Do you piddle in public? Mai oui! The French! Need I say more?
I’ve just returned from a short break en famille in the south of France.
It wasn’t long before we started making Meet the Fokkers look like an episode of the Waltons.
I’m not going into details but I will say this ... the French are a nation obsessed with etiquette.
I told you of my previous faux pas in pouring wine at dinner because “in France” the “man pours.”
As predicted, that meant my glass remained half empty while my brother’s remained full.
Don’t even think of saying it with flowers either. Chrysanthemums, I learn, having visited the nearby cemetery to cheer myself up, mean death.
The French love flowers we would consider funereal – and even then you have to ensure an odd, not even, number.
Even a box of chocs inadvertently offends if bought at a supermarket rather than an artisan shop. I’d argue that Freeport’s specialist Thorntons outlet counts as artisan but what of the box I bought, well within date, at Home Bargains?
Then you’ve got all the kissing, which gets a bit tedious for one unaccustomed to French kissing (I wish) outside the UK. Some air kiss, others plonk two, three, four smackers on each cheek, and is it left or right for women first? Turn the other cheek and flee social situations.
Yet for all this emphasis on formality, propriety, you step warily through France for other reasons.
Dog dirt. Owners of tiny snapping fifis which abound in my brother’s Catalan Cleveleys retreat trot out in their dressing gowns with barely a second glance at what’s deposited in their wake.
Even providing free bags at specialist bins makes no difference. Even being passed a bag by a passing old English bag (me) makes no difference. One woman looked positively affronted.
But what really got on my nerves was how many Frenchmen urinate in public places , anywhere, everywhere, even near pissoirs or public toilets in a service area. Frenchmen like al fresco urination. Ask Gerard Depardieu. His in-flight incident made “pipigate” headlines and delayed an aircraft by two hours while the carpet was cleaned.
Prostate problems are the only possible excuse.
The rest won’t even go behind a tree, or ensure some level of proprietry (for passing motorists) by using their vehicle or the car door for cover.
The apparent right to piddle in public carries its own description.
“Urine sauvage.” This is not a perfume, although I did buy a bottle of Lancome’s “Oui” this week – and that never translates well in English. Urine sauvage literally means wild urine – and it makes me furious.
I once played hell with a chap who urinated against the church wall at St Chad’s in Poulton – within sight of school kids waiting for a bus and two passing police officers heading back to the cop shop.
But it’s far harder to avoid the Pee Wee Pipis in France.
In Paris, specialist workers disinfect the walls and sidewalks monthly to minimise the stench. Vigilantes even set up patrols to curb bad hygiene in the city.
My brother has his own highly effective tactic… he blasts the car horn to startle Monsieur Pipi into dropping his guard.
The late Charles de Gaulle is said to have pulled over at the roadside once to berate a chap for widdling in full view.
Can you imagine David Cameron doing that here?
And with all the cutbacks here in the UK we have lost more than half our public toilets in the last decade – and go particularly short on the Fylde coast.
Yet how often do you see someone – over the age of three – openly urinating in public?
Roberta built of right stuff
Forget Bob the Builder.
Meet Roberta Austin, MBE, who played with spindles as a child in Northern Ireland and dreamed of being a joiner in her dad’s building firm.
Instead, she bagged a business administration degree and helped run it. Today, she’s centre manager for Build Up in Blackpool and The Fylde College’s school of construction, giving recruits of ALL ages the skills, certification and confidence to work or continue working in construction.
In the last six years Build Up – and Roberta – have helped 3,754 people into work. More than 50 can be found on site at Jubilee House, Lytham, working on the new headquarters for Danbro accountancy. Some come under Conlon’s wing, most work for the army of sub contractors.
It’s an investment in people rather than papering over the cracks in construction skills . One of Roberta’s “lads” is now a site supervisor elsewhere. She’s in the business of building up people for an industry likely to have a skilled manpower shortage of 84,000 in four years’ time.
For much the same reasons as the energy skills gap, where better to start than Blackpool with its monumental unemployment and social deprivation? I’ve known Roberta since she started in Build Up. A feisty bundle of energy and inspiration who returned to the work she loves best after being beaten up as a mental health nurse.
She’s pictured with just two of the 3,754 people she’s helped get into work, proper jobs for proper pay, Gary Kennedy (front) and Easton Smith.
She cared enough to give, not lend, Easton petrol money to get to the all important interview which finally landed him work. He says he owes her more than words can say. Gary can’t thank her enough, either.
In February, when Roberta receives her MBE, Her Majesty will do just that for both of them – and the 3,752 others put into work.