Calendar Time

They’ve started early this year. Sensing some canine activity downstairs while I was up working at my desk, I looked out of the window. Sure enough a car had pulled up – an event in itself, here in the heart of the heart of the country. Then, zut alors, two big strong uniformed men got out of the car. My heart sank. Gendarmes! You can’t pretend that you’re not at home with the gendarmes, just in case something dire has happened or you’ve committed some crime of which you’re not yet aware.

Then, as I opened the front door and let our ferocious dog out to greet the strangers, I realised the error of my ways. It was a pair of sapeurs-pompiers in dark blue military-style uniform. It was a case of both phew! and uh-oh! A pair of pompiers can mean only one thing: calendars. Let the season commence.

Logically enough, we first encountered calendar time during the lead-up to our first Christmas in France, way back in the last century. I think it was our factrice who presented us with our first calendar. Being naïve newcomers from the Big (British) City, we thanked her very much for her kind gift and sent her on her way. It was only after further visits – from the pompiers, the bin men, the League of Catholic Gentlemen, the Belotte Association of the Corrèze and the like – that we twigged. Dineros. Money money money. ![](upload://2Q3RX0OZpW2iCZwoxZdbQa2tenv.jpg)

That’s the trouble with calendar time. Like everything else in France, demands for money come in clusters. The calendar season comes at the tail end of the most financially exhausting time of year, when one avis de stealth tax follows another, and just before all the insurance demands kick you when you’re down. So you’re not feeling as generous as you might otherwise be. And, frankly, just how many calendars does a household need?

At first we acted by playing dead whenever there was a knock at the door around the end of November/beginning of December. Me under the kitchen table, perhaps, while Debs would swaddle the infant daughter close to her maternal bosom somewhere behind the sofa, lest she let out a tell-tale ‘da!’ or some such childish sound to give the game away. Once we heard footsteps descending the steps, then we could breathe again.

However, as we gathered more knowledge of the French system, we learned not to be quite so blanket in our dismissal of people bearing calendars. We learned to prioritise. For example, neither of us had realised that firemen and women in France are mainly volunteers. Soon after moving into our new home, we had a chimney fire, which was scary in the extreme. Even though the local chapter of sapeurs-pompiers got lost on the way here and arrived 25 minutes after I’d called the emergency number, I witnessed what a great job they do. So, if they come a-visiting when either of us is in, we pay far too much for a fairly tawdry collection of photographs of the squadron in uniform.

We also learned that facteurs and factrices retire on a nice fat index-linked pension from La Poste after not too many years of driving around in their yellow vans à la Postman Patrice, putting tax demands in people’s green metal letter boxes. In comparison to coal mining, chicken-packing, sweat-shop labour and the like, some might call it a cushy number. So this has determined what we give our post(wo)man for their correspondingly measly calendar. Just enough to encourage him or her to keep popping our tax demands into our letterbox rather than dumping them down a ravine. Some might protest, of course, that this sounds like a great option. I say unto them that the authorities don’t let non-receipt prevent them from charging their 10% surcharge for late payments.

As for the other hawkers of calendars who knock on our door at this time of year, we have learned to say – politely – ‘sur votre vélo’. It’s difficult, because one knock on the door sounds like any other. So if I find someone like Hervé from the local chapter of the League of Catholic Gentlemen on my doorstep, I’ve found that sending him nicely on his way without buying his ‘calendrical’ wares is good practice for dealing with incessant telesales calls.

The irony is that the most useful calendars here come free – in the form of the wall planners that you can pick up (if you’re in the right place at the right time) from La Poste or your friendly local insurance office. The irony is compounded by the fact that every year, as a Christmas present, my sister sends us a calendar for our kitchen wall. 2011 has been the year of Audrey Hepburn and 2010 was Gustav Klimt. Beyond that, my memory starts to fail me. But I don’t remember a single year when we’ve actually used one of the calendars for which we’ve paid through the nose. They hang around for a couple of months after Christmas until we’re fed up with photographs of men and women in uniform – before finding their way into the recycle bin.

Still, in the case of the pompiers at least, it’s money in a good cause.

Don't miss the Survive France Christmas Shopping Page for UK shops delivering your favourite UK supplies to France including special Christmas offers.

Well I normally put 20 euro's on the side for the Pompiers about mid November for when they do turn up. They are the only ones we get and we know them all so feel we have to:) but they do a very good job and if we ever need them hope they remember the fact i buy one every year:)

Used to get our bin emptied from outside the house. This year, we and all the other hamlets round us have to drag our bins to a central point for pick up. Ours is about 100 metres away, but some are 3 or 4 times this. Still paying same yearly bill though. The binmen might whistle while they work…well they can whistle for a tip, also.
I hste tipping in restaurants also, although you are quite often embarrassed into doing so. My wife, who was a nurse says that she never got tips for wiping dirty backsides, why do they expect tips for serving food?

We don't get a calendar from our Postman Pattrice, just a really manky cheap christmas card wishing us seasons greetings. Having been advised that to ensure continued delivery of mail, that a minimum of 5 euros is required. I have been considering leaving her a tacky christmas card , with the suggestion that she might like to share the accumulated booty from any other English sounding folk in the area(there are not many of them) as anything with an English sounding name and a slightly ambigous address, gets put into our mail box. I usually use the telephone directory to track down the rightful recipients of this mail, and if I cant find them then I put it back into the post. One such letter returned here 3 times with my having written on it in bigger letters each time that this was the incorrect place.

