About Jacques Legume
French-born Jacques Legume spent several decades living between the Northeastern US and various places in France. He enjoys (or is tormented by) a unique understanding of The French from an American point of view, and of Americans from a French point of view, the result of which has been a serpentine work history littered with creative exploits, including wallpaper embosser (ever wonder where they get this little ridges?) and forklift driver for touring rock bands.
Recently released from the Bercy Institute for the Sexually Insane, Legume currently lives in an illegally sublet slum welfare apartment in the Paris suburb of Antony.
Like all Frenchmen and most Tea Party members, considers himself to be an expert. About what is uncertain, but, well, he IS French, after all....
He is a member of Mons Pubis, a society dedicated to correcting the wrong committed by l'Academie Francaise for mis-genderization of the word for female genitalia, and founding member of DENSA, the largest, oldest and most unknown society in the world dedicated to intellectual mediocrity (members must fail by 98% or more the written entrance exam). He is single and has no known offspring.
Latest Posts by Jacques Legume
I’m FINALLY back to my slum-liike digs (with a great view of the Eiffel Tower, some 7 miles away) after a stay ihn the Burgundian countryside, specifically, at my mother’s. You’ll note that I didn’t use such descriptors as ‘beautiful’ ‘awe-inspiring’ ‘inspirational’ or other such superlative adjectives. That’s because I didn’t really see a lot of the countryside. A bit of background:
The humble toilet, in the form we know and love, was patented, not by Thomas Crapper, the British plumber who is largely credited with its invention, but by another Brit, Alex Cunningham, and has remained largely unchanged to this day. Particularly in my mother’s house, where, I may have mentioned, little has changed in the 350 years since the house was converted from a barn. Hence, my latest task: replacing my mother’s toilet. A truly special way to spend a weekend in the Burgundian countryside.
The Saturday started like so many there: a meeting of the Hamlet in my mother’s parlour, consuming vast quantities of her coffee while filtering out stale air through constant quantities of Gauloises being inhaled. All this to discuss the best solution for my mother’s poor antique toilet, which is about to be consigned to that great china bowl in the sky, if there is such a place, and to some gully in the nearby countryside if not.
Monsieur Chadouteaud, one of the denizens of the little settlement, was, at one time in his checkered past, a plumber’s assistant, which automatically conferred an air of authority upon him as he shared his less-than-vast knowledge on the subject in between drags on his Gauloise and sips of my mother’s coffee. “Zee closet (meaning tank, as in wall-mounted tank, common in France) must be of China (porcelain, actually) and specifically not wood” M. Chadouteaud stated with an air of authority that could be challenged by no one in the room. Never mind the fact that wooden water closets ceased being manufactured in the 1930′s, as wood became increasingly scarce in France due to centuries of battles having destroyed many forests.
After consumption of the usual 10 litres of mom’s coffee, and several cartons, I’m sure, of Gauloises, Monsieur Chadouteaud took it upon himself to drive me to the local hardware depot in Toucy, a commercial center for the region, about eight miles and four cigarettes away.
We arrived at Monsieur Bricollage (roughly: Mr. Handyman) after a typically hair-raising drive in M. Chadeouteaud’s ancient Citroen van, and began to look over the meager selection of toilets on hand.
After even more discussion with a couple of locals that had obviously shared more than a glass or two of wine at that late morning hour, we purchased the mid-priced model, after being assurred by the salesperson that it was ‘the standard’ that all the local plumbers used when replacing toilets, an act that, judging from the amount of dust on the box, didn’t occur very often in this region of l’Hexagon.
After several more cigarettes and an even more hair-raising return to my mother’s tiny hamlet, I was left with the toilet and my toolkit to do the day’s work. Right off the bat: problem. The only instructions included in the box were in Portuguese. Portuguese. That’s right. Who on earth, except someone residing in Portugal, has ever even heard of instructions written in Portuguese? The box labels were in French. The promotional material extolling the toilet’s virtues were in French. The warranty card, complete with French address, was in French. Just the instructions were in Portuguese. I thought these things came in five languages, to avoid such a situation.
