Thursday, 13 February 2014

Count me in!

I'd like to count for something. Generally I'm totally invisible in France, except to the tax and the work and immigration departments. I have no friends other than Jean-Claude, no 'colleagues' at work. I'm not part of a team or group. I have no parents who contact me; Dad is dead and Mum has dementia. Contact from my daughter is infrequent. In short, I have to be emotionally self-sufficient. This is a skill that's necessary when you emigrate alone but this situation of isolation does get a bit trying.

Despite regular attempts to form friendships, even inviting people to my home, it has resulted in zilch. Feeling like I don't count anywhere I ignored a little message left in my letterbox that announced France was holding a census. I shrugged it off as I hardly saw the point in filling out the papers since I never know how long I can stay here (given my work situation). So what did it matter if I was officially not there?

A couple of weeks later a letter without an envelope appeared in my letterbox. It was from the Mairie (town hall, local government) reminding me I needed to get hold of some census papers and fill them in. Come and do this at the Mairie before 14 February, it urged. Okay, okay.

L’Insee organise le recensement de la population du jeudi 16 janvier au samedi 22 février 2014. Objectif : mesurer la population vivant en France, pour mieux s'adapter à ses besoins. Il n'y a pas besoin de se déplacer, mais il est obligatoire de répondre aux questions. 
At the Mairie I explained why I was there and was given the papers to fill in on the spot. They are much less detailed than in New Zealand. They never ask any questions about ethnicity or religion - it's illegal in France. There were a couple of questions I needed explaining because the French love acronyms and I had no idea what they meant. No one checked if I'd filled everything out correctly but I assume I have.

 Most basic living in France is impossible without at least an intermediate level of French. I get by these days but it's not easy. So although I'm not identified I have at least been 'counted'.

My desire to be a little more visible drove me back, recently, to the Mairie, to meet the mayor again. I'd had a meeting with her mid-way through last year to volunteer my services to my town. Madame le maire was very interested but when I sent her a letter reaffirming my areas of expertise and asking how to move forward on that there was no reply.

Disappointed,I let it go but lately my isolation has been really bugging me anew so I thought I'd try again. I was told to come back any Tuesday between 10-12noon and wait for an opening. After reintroducing myself to her I explained I was still keen to be a volunteer. How could I help? How could I make social contacts in my community?

She explained the local elections were coming up and so she couldn't launch anything at present. I'd need to wait a couple of months but perhaps I might be useful to the heritage association. I like the mayor. Her name is Francoise and she's an affable sort of person, very approachable. I hoped something might eventuate but I didn't get too excited.

Two weeks later I received an email inviting me to attend the Annual General Meeting of the Historical Association, to be held near my home. Hmm, that's good, I thought but I still didn't get too excited as 99% of all my efforts to advance myself go nowhere, but I always try to decrease this percentage.

I arrived in plenty of time. An opportunity to exercise my French in a group of strangers who all know each other is always a challenge. AGMs tend to be boring affairs and this one seemed typical but I tried to pick up some new vocabulary in between the bits I couldn't understand.
The mayor attended and said hello to me. Well, that's good, my name is engraved on her memory now, I thought. During the meeting she introduced me informally as someone who could assist with English requirements.

The response was muted - well - the museum of millstones etc is very technical, really. I piped up saying I had a youthful brain and could learn. Everyone is retired and probably conservative. The mayor pushed a little more and tried to get them to come back to the issue of me helping. I hadn't expected them to be welcoming me with open arms but some slight enthusiasm for some younger blood and expertise would have been good. Never mind, they don't know you, I told myself. I decided the only way I could start getting any credibility and interest was to pay the membership fees and become official.

This association focuses on preserving and promoting the historical heritage of my town and its area roundabout. That includes the tourism aspects. I'm always interested in French history and culture so it could be a good fit for me if they'll let me fit in. I have lots of ideas and experience to offer - I know I could advance things, certainly the websites. My background in marketing, tourism, education, communications and public relations should be ideal.

I met a lovely lady there, also named Francoise, who took an interest in me and invited me to sit with her. She and her husband are retired bakers. As we exchanged contact cards I hoped that something might come of this. Next month, first Thursday of March I'll be back, hoping I can be included in some of their activities - count me in!


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