The French Countryside isn’t Quiet: Spread the Word

One of our co-residents in full song

Lying in bed early this morning, through the open window I heard cockerels crowing, a tractor doing some heavy-duty work not far away, cow bells jangling, dogs barking, pigeons cooing and the sparrows that nest in our walls chirping and bickering. So it wasn’t exactly silent. But I would far rather hear these sounds than constant traffic noise, emergency services’ sirens, thumping pop music and neighbours’ domestics. However, it appears that not everyone appreciates the sounds that accompany life in the French countryside.

Whose problem?

In recent years, the number of complaints to local Mairies about noise appears to have increased. Among other things, we’ve read about:

  • A cockerel (or at least its owner) taken to court for noise nuisance;
  • A second-homer who wanted the church bells in his village silenced. In a referendum, a large majority of the villagers voted to keep the bells chiming;
  • People who contacted a pest control firm because the cicadas were making too much noise in their garden.
Chiming bells – a bone of contention

One Maire in the village of Saint-André-de-Valborgne in the Gard got so fed up with tourists’ complaints about rural noises that he erected warning signs at the entrance to the village. Visitors are told to expect church bells, cockerels, herds of cows with bells and tractors. If they can’t tolerate them, they are advised to go elsewhere.

Another Maire in the Gironde called on French MPs to apply to UNESCO for French rural sounds to be included in France’s intangible national heritage.

Retreat from modern life?

All this does raise some questions. First, are these complaints really increasing or is this just Silly Season news? Second, if they are increasing, who is making them and why? Third, should these complaints be taken seriously?

I can’t answer the first in the absence of firm evidence, but I have a possible answer for the second. Modern life in towns and cities is undoubtedly stressful, as I know from my own experience. Since that dates back 22 years, it’s probably got worse. Continual city noise is a contributing factor and something I find hard to tolerate. When people buy a home, or a second home, in the French countryside, whether they are Parisians or Londoners, they expect that the countryside will be the opposite of the town, i.e. silent. (Sometimes they also expect it to be the same as the town, e.g. with 10-screen cinemas, but that’s another issue). Disappointment sets in when they realise it isn’t.

The hamlet of Flouquet

Of course, the countryside isn’t immune from noise nuisance. After boundary disputes, this may be one of the most divisive issues among neighbours, especially in small hamlets. Barking dogs and noisy neighbours are not confined to the towns. And complaints about that sort of noise nuisance are legitimate.

But when it comes to silencing cicadas or other natural sounds, or banning bells that have pealed for centuries, then you must ask if the complaints culture has got a wee bit out of hand.

Strained relationships

Also, relationships between citadins (Parisians in particular) and French country-dwellers are often strained. In A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle recounts a story about a Parisian family who bought a holiday home next to a farm and renovated it at great expense. But the farm cockerel, Charlemagne, crowed loudly early every morning and disrupted their holidays.

After some heated and fruitless exchanges with the elderly farmer, the Parisians took him to court. The court found in the farmer’s favour, the Parisians sold up and the farmer celebrated with a delicious coq-au-vin. The main ingredient? Charlemagne, of course!

P.S. Life on La Lune is experiencing internet problems at the moment, which explains the sporadic posting schedule. Sometimes the connection goes off for hours without warning. Getting it fixed in the summer months requires the patience of Job and the diplomatic skills of Henry Kissinger. No, I don’t possess either of those attributes.  

You might also like:

Noises Off on a Country Evening

The Bells, the Bells:  the Magic of Church Bells in Rural France

Trip to Planet London

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2019. All rights reserved.

About nessafrance

We moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I'm fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs. I also write historical novels and short stories.
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20 Responses to The French Countryside isn’t Quiet: Spread the Word

  1. Gillian Brown says:

    Love all the country noises but admit did bring up the church bell chiming problem with the mayor, in one village we lived in. It chimed every quarter of an hour TWICE! ALL NIGHT! We lived less than 20m away. When I asked him where he lived, he replied “Two kilometres away.’ Where I live now the bells chime ONCE between 7am and 10pm. Reasonable I think.
    Hope you get your internet problems sorted out, Vanessa.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      All night is a bit much. In other places, they stop the bells overnight, which is much fairer on the inhabitants. We noticed this on Corsica, whenever we stayed in a village. Where we live now, we can only hear church bells if the wind is in the right direction, and then it’s quite pleasant!

      The internet man has just left and thinks he’s sorted it. We are keeping everything crossed…

      Like

  2. Carol Lysek says:

    I was watching the Tour de France which is in your region at this time and they mentioned power problems in the Orange region that are somehow tied in with the excessive heat. So it’s not you it’s them. Enjoy the sounds of the countryside!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for the info. Orange is actually on the other side of southern France, but it could be the heat that’s behind it. Anyway, we now have an independent technician here who hopefully will find what’s wrong – whether it’s the fault of the phone company (confusingly called Orange!) or if it really is our installation.

      Like

  3. clemency46 says:

    We arrived, after travelling four days to our house here in the Lot to find a huge pile of rubble right beside our gate and a cement mixer going across the way! Full scale renovation under way and the guys are starting work at 7am practically outside our bedroom window! What can you do? Count to 10 and get on with it. Bells, frogs an enthusiastic cockerel or two, tractors and squabbling sparrows make up our holiday soundtrack. But the sound of the orioles alone makes up for any nuisance noise. They make a beautiful flutey warble. .
    Always arrive to a challenge and this time the Internet was down so I completely identify with your frustrations. On the upside I’ve learned now how to say ” I’m extremely disappointed ” and other such handy phrases.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Oh dear! If the workmen are French, perhaps they’ll go on holiday soon and give you a bit of peace.

