Saturday, 23 June 2012

A Woman’s Place..

I am a mechanical engineer, I have worked all my life with men, I may be physically weaker than them, but I can do blokey things within the limitations of my strength. I can put up marquees, I can change a washer, I can put a fuse in a plug, I can drive a ride-on mower, but that is behaviour that just doesn’t compute round here.

I remember the first time I turned up to help put up some marquees. Lots of strange looks and probably strange remarks, but my French was not good enough at the time to register them. To be honest I didn’t notice that I was the only woman there, and even when a woman turned up with something to eat and drink and gave me a weird look, I still didn’t register. Of course now I know better and when Cees went to put up a marquee the other morning and I had to deliver the cash boxes at 6 (yes six) o’clock in the morning, I just sat and watched. I did ask if I could do anything and our president said “Yes, you can sweep”, so sweep I did. Considering the guys were lacking in numbers and really could have done with the help, it struck me as daft, but hey I’m not French and it just confuses them, so I do it their way, well most of the time.

But sometimes I forget myself. The other evening when we were discussing who was putting out the plastic chairs in Chazelle church for the concert series Guitares en Cormatinois which starts this weekend, I suggested that I could help. “Great” said the mayor “you can sweep the floor, and get rid of the cobwebs”. So it appears that I am not even man enough to carry a chair, so sweep I did and de-cobweb I did. Everyone was very impressed with my long de-cobwebbing stick and it was declared “genial”. But again I was the one girl with the blokes and after a glass of wine I made my retreat, wishing them “bon courage” with shifting the piano, I could have helped, but I knew it would just cause tons of confusion.

Anyway, back to cleaning - a woman’s primary role. I often glean tips from campers or people in the gîtes, I have learned that the easiest way to polish a floor is to spray the cleaner on the floor then in bare feet with a duster under each foot shuffle around and there you have it, one shiny floor without an aching back. I have also learned how to keep an electric kettle looking as if it has just come out of its box, fill it with vinegar once a week or fortnight depending on use, leave it to stand for 15 minutes and empty and rinse, the vinegar can be reused. I manage to keep most things looking spick and span, but it is a constant struggle to clean the stainless taps on the campsite and to keep them looking nice. I go around with special anti-cal stuff every so often, but they soon return to “normal” with their high usage. The other day, we saw the taps in the toilet block were absolutely sparkling and we went straight to Mrs S, thanked her enormously and asked her how she had done it. She looked completely baffled. Her husband sniggered away, and then gave us his secret, put a little bit of toilet cleaner on a sponge and hey presto, no more streaks of lime on your taps.

One thing this has shown me is that maybe my thinking about stereotypes is not so different from the locals after all !

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