbors and people living far from us that we can check up on.  At 8 PM every evening here in France we can stand out on our balconies, at our windows or in our gardens and show our support by clapping for the doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who are putting themselves in danger on our behalf.

Stay safe, everyone, and God bless.

Zéro déchet in Versailles

Versailles.  Known to most folks outside of France as the bit of earth upon which stands that gaudy monstrosity of a castle.  However within France it’s also known for being a very conservative community.  Churches and convents abound.  There are two that offer Mass in Latin.  The resident citizens tend to vote on the Right side of the political spectrum.

So should you park your progressive politics and take off your Birkenstocks before entering?

Not at all.  Versailles is a good example of how political labels are deceptive.  This is hands down the greenest city I’ve ever lived in, and that includes my hometown of Seattle.   The public servants in Versailles have done an amazing job of making it so.

There is a municipal recycling program, of course, with weekly home pickup.  And a municipal composting program with home pickup of garden waste that returns to the residents in the form of  free compost.  There is yet another city sponsored program to put backyard chickens in the yards of homeowners.  At ten euros for two healthy, vaccinated gallus gallus domesticus, any resident can afford them.

In the parks, gardens, and green spaces you can see the results of a rethinking by the city gardeners.  There are more drought resistant plants, more mulch, and more trees.  The grass in the green spaces is mowed less often and some areas are left alone to form small meadows.  In the Domaine de Madame Elizabeth (sister to Louis XVI) a flock of sheep trim the grass.

A month or so ago I watched workers tear off the concrete on a traffic divider on one of our busiest streets in order to plant a very pretty, low-growing ground cover.  Last week I visited a relatively new park and shopping area called the Cour des Senteurs which has lovely gardens and a communal compost area for the nearby apartment dwellers.

What is the next frontier?   According to a recent mailing from the city, we now aspire to become a Territoire Zéro Déchet Zéro Gaspillage, known in anglophone world as “zero waste.”  You can download their handy guide here.

This initiative tackles the issue of waste, especially food waste.  It builds on existing programs like recycling, compost, and chickens, but takes it a step further with ecogestes to conserve water, reduce pollution, and minimize purchases and packaging.

Will people actually do any of these things?  Yes, they will for a number of reasons.  Zero waste is the perfect marriage between old and new ways of thinking – between old ideas about frugality and modern ones about “going green.”

Again, political labels are useless here.  Aside from any of the benefits to the environment, just the idea of saving a few bucks is very appealing even for the relatively affluent conservative voter.  I saw this with my grandmother in Seattle many years ago. Grandma became an avid recycler because she was able to trade in her big garbage bin for a smaller one that had lower pickup fees.

Zero waste also values an mentality still possessed by older residents who remember times of relative deprivation.  For someone who has vivid memories of World War II like my mother-in-law, all of this is very familiar and it’s stuff that she has always done:  reuse plastic bags, freeze leftover baguettes, save leftovers for the next meal, and so on.

So, if you want time-honored tips for going zero waste,  talk to your grandparents or anyone you know from that generation.  The act of asking your elders for advice is one of the best, concrete expressions of “family values” that I can think of.  And doing it is not likely to start a fight at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table.

If you are interested in knowing more about zero waste in France, there is a podcast I enjoy called Mouvements Zéro which is in French.  For you anglophones, give  Practical(ly) Zero Waste a listen.

In Your Country

As my health improves so does my sense of humor.  This is a good thing in so many ways but it served me particularly well recently when I went to fill a prescription at my local pharmacy.

The ladies at the local apothecary and I are in a long term relationship.  They have seen me through cancer, heart problems, and now an autoimmune disorder. Unlike some other healthcare providers here, they have never made mention of my being a foreigner.

Until last week.

Here’s what happened and it’s a howler.

I left my house in mid-morning, walked down to the commercial heart of the neighborhood, walked in to the pharmacy, and walked up to the counter.  One of the lovely ladies was right there – the usual efficient and friendly service.  After the Bonjours the pharmacist took the script and went to the back to fill it.

When she came back with my medicine she told me that I should consider getting a month’s worth next time.  There seems to be a production problem, she said, and the medicine is not always available right now in the quantities I need.

