Friday, August 11, 2017

Short story ~ On the importance of learning to drive an automobile

Coming from America where nearly everyone of legal age has their license, we're sometimes taken aback to learn how many people don't drive and don't own a car. We are sometimes surprised by the number of Parisiennes who do not have a driver's license.  Normally there is no need for a license as public transportation in Europe is fantastic and a person can easily get around without resorting to driving an automobile.

One day over lunch a friend shared an interesting story of why she has her driver's license.

After the second world war Sylvie's father absolutely insisted she learn how to drive.  By her account her father was a domineering man and never took no for an answer. Without question she submitted to her father's will and went through the process of learning how to drive.

The story actually begins at the outset of the war.  On May 10, 1940, the German Army started its invasion of France.  The heavily fortified Maginot Line was France's primary defense.  There was, however, a gap between the north end of the Maginot Line and the sea.  The allies felt prepared and plans to defend the gap were put into action.

In only one location were the French and English defenses somewhat weak.  That was in the Ardennes forest.  It is a rugged area and the allies felt the Germans would have a tough time getting through.  Yet, that's exactly where the Germans succeeded.  By June 14 Paris had fallen to the Nazis and the occupation of France had begun.

Sylvie's father was French, but he spoke German and Czech fluently.  He'd been captured by the Germans and spent the duration of the war in prison.  It was in prison where he picked up the additional language skills.

Years later her father had a story to tell that related to his insistence that she learn how to operate an automobile.

When the Germans swept around the north end of the Maginot Line they pinned the French Army against the inside their own line of defense.  Trapped against their own wall many French were killed.  Somehow Sylvie's father escaped that fate.  The company her father was attached to knew the Germans were coming and naturally tried make their way to freedom.

There were two jeeps in the company and they should have been pressed into immediate use.  There was one small problem.  Not one single person in the entire company knew how start the jeeps.  Neither did anyone in the company kn0w how to drive.  So there they sat, unable to move, waiting for the Germans to arrive and kill them.

For whatever reason the Germans, instead, captured the trapped unit and sent them to prison.

Sylvie's father vowed he would never be be unable to escape danger in this way ever again.  After the war he learned to drive.  And to give his family the best opportunity to escape if needed he insisted that Sylvie, too, learn now to drive.

en direction Nangis...

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Short Story ~ On being an immigrant

As we've gotten to know people we find they seen to enjoy talking about the little things in their lives.  I now realize we've heard quite a number of these stories and that some of them might be worth sharing here.

We'll start with a simple story.  It's one that we can't stop smiling about.

A couple of our French friends recently moved out of France.  They left the EU.  They moved just across the border to Switzerland.

One might think that since this is Europe that perhaps the Swiss do things similarly to the way surrounding countries do.  One might believe that the details of daily living might not be all that much different from one side of the border to another.  One might think that trash is trash and will be disposed of in similar ways.  Well, we've recently learned we would be wrong on all accounts.

For example, the monsieur was crossing the border with two boxes.  Since Switzerland is not part of the Schengen Zone, everyone entering or leaving the country has to go through immigration and customs.

On one particular day, our friend was transporting several boxes. One was filled with papers and documents.  The other was filled with food.  The madame quickly realized that things cost a lot more in Switzerland than they do in France and she wanted some of her favorite snacks.

The Swiss border guard asked "what's all this?"   Our friend said that it was his wife's things and he shrugged his shoulders as if to ask "how would I know?"  The guard gave a Male's Knowing Nod and allowed our friend to enter the country.

Trash bags are things we typically find at the supermarket.  We seldom think about them, other than when they're full that we tip them into the bin and we (hopefully) never see them again.  But things work differently in Switzerland than they do in the rest of the civilized world.

To be collected all garbage sacks must be blazoned with the city's name.  If there is no name (of the correct font, shape, sizes, etc, etc, etc, your garbage will not be collected.  You read that right.  Your trash remains your's if it's not put in the correct bag.

Off to the market went la madame in search of the official city approved name of the city emblazoned garbage sacks.  In normally civilized countries a person find such things easily and quickly down the aisle maked "Household Items."  Not so in Switzerland.  In fact, the magic garbage sacks were nowhere to be found.

So where on earth does one find garbage bags?

Therein lay the crux of this story.  As an immigrant you might not really know such details of daily life and living.  Yes, even here in Europe things can be radically different when traveling between non-EU member countries.  Days went by and our friends could not find where to buy the proper bags.  In the meantime the unlabeled bags with their trash were filling up.

Our friends told us that they have a new appreciation for what we went through when we quit the US for France.  They now understand just how long it can take to become accustomed to the ways and culture of a different country.  Trying to sort out what to do, how, and when can be nerve-wracking.

To solve the immediate problem of accumulating garbage, our friends drove the sacks across the border, through customers and past immigration without being questions, and dove into France where the garbage was duly deposited at a French waste facility.

A few days later the answer arrived regarding the question of where to find the proper city approved city name emblazoned garbage bags.  In this part of Switzerland one finds such simple garbage/trash/holding/things at the post office.

C'est logique, n'est pas?

en direction Nangis...