An Ever So Slight Discrepancy
Coming from such a small country as Ireland, it never ceases to blow my mind that France is so huge, and the regions so diverse. We are lucky that we have friends that live in far-flung corners. When we lived in Galway there were a lot of French people living there who have since moved back to their Motherland. We have very good friends, Gráinne and Loïc, who live in Verdun (Northern France – the battlefields of WWI). She is from Connemara and he is from Verdun.
Gráinne and Loïc decided to move back to his native Verdun about six months before we left Ireland. They now run a café Le Chaudron Vert (The Green Cauldron) in a village called Belrupt-en-Verdunois. It’s a happy village where the café has become the heart and soul of the village. Gráinne provides the Irish hospitality and good humour and Loïc concentrates on his passion for cooking with quality local and regional produce, organic whenever possible (he also has a good sense of humour!). Le Chaudron Vert* is a bi-cultural melting pot in the best sense! Their place reminds me of the pub/shops that were once dotted around rural Ireland. They sell bread. They supply gas. Gráinne even runs the little post office!
Every time we go there we have such fun! Our youngest gets to hang out 24/7 with their little girl. Our eldest likes to help out, running errands, chatting to the regulars, cleaning the odd table or two. We get to chat with two of our closest friends whilst they’re working, and we also have a laugh with the locals. It is a lovely, laid back ambience that everyone seems to appreciate. If you happen to be in the area, visiting the history-steeped Verdun, then Le Chaudron Vert could be a nice little detour for you. You are sure to be met with a smile and some good chat (in English, Spanish, French or Irish!) There is an oil painting of a big friendly-looking purple elephant on the wall that Gráinne painted herself. Written on it is the word Failte, the Irish for welcome. And a welcome is certainly what they always provide.
We try to get to visit them at least once a year but it is a four hour drive from where we live in Burgundy. I say four hour drive very loosely – it’s actually only three hours and forty minutes. But every single time we take that road we are stopped by the police! Every time! It has become a running joke when we set off from our house. We take a little bet as soon as we click our safety belts. “How far will we make it before we get pulled over?”
These are purely random police checks and it happens randomly, every time! It doesn’t matter which one of us is driving. It’s for insurance, or to check the car’s papers, or a random breath test, or to check the roadworthiness of the vehicle. And it’s usually fine – no problem – except that it always takes roughly 15 to 20 mins. So we have learned to add this time onto the length of the journey.
Now, for anyone who doesn’t know, French bureaucracy just loves French bureaucracy! They love papers and paperwork in this country! All shapes and sizes and colours of the rainbow! I have learned to accept that whenever I “complete” paperwork, it is never complete.
Every time we set off on a long journey in my car mon homme turns to me and asks “Do you have the insurance papers?” I always say “yes!” Very confidently! I’m all over that car paperwork I often muse to myself! The insurance paper is right there, in a little sticky transparent thing, on the windscreen. For all to see!
So we were about two and a half hours into our journey on Sunday and sure enough, as the grass is green, there were three motorbike police pulling people over. But surprise of all surprises, they didn’t want us. They pulled over the two motorbikes behind us. We burst out laughing, thinking to ourselves that there was a first time for everything. Not even 5km further down the road, just while we were congratulating ourselves on the fact that we would arrive a whopping twenty minutes sooner, there was another road-check. This time, this one was for us!
We were in my car but mon homme was driving. We were asked politely for our carte grise (the registration paper of the vehicle), and the insurance papers. I handed over the carte grise very proud of myself that I had it so readily to hand. Then I promptly leaned over to take the little green insurance vignette from the aforementioned little sticky transparent thing on the windscreen. The policeman looked at me, slightly bemused, and mon homme looked at me like I was a crazy person! I beamed back at them both. “Here it is!”
Mon homme then precised “No Carmel, they need the actual insurance paper.” I looked at him like he had two heads. “But this is the proof of insurance!”
“No Carmel they need the letter that actually came with the little green vignette.”
At this point I still had no idea what they were talking about but I feigned a slight understanding and began frantically looking for the paper in the glove box. I was kind of hoping that there would be a paper that had the words THIS IS THE PAPER YOU ARE LOOKING FOR CARMEL emblazoned accross the top! But I also had that sinking feeling that I didn’t have the paper and it was most likely neatly filed at home, in the section of my filing cabinet called “I don’t know what this is for but I may need it!”
At this point I meekly smiled at everyone and said “I really thought I had everything in the car”. Then I turned round to mon homme and explained quickly in English that I had no idea what they were all talking about. He explained equally quickly back to me that he couldn’t believe I had been driving around for so long without the necesary papers.
The policeman could read between the English lines just as quickly, and understood that neither of us was very impressed with the other at that particular point in time. His other two colleagues were rolling their eyes at that very same moment! So between all of the exasperation and Franglais the policeman took my little vignette to check it for good measure. I was relieved that it looked like he was being understanding of my very genuine mistake.
He almost smiled, but then frowned and started shaking his head. I’m no Sherlock Holmes but I deduced that this wasn’t good. Then he turned to me and said “Madame, do you realise that the registration on this vignette doesn’t match the one on your car?”
At this point mon homme was now staring at me in disbelief. And I was staring back blankly at the policeman. Then it dawned on me that I must have mixed up the vignette of my car with that of mon homme‘s car. However it was quickly established that the vignette didn’t match his registration either. At this point we were being checked out on the national database and I was trying to mentally calculate how much the imminent fine was going to set us back in next month’s household budget.
However, in the heel of the hunt, the policeman happened to be in a good mood. He knew there had to be an explanation. The confusion written across my face was enough to testify to my genuine nature. I am a very honest person and I am almost physically incapable of lying. The truth is always stamped on my face. Unless I’m acting – then I can lie by pretending I’m someone else!
Between the policeman and mon homme, they figured out that when I bought the car I changed the carte grise, as is normally done, but this paperwork takes a couple of weeks to come through. I was however able to drive in the meantime, as long as the car was insured. So I insured the car under the old registration. However when my new carte grise arrived I neglected to change the registration number on my insurance policy! Mystery solved.
I was very very lucky. They let me go with a warning and I have to present myself to the police at my local station upon my return with all completed, updated paperwork in hand. Word to the wise – if you want to live in France, you need to get into the habit of thinking that your paperwork is never finished.
If at first you think you’re done then check and check again!
* “Au Chaudron Vert”
1 Grand Rue,
Tel: 00 33 3 29 88 94 62
If you wish to call to Le Chaudron Vert give a quick phonecall for info about their menus and opening times.