And then for some reason she said three little words that caused my body to stiffen up and my mind to prepare for the psychological slam:  In your country

Apparently in your country, Madame, drugs are always available, and there are never shortages at the local pharmacies. This is a result of the pharmaceutical companies in your country charging ridiculous amounts of money for basic medicine…  And so on and so forth.  She was on a roll and nothing short of rudeness on my part was going to stop her.

It was quite an education for me.  All of the things she said about the US might be true, but I wouldn’t know.  Any deep personal experience of healthcare in my country is decades out of date.  Something that she and the other pharmacists are aware of because I have been filling prescriptions in their shop for over 10 years now.

In fact, the last time I dealt with the American healthcare system was a few years back when I was visiting family in Seattle and had to go to the emergency room. I was basically a medical tourist. The hospital filled the prescriptions.

As I said it is a testament to the fine care I’m getting that my sense of humor is returning along with my health.  Because this was just too damn funny for words.  For some inexplicable reason my French pharmacist decided that day to inform me about the price and availability of pharmaceuticals in my country of origin.  Worthy of a chuckle or two, but not worth resenting and risking our relationship.

There is one more element to add here and I do so because the irony is delicious.  The pharmacist is herself a product of immigration.  Her accent says first generation and her appearance says that her roots are in East Asia.  In other words, she has her own country of origin that is not France.

So I have to wonder what would have happened if I had simply asked her the question, “So tell me, Madame, how does it work in your country?”

 

Hierarchy and Dominance Challenges

I just finished a very good book which I recommend to you.  It’s called Meditations on Violence by Sgt. Rory Miller, an American law enforcement officer.  A popular book with high on-line ratings, you can read the many positive comments about it from French and American readers on Amazon.  The bonus is that you can read it for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

Miller’s purpose in writing this book is to bridge the gap between reality and fantasy when it comes to violence and self-defense. If you practice a martial art, you’ll find his comments on their usefulness for self-defense very interesting.  If, like me, you are interested in human behavior such as migration, you will find his remarks illuminating.  Some of what he says, it seems to me, is useful in better understanding the migrant/expat experience.

Hierarchy and dominance challenges are two words we do not usually associate in our minds with our lives abroad.  And yet, in moving from one country to another we are taking ourselves out of one social hierarchy and trying to insert ourselves into another with the goal of being accepted. In other words, we’ve changed packs.

Human are animals with very real animal needs plugged in to a living, primal animal world,” Miller says.  If we forget this and treat our migration experience as just another self-driven intellectual exercise, we miss not only an opportunity to understand our experience but we ignore our intuition, the signals our animal self is sending us.  Signals that can tell us that we are in a safe place or, more importantly, that we are in danger and need to take measures to protect ourselves.

The very act of identifying these feelings can make us very uncomfortable.  We think of ourselves as open, tolerant, cosmopolitan people.  Surely a “good migrant” has nothing to fear and if we just spur ourselves to ever more heroic efforts at integration, we will be rewarded, or, in other words, we will be safe. More and more I’ve come to view it is as our trying desperately to feel safe in a strange, new world and not so much about our being virtuous people who want to make the natives feel better about our kind of migrant.

For let us make no mistake about it, our new world has an existing hierarchy and unless we are very special and famous, we as migrants are not high in the ranks.  Let me give you the most obvious example.  Citizens whose families have been in the territory for generations are at the top, second or third-generation citizens are one level down, and new citizens are yet another level down. That’s three ranks above you when you arrive and the only level you can ever aspire to as a migrant is the third one – the one where citizenship is the most tenuous because it is the one that can be most easily taken away.

Citizens are the aristocrats of the nation-state. Not only do they have more rights than non-citizens, the social hierarchy places some citizens above others based on things no one can do anything about like where you or your parents were born.

Now I am not arguing that we should all be paranoid about this but I would suggest that we accept that this inequality exists for all migrants and can punch us in the face when we least expect it.   A good example of this is a story I was very recently by a French friend who has an American friend who just married a French.  This person has not received a residency card yet because the authorities are investigating whether or not this is a mariage blanc (fake marriage).  Somehow it did not surprise me to learn that the French citizen this American married is himself a naturalized French citizen and is not of European origin.

