13 February 2010


During that spring week in 2008, on the day that Mike and Jackie were due to arrive, we had an interesting exchange with our neighbours below.

Nick had just gone to the boulangerie at about 8.30 when there was loud and urgent knocking at the door. Fearing some terrible disaster, I opened it to find a smartly dressed woman on the doorstep who introduced herself brielfly then proceeded to wave her arms about and speak in such a tone that I could only conclude she was annoyed with us for some reason.

She was pointing through the house towards our garden so I felt obliged to invite her in. I could barely understand a word she was saying. She marched through the house and leaned over the hedge at the back indicating some sort of trouble below. I could not think how a problem in the garden below ours could have anything at all to do with us and most of the time that she was jabbering away I just gawped at her. Not only did I have no idea what she was talking about, but I was dismayed to think that we might have somehow upset the locals already.

Just as Nick turned up with our breakfast I was beginning to latch on to some of her words - branches, tombé and haricots verts. Then it dawned on me. Some branches from the trees in our garden had fallen down into her potager and landed in her haricot verts! Quelle dommage! We assured her we were très désolé and a rendezvous was arranged at her house that evening at 6pm when her husband was home to look at the polémique from below.

The Judas trees in full leaf, August 2007.

Consequently, a couple of hours after Mike and Jackie arrived, all four of us trooped down the hill and presented ourselves at Mme's house. Safety in numbers, we thought. Especially as they were both taller than us and looked as though they meant business in their motorcycle leathers.

It was a very difficult hour. M. et Mme. made no allowances for the fact that we were obviously having trouble understanding them and persisted in talking at normal speed. When we didn't get it they repeated the same thing only louder. (So it's not just the Brits abroad that do this, then.) We could however, immediately see the problem. Their garden is about ten feet below ours and some overhanging branches from our trees had broken off, fallen down and damaged their haricots verts plants. We also grasped that not only could they not reach our trees from below, they had no way of removing rubbish from the garden other than by dragging it through their house. Their garden was landlocked and had no path to it from the road. The trees would have to be dealt with on our side and the waste taken away from there.

We promised to sort the problem out. We parted company reasonably amicably, we shook hands and M. offered us the customary drink. We declined on account of the fact that the barbecue we had lit earlier would now be just right for cooking with so we excused ourselves.

Tons of seed pods ready to fall into the garden in autumn.

The trees were "Judas trees". They produce lots of pretty pink flowers in the spring, but they also produce tons of large seed pods that accumulate in the garden, creating a horrible mess outside. The mess then ends up inside as we trample it in. We had already talked about cutting them back. We didn't want to get rid of them completely as they provided that all-important shade on the garden and terrace during the hottest part of the day.

There are pretty pink flowers on the trees in April.

We talked with Alex and he hired a tree surgeon for us. We assured Mme. that the problem would be dealt with as soon as possible (as soon as the tree surgeon turned up). It was obvious that she really wanted us to cut them down completely as the shade that we benefited from also deprived her potager of light.

I could understand her for treating us so roughly. The house had been effectively unoccupied for five or six years and even before that it was rarely used. So she would have had little opportunity to complain to the previous owner about the offending trees. Now we come along and POOF out she comes with all guns blazing to get the problem sorted out while she could. She was obviously worried and upset about the whole thing and I don't blame her.

L'arboriste at work.

The nice arboriste turned up two months later. He argued with Mme. on our behalf about what could and could not be done with the trees and explained the finer points of the law to her. So we got our trees trimmed and she got part of what she wanted. He then eventually sent us the bill - a whole year later !!


  1. Goodness, yes, the law on tree and bush planting...distance from the wall and all that...is enough to drive you crackers.
    Pity she didn't invite you round for a drink and then point out the problem rather than go ape on your doorstep.

  2. We had a similar situation in San Francisco, when we moved into a house. The neighbor next door had serious problems with her roof owing to a big tree in our garden. She had talked to the previous owners of our house and had gotten no cooperation from them.

    When I told her I planned to have that big tree taken out, I thought she was going to hug me. But we thought it looked dangerous before we knew about her roof problems. And it cast too much shade over our garden and house. It was gone within a few weeks.

  3. FITW and Ken - we later learned from Mme André that our neighbours below had seriously fallen out with the previous owner of our house over the same trees. It would have been nice if she had approached us more gently but I suppose she thought she would have a battle on her hands with us, too.

  4. Gosh, sometime these French neighbours do jump in with all guns blazing. We had the same about mowing the lawn and not spreading grass seeds - the day we and the many many boxes of stuff moved in. Things did get better though - after we did duly mow the lawn

  5. FF - is this the French way, do you think? Make a fuss and get it off your chest then make friends afterwards.

    It might be better than the English way which is to avoid confrontation, grumble in private until things come to a head, then phone the Council, (or worse still the police) and never speak to the person again!

  6. Your neighbour was probably frustated after the endless neglect by the former owners and she took it out on you. She might have been more polite, though, by speaking a bit slower and not shouting for instance when she noticed that you didn't understand her. Care for some French lessons?? :)) No, I bet you are doing fine judging from your previous posts!

  7. Martine - two years on, our French is much better and I am sure that now we would have understood each other quite well. Our lack of understanding at the time probably just added to the lady's frustration.

  8. Why on earth do we immigrants always make excuses when someone French is rude, unco-operative, etc.?
    I certainly don't go looking for problems, but I don't put up with rudeness either...any more than I would have done when I lived in the U.K.

  9. FITW - This lady's reaction did rather take us by surprise. We encounter nothing but polite helpfulness most of the time.

    If it happened now we would be able to stand our ground a bit better as we feel welcome in the village and speak the language better. She caught us on the back foot that day.

  10. Diplomacy with neighbours is always the best policy and I think you conducted yourselves really well considering you are from Derbyshire.

    The only problem we've had was a warning 3rd or 4th hand about our trees. If the telephone wires were not clear of branches, they will be cut by the commune council workers and a bill will be sent to us.

    Our neighbours have been absolutely brilliant...until one of them shot himself a few months ago. I truly hope it was nothing we did. Actually, I'm certain it wasn't.

    I enjoyed the post Jean.

  11. Good gracious! I've been an ex-pat in several countries so I can commiserate! I'm glad the arboriste was at least on your side!