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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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