Welcome to the real world consequences of inequality.

Hierarchy is the structure within which human beings as animals+++ seek status and fight each other for a better place in the ranks.  One way of looking at migrant integration is to think of it as a series of dominance challenges on the part of the natives in defense of territory/identity (Miller thinks that the two are essentially the same), a reinforcement of their own place as being above yours, and a pressure on the migrant to acknowledge the hierarchy and submit.

When I look at integration though this lens, I see a lot of things I’ve missed.  These challenges happen all the time.  It can be something as silly as ridiculing someone’s accent or a stubborn refusal to acknowledge the foreign-born as a fellow citizen.  It’s any situation where the native uses his position in the hierarchy and his self-appointed role as representative of the local culture to put you in your place. And it works.  Time and time again, it works.  It is really something to see a mature, independent adult lower his or her eyes and mumble an apology for a foreign accent.  Confrontation, in my experience, is extremely rare.  Evasion and submission are the norm.

Because while dominance challenges in the human or animal world are, Miller says, usually “non-lethal”  that doesn’t mean they don’t do harm or can’t escalate into something dangerous.  People make mistakes.  They can be unpredictable.  Within a culture people misunderstand each other all the time with tragic consequences.  When cultures collide, it’s even worse.

Someone who is heavily invested (often unconsciously) in his or her social rank based  on “I was born here” and “I’m a citizen,” and who truly believes that these things make him a superior human being, and who expects deference from those he perceives as lower-ranking because of their foreignness is someone any migrant should be very wary of.  Even if that person is a friend, because the day you decide not to submit or let something go might be the day that friendship ends.

None of the above should be taken as an argument not to integrate.  There is some measure of safety that you can achieve though learning the language and knowing the culture.  There is joy, too, in these things and a feeling of accomplishment.

What I am suggesting is that we as migrants cultivate our “situational awareness.”  Be a little more conscious of the hierarchy in your adopted country and your place in it as a migrant/expat.  Beware, this is almost always a blow to the ego.  But I wouldn’t dwell on it too much.  The human world is rife with inequality and neither you nor I is named “Gates” or “Macron.”

That’s the easy part.  The harder one is how to deal with dominance challenges.  As a general principle I don’t think it’s right to treat anyone as “less than.”  But it happens all the time.  Being foreign just means that you’re set up for the easy shot, and on the native side anyone in the top three citizenship ranks can make that move and get a quick “hierarchy fix.”

And then what do you do?  Be a good girl and submit?  Push back and escalate the conflict?  If possible, I would go for “evade” but I’m not sure what that would look like.

So if anyone has any ideas for how to gracefully extract oneself from a native versus foreigner dominance challenge without submitting or confronting, I would love to hear it.  Miller’s first rule for avoiding conflict in any form is “not to be there in the first place” and I just don’t see how that would work in this context.

Let’s You and Him Fight

It’s late in the day and I’m tired.  Normally, at this hour I have two goals: dinner and sleep.  I will be thrilled if the cortisone allows me to sleep a solid five hours.

But all day long I’ve been thinking about something that was brought to my attention:  an interesting graphic that is circulating on social media.   It has the logos of the main Americans’ abroad organizations (ACA, AARO, FAWCO, Dems Abroad) and two text boxes.

Reading from the top the first text box calls these organizations “silent” and “disconnected,” and says this is “unacceptable.”

The author tells us more in a second text box further down and to the left.  It  cites “continued attacks on Americans abroad” and claims that Elizabeth Warren wants to “strengthen FATCA in her ‘Medicare for all’ proposal…”   And where, the author asks, are the voice(s) of the main American migrant/expat organizations in all this?

My initial reaction was a giggle.  Not a great example of effective political communication.  I actually know what all those actors and acronyms mean and I still had to puzzle out what the author was getting at.  For a moment there I wondered if the Russians had written it.