      We love to hear the orioles. They are especially voluble after rain, so we haven’t heard them for a while. They always return to the same place down our lane every year to breed.

      My sympathies for your own internet problems. I am just waiting for ours to go off, which it generally does at this time of day. I hope you get yours sorted out soon.

      Like

  4. I’m told internet problems are a consequence of the heat…a bit like leaves on the railway lines in the UK. We’ve started having problems coincident with the canicule so perhaps there’s something in that. I love genuine country noises – it’s the loud music, revving engines and domestics that bug me. Fortunately not too much of that here except on fete weekend which happens to be this weekend and a large amount of underage drinking brings out the feral in the normally polite and pleasant youth of the village.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      It could be the heat. Ours goes off at around the same time every day – in fact, just about now, so I’m typing extra fast before it does.

      I love country noises, too, and we have to accept that people who earn their living in the countryside have to make noise sometimes in order to do it. The fêtes do seem to be moments of abandon – and the music goes on into the small hours. But it doesn’t happen often.

      Like

  5. Kiki says:

    As for the doggy internet, I could believe it has something to do with the heat and yes, even here, just outside of HOT Paris, I was interrupted twice yesterday – and lost some internet exchanges…. but then, may my writing wasn’t worth keeping?! 😉

    I am hearing and reading the very same stories EVERYWHERE. Nobody any longer is willing to adapt and wants just what THEY look for. Everything and everybody else is wrong, per definition.
    I just followed a talk show in Germany about a hotelier (G) who, with his Swiss wife, took over a neglected restaurant in the vicinity of Gstaad, an über-cool and snobbish village in the Bernese hills. They, just to give your story another twist, could do no right! They got literally driven away by the villagers; why? – because he wasn’t Swiss? Because he had too many unusual and far fetched ideas? Everything they did, was ‘bad, wrong, no good’. Narrow-mindedness goes on in many ways.

    I did live for a time some 25m from a church tower and in all that time I could NOT get used to the banging of the bells every 15minutes and a long, long time for the later hours!!!! But I would NEVER in a hundred years have gotten the idea that those bells shouldn’t ring. Or that you have cockrels and whatnot when you live ‘en campagne’.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      I’m replying quickly, since it’s just about time for our internet connection to take its protracted afternoon nap. Someone else thought it might be that everyone is inside because it’s too hot to be outside and are on the internet, so it’s overloaded. Someone is coming to look at it later, so fingers crossed.

      That’s a sad story about the German hotelier. People can be so narrow-minded and unable to see another point of view. Too much “chacun pour soi” these days.

      I agree that being that close to church bells might be a bit off-putting after a while. I do like hearing them, but day after day might be a little wearing.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. MELewis says:

    Well, I suppose spotty internet is also a bane of country life, even if Macron has promised to get us all up to speed soon. 😅That said, it is indeed frustrating when things don’t work! As for the noise, I can see both sides. Centuries-old French traditions should not be changed for a few secondary residences but on the other hand, encroaching urbanisation puts many homes closer to farms and countryside activities that are not always compatible. Personally, I cannot sleep with church bells going off every quarter hour. The warning signs are a good idea, at least you know what you’re in for!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      We had to have a connection by satellite dish until last year, when they installed a fibre-optic cabinet 2 km away. It’s only in the past few weeks that we’ve started to have problems. We always say we will be the last to get fibre-optics in 2022.

      Re the noise, I think there are legitimate complaints and frankly daft ones. When it comes to complaining about cicadas, for example, the world has gone mad!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Margot Lydon says:

    No where is silent! During our annual retreat to the Aveyron countryside we enjoyed the silence of silence, broken now and again with the welcome sounds of church bells, nightingales, hoopoes, cuckoos, frogs, dogs barking, cows mooing, sheep bleating and farm machinery working the land that gives us the food we have grown to love in this part of France. The countryside is a valuable part of being alive. We should try to appreciate it for the joy it gives visitors and respect the environment of those who work in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. You forgot to mention the frogs.

    Funny, but we’re having trouble with the internet (more than usual) these last few days, lost it altogether for most of yesterday. We have difficulty getting even 3G here and the débit is so feeble it doesn’t register on the Que Choisir scale. Husband wonders if it’s because since it’s too hot to go out, the entire population is indoors plonked in front of TV tablets and computers and the system’s overloaded.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Oh yes, the frogs. Although we don’t have many here, since there are no streams and little standing water. We can hear them in the distance at night, though. And donkeys!

      I did wonder if the heat had something to do with our internet issues. It’s a bit odd that it seems to go off regularly mid-afternoon. Orange says it’s a cable inside the house, but that’s odd behaviour for a defective cable. Someone is coming to look at it this afternoon.

      Like

      • Ah, yes the donkeys. I don’t mind them as it’s intermittent and only when they’re outdoors.

        Everybody round here has a pond/reservoir of some kind and we’re on a stream so they profit and pinch all the water from it. The frogs in the ponds survive but I don’t know what happens to the ones living in the stream.

        Our internet provider blames Orange too. It’s back on again today, but if it’s like the past episode it’ll go again before the technician gets here on Saturday.

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        We have wells but nowhere for the frogs to breed.

        Orange considers it’s done all it needs to, to prove that the line is okay. Now, as usual, the burden of proof is on us to show that it isn’t.

        Like

      • Orange is never wrong…

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        Nor EDF and the other so-called public services.

        Liked by 1 person

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