A phone call to M. Bricollage: fifteen minutes of being on hold to some inane promotional messages about shingles or something, numerous transfers, and I finally get the original salesperson on the line. “The toilet is beautiful, but the instructions are all in Portuguese” I declare. “Portuguese? But that is not possible…it is a French toilet. The instructions must be only in French” my salesman states. “No,” I insist “they are in Portuguese. No doubt about it”.
Back on hold, where the promotional message has now changed to one extolling the use of dried manure on one’s flowers. Five minutes later, a supervisor comes on the line, and we go through the exchange again. On hold again, this time still learning about the merits of dried manure.
Finally, after another five minutes, the salesman returns to the phone to deliver the news: “We have spoken to the distributor and ordered a new set of instructions. They should be in around five to six weeks” he declares. “Can’t you simply open another box and see if you can’t find instructions in French for me? You can’t sell a lot of these” I declare. “That is not possible” the salesman sniffed “It could inconvenience the next purchaser”.
Next purchaser? What about me? We went round and round on this very subject for the next 15 minutes, with my being put on hold to enjoy the manure ad another three times in the process.
In the end, it was decided that I must bring the entire toilet and packaging back, and that they would exchange the toilet for another with French directions. “Couldn’t we just swap the instruction booklet” I ask, dreading a smoke laden return trip at the speed of light in M. Chadouteaud’s ancient van. “Not possible” the salesman insists “we must have the orginal toilet.
In the end, I found myself spending the afternoon in a local wine bar with M. Chadouteaud, his local friends, and various other regulars, with the new toilet, complete with a set of instructions in impeccable French, in the rear of the van, parked just outside the cafe. Sundays would never be the same….
Antony, 24 July, 2010
I was visiting a friend the other day who lives in Paris near pl. d’Italie. It’s an interesting neighborhood, with a large Asian population, and the ensuing restaurant selection that such a population brings. There are a couple of Vietnamese places that are favourites of mine, but one that opened up about a dozen years ago is my personal favourite because of its eclectic menu and even more ecletic name: Sino-rama (you know…as in Cinerama…get it?). It was at the local bureau de la poste near here that I had an interesting encounter the other day.
This is NOT a tourist area. There are no tourist hotels here that I know of, and really nothing that would attract a tourist from anywhere outside of perhaps an Asian family visiting Asian relatives who live in the area. And yet, as I went into the local bureau to mail a small package, there they were — an American couple. How do I know they were American?
In Paris, everyone’s in a hurry. Even if they have nowhere to go, most Parisians walk down the boulevards as though they need to get to the nearest bathroom before they burst open, even though most French men just whiz in the street, not necessarily with discretion, either. Yet, when it comes to lining up in banks, dept. store cashier lines, and government offices, Parisians must have some sort of natural Prozac that takes over, as they become the most docile, unfettered people in the world (usually), as they are ignored by the individuals whose job it is to serve them.
Americans, on the other hand, stroll Paris streets as if they are on vacation (which most are), and only go into this I’ve-gotta-get-through-this-before-my-bladder-bursts mode when in the aforementioned lines. The result of the attitude is, of course, that they are ignored as long as humanly possible, then finally waited on, then sent to the back of the line because of some oversight, malfeasence, or similar offense. Or, perhaps, it’s time to close for lunch. French postal workeres are noted for being amongst the rare class of workers that still, under union contract, enjoy a three-hour lunch. And if the bureau must close at noon for lunch, the window shutter starts to slide down at 11:59:55, precisely.
Now, the French understand all of this, because, it’s, well, French. But put an American tourist in the mix, attempting to buy a stamp for a postcard for Aunt Violet back in Bucyrus, OH, and well, it gets rather embarrasing for anyone who doesn’t have the good fortune to be French.