Yes, my skepticism about stuff on social media is at an all time high because manipulative monkeys with keyboards abound.  And that is where it finally clicked for me – why it was on my mind.  The graphic and text made me feel like a not very nice someone was trying to play games with my head.  A someone trying to get me angry and then clumsily trying to direct my fire against their targets to his/her own ends.  A version of “Let’s you and Him Fight” (but without the romance.)

Now that I have that off my mind, I am shaking the whole thing off and moving on.  This past year has reminded me that life is short.  I will, health willing and at my convenience, check out the Warren allegation and I will make up my own mind as to whether or not this is something I should be concerned about.  And while I will happily read any statement put out by any advocacy organization, I don’t need them to tell me how to think or who to be pissed at.  In all the years I’ve been associated with them, they have never tried to do that with me.  Strong point in their favor.

Back to the evening’s regular programming.  Tacos for dinner and I made the shells myself.

The Death of Local Commerce?

I walk my neighborhood at least six days a week.  Easiest way I know to stay fit, and probably the most pleasant.  Porchefontaine is lovely and there is always something to see and people to talk with.  A great antidote both for what ails me and for the social isolation that comes from being chronically ill and best friends with my couch.

Once upon a time this area was farms and wasn’t part of Versailles at all.  The developers came many years ago and since then it’s been a slum and later a modest working-class area with small houses like mine, but usually with two stories and not just one. Small footprints, big gardens.  City services like the sewer system didn’t arrive until 1928.  More recently, the city is finally getting around to burying the overhead power lines that you used to see on every street.

Gentrification has certainly has been a part of the life of the neighborhood in more recent years.  But it is happening slowly, I think because while the house are nice, they are not that nice.  Walk toward the castle and you will start to see some beautiful homes with named architects in what are, frankly, better neighborhoods.

Picking three words to describe this quartier I would pick “charming,” “modest,” and “practical.”  The last because of the best features of this area is a kind of village center – a couple of streets with small businesses.  I think this is what the British call a “high street.” I rarely go into the center of Versailles because so much of what I need is just a short walk away.

There are signs, however, that all is not well in the little world of Porchefontaine commerce.  The only presse (newspapers, magazines, office supplies) which has been around for many years closed  a few months ago.  The last butcher and florist are gone, gone, gone.  Newer businesses like the nail shop, a fast food restaurant, and the fancy cookie store also closed.  Yesterday, I talked to the local esthéticienne and she is retiring early next year.

That is a lot to lose in a very short period of time and residents are concerned about it.  As for the business owners, feels like mild panic to me.  They are organizing.

Do an internet search and you’ll easily find communities all over the world watching the slow death of local commerce.  Some blame the Internet which is surely part of it.  The other day during my morning walk I watched a truck pull up on a small street.  The driver got out and I saw him haul out a big pile of Amazon packages which he then distributed to different houses.  Yes, people here have Prime.

But the Internet can’t be all of the story.  Yes, we can wring our hands and moan about larger forces but the local and particular matter, too.  There are goods and services for which the rise of e-business is irrelevant. Let’s look past what was lost and consider what remains and is working just fine.  We have three bakeries, three food stores (one bio), three hair dressers, three bar/tabacs, two dry cleaners, two pharmacies, several restaurants, doctors’ and nurses’ offices here and there, and miscellaneous things like a home security business that sells alarms and shutters.  There is a farmer’s market twice a week.

What do they all have in common?  For one, with a couple of exceptions, they offer services or special products.  Amazon can’t cut my hair, dry clean my clothes or serve me a coffee.  If I buy a baguette from my favorite bakery in the morning, it’s fresh and still warm from the oven and goes perfectly with a couple of fresh eggs provided by my chickens. I don’t see how any e-entrepreneur can top that for quality, convenience, or price.  Furthermore, I don’t buy the cheapest baguette but what I do buy costs only 1.35 euros (USD 1.50). And when I am cooking for one, the bakers are happy to sell me half:  a demi-baguette.  Good bread for less than a dollar a day.

Service or what you can call the “customer experience” matters now more than ever.  Now, I know that France doesn’t have the best reputation in this regard. But it has always been the strength of the local and that’s just as true in France as it is elsewhere.  I certainly have no cause for complaint in my little corner of the Hexagon.

