The next rule to watch out for, which is only less important in that it just happens once a week, rather than five times, is this:
Everything Is Shut On Monday.
Not for the French the quaint Anglo-Saxon habit of neighbouring towns staggering their half-days—or even taking half-days in the first place. On Monday, the whole of France is as dead as that chap they poisoned on St Helena. You know the one. In fact, I think he was responsible for it. And of course, the reason is quite fair; all the shops are open on Saturday so that the people who don’t work in shops can do their shopping, and why should the commercants and their staff not enjoy a proper two-day weekend? Why not indeed, and they are quite right. You won’t find me criticising the French over things like this, and frankly, the abandonment of all civilised measures of life, doubtless in response to the influence of the Americans, who evidently have not yet learned that one works to live, rather than the other way round, appals me. So, like the obligatory two-hour lunch break, I support this honourable tradition. I’m just letting you know that if you decide to put off the shopping till Monday because the shops are too busy on Saturday, you’re going to be disappointed, that’s all.
The mention of lollipops above reminded me of another quaint fact about the French: they have a sweet tooth that amazes. This is no more obvious than in the matter of lollipops, which are found everywhere there might be children. Any time an adult wants to give a child a treat, they reach for the lollipop-jar, or so it seems. They do it in shops—if madame sees a child she likes the look of, she goes all swoony and croony, and the next thing, said infant has been cuddled, fussed, kissed several times and leaves the shop with a big grin on his or her mouth and a lollipop-stick projecting out of it. And it’s not just shops. Restaurants have lolly-jars by the till. Cafés have them. Go to the doctor and the child gets a lolly. Damn it, go to the dentist and the child gets one. Amazing. Dentists and doctors are open on Monday, by the way. It’s only the shops you really have to worry about.
We were of the generation, in the UK, who had been brought to believe, by people like Miriam Stoppard, that allowing children any sweets at all was utterly irresponsible, a criminal disregard for their future dental health, and an almost certain condemnation to a life of obesity. So we had raised Calum as a sweetless child. This caused a conundrum in France, where, several times a day, we were confronted with the sight of him happily sucking on a lollipop. This was made inevitable because we lacked the verbal capacity to insist that people should not give lollipops to him, and any attempt to do so was simply met with The Look, and our protestations brushed aside. Indeed, most people didn’t even consult we mere parents, but just handed Calum a lolly willy-nilly. But we were strong, and despite his protestations, we always took it away as soon as we were somewhere safe from attack by an outraged mob of French women intent on preventing this heinous cruelty; usually once the little bugger was strapped in his car safety seat and couldn’t do a lot about it.
When Sandy came along, we simply had run out of the will to resist, I’m afraid. You can only defend your line in the sand for so long before you realise how King Canute must have felt. (And I know he was just making a point. But still….) So Sandy was anything but sweetless. In fact he was the sweety king.
However, interestingly, Sandy has not swelled to the size of a beached whale; I think it’s the pies, deep-fried pizzas and Mars bars which do that anyway, to the Scots at least. He still has a sweet tooth that any French person would be proud of, though, while Calum hardly touches sugary things. But he has not developed a mouthful of caries either, which suggests there might have been a touch of excessive paranoia in the rantings of the child-rearing gurus (much as I suspected at the time.)
So something else must be responsible for the appalling state of people’s teeth in France. It is a disquieting thought.