Bons Voisins – Good Neighbours

Les convives enjoying an apéritif

I’m constantly amazed at French people’s ability to conjure up a social event from unpromising components, whether it’s an apéritif, an improvised barbecue or a full-blown fête. Last night, some neighbours organised a repas de quartier, a neighbourhood meal, which are becoming all the rage. Everyone within a fairly wide radius was invited to bring dishes to share.

Some farmer neighbours started this initiative last year. Unfortunately, I was unable to go since I was in the UK, but the SF did a sterling job of representing La Lune. In fact, he did so well that he felt quite fragile the following day. I returned from Oxford to find our second car parked in a totally improbable position on our drive. “They kept handing round the apéros, and we didn’t get anything to eat until 10 pm,” he said.

Having learned from his experience, we decided not to arrive at the appointed hour of 19h00. We know that nothing in la France profonde ever starts on time, and so we waited until the more civilised hour of 20h00. People were still turning up long after that.

We didn’t have far to go. A farmer had mown a field at the end of our lane. Long trestle tables were set up, an improvised awning and festoons of lightbulbs were strung over the top, a sound system was blaring away in a corner and a barbecue was smoking away merrily. The weather was perfect, if slightly gusty.

Novel method for holding up the awning

The quartier is obviously a rather elastic geographical unit and I wondered by what criteria people had been invited. Around 50 convives were there, some of whom we had never seen before. Luckily, we already knew quite a few, which after 20 years here we jolly well ought to.

It’s the French habit to go around and greet everyone at a party. I rather like this tradition, although things can take a long time to get started. However, it provided the opportunity to meet new people and also to talk to those with whom we’re on hailing terms but not much more.

Among our new acquaintances were a man who said he used to hunt around our house, the mechanic from the local garage (we didn’t realise how close he lived), a lady who makes fromage de brebis and sells it à la ferme, the goat farmer from up the road, a former resident who worked in the Michelin factory in Clermont-Ferrand and a man who has moved in recently and lived in London for 10 years.

As in all communities, tensions can exist between neighbours. This is certainly the case between us and the farmer whose inadequately fenced-in cows are always getting out. One of his calves drowned in our swimming pool until we fenced the property. However, these things were temporarily overlooked in the bonhomie of the occasion.

Dubious-looking apéritifs were thrust into our hands and we soaked them up with slices of pizza and bread topped with pâté. Sausages and ribs sizzled on the barbecue and we ate to the sound of corks popping and an increasing volume of chatter and laughter.

The end

It was still going strong when we decided to leave.

“You can’t go without having some eau de vie de poire!” one of the organisers, Philippe, bellowed.

I steered the SF towards the car before he could change his mind about leaving.

This morning we emerged at around 11 am to go to the pottery market that is a feature of le 15 août bank holiday in our village. The field was swept bare. It was as if nothing had taken place. But we hope it will all happen again next year.

This post is taking part in the October 2017 blog linky. Click the image and you’ll find fascinating posts about all aspects of life in France.

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You might also like:

Our Village Fête: Yesterday and Today
How a French Fête is Run 
Getting a (Social) Life in France

Copyright © 2017 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

 

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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23 Responses to Bons Voisins – Good Neighbours

  1. Phoebe says:

    I love these local get togethers too. I used to organise our local “fête des voisins” which takes place on the “official” day nationally, towards the end of May. After 5 years of organising I felt I’d done my bit and handed over the reins but it is now in its 9th year in our little impasse. How horrific that a calf drowned in your pool, that must have been horrible to find. I’m glad you can all put your difficulties aside for the evening. Thanks for linking to #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      I should think you had done your bit after 5 years! Yes, it was awful finding the calf. Fortunately for us, it didn’t damage the liner and the farmer’s insurance paid for a new pool cover. But I would rather it hadn’t happened in the first place. I must get back to #AllAboutFrance, since I posted early this time and have only read a few.

      Like

  2. junedesilva says:

    Sounds such a fun evening! #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

  3. emilycommander says:

    What a lovely thing. And you’re absolutely right – there are all sorts of neighbourly tensions everywhere in the world, but in France they wash them all down with good food and drink and somehow it works. #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This sounds very similar to my experiences of French parties. I learnt very early on to eat before I went out – this meant that I wasn’t starving all evening. Often, at around 10 or 11pm when the aperitifs have been underway for several hours, the women will suggest eating; at which point someone will shout, “but when are we going to start the aperos?”. Thanks for sharing, Vanessa. #AllAboutFrance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      It took a while to get used to this aspect of French life! Also, that sometimes no one gets an apero until everyone turns up. At one party, we waited 1.5 hours for the stragglers. A bit OTT, I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, my first reaction when someone comes is to serve a drink – but French people do tend to wait until everyone has arrived.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        I don’t mind that if people turn up on time, but if you have to wait longer than 20 minutes or so, I feel it’s not very considerate of those who arrive late (of course, they might have good reasons).

        Like

  5. Carolyne says:

    It sounds like a fun evening and a great chance to expand your circle of “voisins” #AllAboutFrance

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Sounds like a wonderful evening!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Osyth says:

    If you haven’t seen it, do seek out the film ‘La Vache’ … your comment about eau de vie des poires 🍐 prompts me to recommend it. We spent la fête in Marcoles … it is quite remarkable that anyone was able to stand up on Tuesday after the festivities on Monday night to celebrate getting the village ready for the next day!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. lostfrance says:

    Here the tradition of the repas de quartier has been going on for a long time, although in its current incarnation only about 14 years. Our geographical limits are very strictly drawn, but our dates slightly flexible (usually depends on when I have the time and energy to marshal everyone) . Some quartiers don’t bother and some have a date set for each year. We also do the dividing up who brings what thing although not all quartiers do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      It sounds as if yours is rather better organised than ours. Our geographical limits are flexible – depending, I think, on who remembers to invite whom – and people just bring what they think is appropriate. Last year’s had to be postponed because of the death of a local resident, but it seems that the middle of August is the favourite time.

      Like

  9. Jill Brown says:

    Yes, I have friends who get involved in these. My part of the village is obviously less friendly! I love the digger holding up the canvas above the table. Nice touch.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. chitra parpia says:

    Thankyou Vanessa,

    Love this refreshing peak into the social events in your neighborhood.

    on an aside, I had sent you a query wondering where in your region would be a central location for us to spend a month next year. we want to check out all these lovely places you have been blogging about. (Cantal, Najac, et al) is a Cahors good choice? we will have a rental car so transportation will not be a problem.

    thanks and with appreciation

    Liked by 1 person

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