All the businesses I frequent have owners who know my face, and most know my name.  The owner of the bio store knows that I like a particular kind of little apple, and he took the time the other day to pick out the nicest, freshest ones for me.  I only bought three of them.  But he knows I will be back.  We always chat and it’s not just him.  In the local stores that receive my custom there are pleasant conversations and a sense that I am recognized as a human being and not just another random stranger with a debit card.

Lastly, what I think the successful businesses here have in common is what you could call “curb appeal.”  The windows are always washed, the entry and floors are clean, and there are attractive displays in the windows that change with the seasons. When possible some businesses spill over into the sidewalk with a nice presentation of fruits and vegetables for example.  You are rewarded for going inside with the smell of fresh bread, spices, fruit…  These are the businesses that make the entire street sparkle and shine.  This is why my morning walk almost always includes a stroll down the main street.

My take on it is that some of the businesses that closed were lacking in one or more of the above.  The services and services they offered just didn’t appeal to the folks here or there wasn’t enough business to support, say, three (instead of two) places that do nails. There was one place which I will not name where I picked up things from time to time but I hated going in there.  It was dirty, smelled bad, and it was so disorganized that it was painful to peruse the shelves.  Not worth it and, yep, everything they stocked could be had much cheaper on Amazon.

My perspective is that of a customer and a local resident.  Surely, there is more to it that I don’t see and I hope those of you who are business owners will forgive my ignorance.  I have no idea what the average rent for commercial spaces in the area is. I also have no idea what they pay in local and national taxes or the regulations they operate under.  I do appreciate that it’s hard to start a business here, hard to keep it going, and so easy to fail.   My greatest fear is not that local businesses are closing.  I worry more that people will give up and stop opening them.  Empty commercial spaces with fewer shoppers because “il n’y a plus rien.”  That would be the true death of the local.

I don’t want that to happen and I am assuming that the other residents of the neighborhood feel the same way.  That may not be true.  One person at church I spoke to claimed that part of the problem was the Catholic familles nombreuses who, for reasons of economy and in spite of having at least one parent at home, buy primarily in bulk on-line or at one of the major hypermarket chains. A quick look at the population stats for Versailles reveals that most people here work and many commute into Paris every day.  For them, Porchefontaine is a “bedroom community” like any other suburb. Five days out of seven, they are somewhere else and most only return late in the evening when the stores are closed.

So it feels like there is some combination of social, economic, demographic, technology forces behind all this.  A suivre and if you feel inspired I’d be very interested in hearing about the state of local commerce in your neighborhood and what, if anything, is being done if it is suffering.

Hell is Other People

One of the principles upon which this blog is based is No Fu$@ing Fairy Tales.  Life in my adopted country is not perfect.  It’s a balance of good and not so good.  The grass is not necessarily greener on the other side of the Atlantic.

Being a migrant is a factor in how life here is experienced by me, as well as a factor in how people interact with me.  Sometimes that’s great.  Sometimes it sucks. It can certainly make a bad situation even worse.

So let me tell you a little more about my summer.  Because the health problems were just one thing out of several that made 2019 my annus horribilis.

Backyard chickens.  It’s become a bobo thing.  So chic.  So “green.”  And there is an entire city program in Versailles designed to promote it.  The mayor’s office offers two chickens for ten euros to any resident  with a garden.  Over the last few years they have distributed nearly a thousand gallus gallus domesticus in neighborhoods all over the city.

We signed up.  Our house may be small but our garden has space to spare. We welcomed the first ones and before long we were doing “chicken math” and we added another.  For two years now I am blessed to have fresh eggs every day and my flock has become my partner in the garden. They turn the soil, spread the mulch, eat slugs, snails and leftovers, and send out the alarm if something unusual crosses the property line.  In short, they work for a living.

But in one respect that first year with chickens, we blew it.  We introduced animals into an existing urban ecology (albeit one surrounded by green spaces) without understanding how they would fit in with the animals that already occupied the neighborhood.  One in particular:  rats.

That’s where the problem with one of our neighbors began.  They saw them in our yard near the coop and went ballistic.  Nothing like having your neighbor yelling at you on the sidewalk in rapid-fire French.  There were threats to call the authorities and I was informed that they were filming my yard.  What made it worse, I think, was my reaction which was to channel my inner American.

