Saturday, 12 March 2011

Names and Addresses

I can remember an advert in the UK in the 1970s for the Royal Mail and the punch-line was “we know all of our customers by name”. Fancy advertising, but of course it wasn’t true. In the UK post is delivered to an address. The first sorting is on the post code which narrows the property down to about half a dozen houses, then the house name or number and road name are used. The village or town and county are just there in case someone has used the wrong postcode. This is in sharp contrast to around here because our post lady really does know everyone by name and she knows where they live and she delivers the post accurately and effectively to probably about 500 people who live in a dozen or so small villages, every day. What’s the big deal? Well French addresses are not all that specific. Our post code narrows the location down to about 34 small towns who all have dependant hamlets, approximately 7, 000 people. OK so the French post code is not that effective at locating an address, but it gets all so much worse. Most places have no
road names, no house numbers and no house names, most people just live in a town (le Bourg) and the person delivering the post has to find out exactly where.

When you visit someone for the first time, you get a long string of instructions as to how to find the relevant house, mentioning the colour of the gates or the shutters or a bend in the road. One of the first couples to stay in one of our gîtes asked us for the road name and the house number so that he could type it into his Tom Tom, after we stopped laughing at the thought of such silly accuracy, we directed him to the detailed instructions on our website so that he could find us. We have since found out through trial an error on the part of family, friends and other visitors, that as our house has a truly unique name in Cormatin, ours is one of the few properties that can actually be found by a Tom Tom without having to fill in the coordinates, you just use La Tuilerie as the road name and Cormatin as the town and you end up in front of our blue gates. Sadly this uniqueness is soon to be over, Monsieur Sarkozy is determined to “modernise” France and has instructed that roads shall be named and houses shall be numbered meaning that one day soon everyone can be found by a Tom Tom. Of course the real reason is that he wants to privatise the postal service and there is no way all those budding entrepreneurs are going to be able to learn 60 million names and then find the right letter box!

Ah well, that’s progress for you. So slowly and surely in each little village and town round here, road names are appearing and house numbers are being attached to gateposts. Cormatin, Ameugny and even Taizé have all fallen and Chazelle is one of the few still not numbered, but for how long? This is bound to have a knock on effect as to the colourfulness of villages round here, no longer the need for orange shutters or purple gates to differentiate yourself, everyone can be the same, how sad…

So our clients are all having to comply by numbering their "maison sécondaires". In fact that means we have been collecting numbers from town halls around the area. One client living in a hamlet asked us to collect their number, number 15. Simple request, just pop into the Town Hall when they are open and collect. Well the Town Hall isn’t open every day, in fact it is only open for about 4 hours a week, so several weeks went by before we could make it at the allotted time. Not here, they said, Monsieur de la B. has the numbers for that hamlet, go and see him, back and forth to the Town Hall eventually yielded a number 15 from the bottom of a hidden drawer in the Town Hall with the irritated Mayor’s assistant muttering away – hopefully she was cursing Monsieur Sarkozy’s daft little plan and not us.

We put the number up this week and it does look very smart indeed, however, I am convinced that our clients' address will remain “la maison des Anglais à côté de Monsieur C”. And rightly so, that has been their address since they bought fifteen years ago and why should some government directive change all that? I was very pleased to be witness to the fact that the Town Hall mentioned earlier is only paying lip-service to this silly directive as well, they didn’t use the road name or number for Monsieur de la B when telling us how to find him (we asked but they didn't know) they gave us his real address and it was very easy to find “he lives half way up the hill in the house with the straight stone stairs and the wrought iron balcony” – thank goodness some sanity is still around!

La Tuilerie Website


  1. Just a small addition: Cormatin may have street names now, but unlike metropoles like Ameugny and Cortembl(e)in they still have not distributed any house numbers. Unless the whole population is refusing to put them up, of course: "Les citoyens en colère!"

  2. Maybe like M. LeChat you can name your street after yourself or one of your selves or at least La Tuilerie


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