A friend of my daughters who lives in our home town of Colchester ( where the firemen produced a very racy calendar a few years back) was very excited when her local pompiers visited her holiday home in Normandy. She handed over 20 euros, went indoors ripped the cellophane off with great anticipation , and was somewhat disappointed at the selection of images of cows being winched out of ditches ,the clearing up of an oil spill on the motorway, and 2 rather bemused, and fully clothed,pompiers standing next to a rubber dinghy. But she did say it was well worth the 20 euros when she took it into the office and watched the same reaction from the rest of the women (and a couple of the men) in her office.

Yep, our lovely firemen came up (we are 1.5km off any track...) and even waited for me to return from my walk with the dogs......I had a chat and gave them the dosh and received the wonderful informative calender. Postie will be next, but she does put it in the box, and I normally put a bottle of wine in the box for her and tell her to make sure she opens it (the box that it) to get it out. Everyone is very friendly here we don't begrudge giving.

So far so good here..only one call up to now. Maybe we are a bit too far out in the countryside for many callers. We always buy our local village school`s effort & have until last year given a hefty sum to the factrice who managed to deliver our post in all weathers...we get a lot of snow here.She has now given up & we have not warmed to her replacement so there`s not much chance of him getting anything esp as he drives across our grass verge! We never use the darned calandars anyway..most of them are pretty useless being too small for our requirements.

I don't see any mention of the refuse collectors and their calendar. I give 15€ to them all. The calendar for La Poste has the dates of eclipses, so I keep that one. I like my postie, and the bin men, and the Sapeurs Pompiers do a great job round here. It's nice to say thanks once a year.

We had our visit from the pompiers very early this year,we also get invited at the same time to purchase our christmas poultry!

So far nothing from the facteur, and we don't have a binman service. One of the advantages of living out of the way is no junk mail and now, obviously, less calendars.

I do buy two calendars, one is quite expensive from Intermarche and has a different picture of France for every day of the year and the other from Atac and has wonderful photos of flowers, vegetables etc. It also has the dates in English and German, very useful for presents.

I rarely have cash on me (my eldest son does his best to part me with any that I have) so I'm often caught short during calendar time. Right now, for example, I have 40cts in my purse. I'd better get some cash in if they're starting early this year!

I find it really annoying though to have people turn up at the door and demand cash. Apart from the volunteer pompiers, it shouldn't be allowed. The others get paid and I don't see why we should be paying their bonus for just doing their job. I don't get one where I work, why should they?

Re calendars.....
What I miss here in France is the "a week a page" calendars. Common in the UK, but unknown here, unless you live in Paris and can get one at WH Smith's.
We've given up, and buy one or two of the typical "themed" (cats, fen-shui, or aviation in my case) 12"x12" "a month a page" calendars from the internet, which usually have just enough space to scribble on.

Thanks for the alert....

They usually don't start that early here.... but it's a good reminder to have some €5 and €10 euro notes at hand (them calender "sellers" don't take plastic).

Pompiers, yes!

La factrice, yes (we know her well, and it's probably a little extra for Xmas).

The bin men... well, there it's a matter of being held at ransom.... and they already don't make a great effort to properly empty our bins. But what can you do, they have you over a barrel (bin)?

I give to the pompiers, round here like most of France they are voluntary and as an ex retained fireman they have a soft spot in my head. I think deserve the piss up or what ever the money goes towards. The rest I dont give to, because they like a lot of us, are doing paid work complete with pensions holidays etc. Where do you stop? the check out person at intermarche, the bloke that helps you out at the builders merchants, etc. that and I'm a tight wad as well I guess.

I had a calendar visit from the pompiers on 31st Oct. Can anyone beat that?

Did not know there was more than one version. The one I referenced had John Thaw (Inspector Morse) and Lindsey Duncan. A hoot! The one I own ( 2 DVD set- 2 seasons on each DVD) was the one shown on A & E.

I think I need to watch 'A year in Provence' that was brilliant. Had a look on Amazon but there seems to be a zillion versions available - which is the best one, anyone know?

Hi! The refuse collectors arrived on Saturday night with their calendars, jolly cheerful men who deserve every euro!!!

Hi all. Thanks for your assorted questions. At the risk of handing over valuable family secrets, I would like to register my agreement with a sum of ten bucks for the pompiers and no more than five for the post people. I'd try less, but might get spat at.

Hi back, Tracy.

Looking at spring 2013 after my pension kicks in.


Between 5 - 10 euros for the Posties/pompiers (logical insurance/ protection) and bin guys (we know them,they are genial , Franco Portuguese and thus outsiders like me)

As for some of the others... quite amazing how my French morphs into Polish,Japanese,Scouse...

Postie has called this week - last year I emptied my purse into her outstretched palm and she seemed quite displeased it amounted to about 3€ (but took it anyway) saying (I think) I could always leave more in an envelope in the post box - I didn't! This could have been a BIG mistake as I am CONVINCED she only calls 2 or 3 times a week and when it suits her rather than when there are letters. This week I had to raid our sons money box for the 5€, but she seemed quite happy - fingers crossed for an increase in service next year!