It’s not always true but I find it is generally the case that when confronted with an angry French, going “anglo-saxon” on them (calm and cold which can be perceived as argumentative and condescending) takes the temperature up rather than down.   Since that day they have not spoken to me. As I was not overly fond of them anyway, this has been fine with me but it did have repercussions.

The Versailles city office helped us.  They sent us to a local business that provided us with traps and poison and they gave us a few simple principles for chicken owners to foil pests:  keep the coop clean, no food in the coop, and no feed lying out overnight anywhere. We invested in a closed feeder and put it next to the house where we could keep an eye on it.

And all was calm after that until late this summer when it all went to hell again.  The rats were back but interestingly enough not in my backyard.  No, these rats decided to set up house in the yard of the very neighbors who had complained the previous year. How did I find this out?  The mayor’s office called, said there was a complaint and asked to visit.  I said, “Come on over!” and within the hour she was being given the tour of my yard and took pictures.  Her conclusion?  All good.  Coop was clean, garden was clean, traps with poison were properly placed, and the chicken food was in the rat-proof feeder.

Exoneration?  Of a sort.  We were square with the city but turns out we had a bigger problem.  Unbeknownst to us the neighbors had written a letter which was sent to the city, local politicians, and several local magazines and was circulated in person to the entire neighborhood.  A neighbor gave me a copy and it was brutal.  Really ugly stuff.

At that point I started to be afraid.  I felt as though I was under constant surveillance and being sick didn’t make it easier to cope.  Reactions to the letter came to me indirectly.  No one seemed to want to discuss it with me.  Where I grew up in in the US, people are pretty direct about such things.   If your neighbors have a problem with you, you know it from them, up close and personal.  And if they don’t get satisfaction, you find yourself playing defense at a neighborhood meeting.

In my neighborhood in France comments were always passed through another neighbor.  I got complaints that it wasn’t the chickens but my little pond that attracted the rats.  One pro-chicken neighbor went to the other side because the controversy was wearing him down.  The worst was one neighbor who passed on that his wife was pregnant and he thought she would miscarry because of the rats.

The whole business started with a bang and ended with a whimper.  It was a very hot summer here and the letter-writing neighbors got around to cleaning up their yard and the piles of rotting apples that were lying on the ground all August.  The owner of an apartment a couple doors down closed up a big hole coming out of a sewer on their property.  And the city did their fall de-ratting of the city sewers.  Impossible to know what did the trick but the rats were gone.

The damage, however, will linger.  Over many years France has changed me in a lot of ways and some are pertinent to this situation.  For example, how to apply “Il faut pas se faire avoir.”  Stand up for yourself, sweetheart.  So I found a way to cut off the commentary.  I simply said to those who tried to pass on info, “I haven’t met this person.  In fact, they have never even said bonjour to me.  Until they have the courage to talk to me directly, I am not taking any of their comments seriously. ”   The resulting silence says it all.

However, I did, in a conversation with one neighborhood gossip, let it be known that the ugly letter from the neighbor was now in the hands of a lawyer.  That was all I needed to say.  No one wants to get anywhere close to a potential legal battle that will have the lawyers and the authorities poking their noses into places the residents would rather they stay out of.

One neighbor did push back telling me, “That’s not how we do things in France.”  Are you kidding?  That is 100%  merde.  The French do sue and issues with neighbors end up in court all the time.  Maurice the Rooster is a good example.  Nice try, neighbor, but I didn’t get off the boat yesterday.

In October I planted trees for privacy.  Many trees. All meticulously placed at the precise property line limit required by the city. And I now have a contract with the pest company who will come by every few months and do a constat that my yard is fine. I got push back for the latter from one person who argued vehemently that this was a terrible idea. What was I thinking?  I clearly wasn’t considering the good of the neighborhood as a whole, he said, but only of my yard.

Yep, I thought, that is exactly right.  Took me decades in France but I think I can safely say that I have the same level of l’égoïsme as my native French neighbors.

Three cheers for integration!