On this particular day, the whole scene erupted into a shouting match, although the Americans were the only ones doing the shouting. The postal workers all observed the scene with great indifference, further slowing down the process of serving (if one could call it that) all the rest of we patiently waiting customers, until the clock struck 11:59:55, precisely.
The windows all slammed shut, and, receiving dirty looks from other would-be patrons heading for their mid-day meal, the couple was left in an empty lobby.
This writer, package still in hand, and more than a bit ticked, decided that, out of the fear that they’d delay the reopening of the postal window later that afternoon and a teensy bit of compassion, explained that they might have a better time of it purchasing their stamp at a local bar/cafe around the corner, where they would be charged a slight fee, but in doing so, would be purchasing their stamps in the same fashion as thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, no, millions, of Paris residents do all the time.
After an appropriately thankful resonse they asked if I knew anyplace where they could find some ‘real’ coffee….
I need to stay home more often….
Greetings from Paris, well…Antony, actually, a suburban slum filled with pissed-off Algerian immigrants who have been unable to find meaninful employment (or any employment, actually) for the past 60 years here, located about 4 miles from the tourist paradise known as Paris, where there are 2,224,134 legal parking spaces and approximately 3,637,931 commuter vehicles that descend on the city of light every day.
My name is Jacques Legume, known throughout international circles as one who has been blessed to be one of The Chosen People who was plucked from this center of civilisation at an early age and raised in New England, the result being that my fluent French is often mistaken for the mumblings of a Belgian Walloon after having consumed 3 litres of Blanc de Bruges, one of the great beers of the world.
With all the recent lollygagging regarding the passage of a national health care system in my adopted country, I have to wonder why at no point has the French health care system entered into the discussion. The evils of the Canadian health care system, which causes huge traffic jams on the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor, ON and Detroit, MI by Canadians seeking such elective surgery as triple heart bypass has been well documented in Republican circles. Comments regarding the dental health of the average British citizen are well documented in almost all circles. And the Greeks…well, they have their own problems, revenge of sorts for Aesop’s usurping Les Fables de Jean Paul de laFontaine 600 years before our fabled philospher put them to paper.
No, I’m discussing that perfect system, where even the foie gras at the Spa Hotel where you are receiving lava treatments for inverted nipples is ‘rembourseable’. The French health care system is perhaps the finest in the world. It would explain why the system sucks about 60% of the EU budget each year, a fact unknown to member countries due to the fact that Italians are handling the EU finances these days.
One of my favourite memories is a hospital stay in Val d’Isere, a wonderful ski community in the French Alps, near the Swiss border. I’d sprained by ankle, and, after much discussion in the doctor’s study (they don’t really have offices there like in the states), it was decided that I would be kept overnight for observation, something that I was encouraged to take advantage of by my cousin Benoit, who has great experience in milking, er..leveraging the system’s benefits.
Dinner that night not only included a decent wine (it’s a hospital..they’d be put out of business if they served a bad wine…), but also a little package of Gauloise caporals, the somewhat burning-rope flavoured filterless cigarette that is endlessly consumed by French of all ages till they drop dead from cirhossis of the liver from the endless alcohol consumption that takes place here. 4 cigarettes in a special ‘hospital pack’. Now THAT is civilisation.
My second experience with at least the attitudes spawned by such a system came when, upon arrival one evening at my favourite hotel chateau in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley, I became feverish and retired to bed. The management rushed a bottle of fine ’88 Ch. Mont Redon and a generous plate of foie gras up to the room to assist in making me feel more comfortable. It wasn’t ‘rembourseable’, but did the trick anyways…
The biggest problem that America would have is paying for such a system. Supporting two wars, virtually all the oil companies, thousands of pet pork projects and a broken mass transportation systems have collectively taken their toll on the US economy. Aha! Perhaps if the government were to simply print more money, such a system could be in place in months! Of course, they’d have to hire the French to administer it…