Here in the land of milk and honey (well, cider and crêpes), it’s amazing how many pizza restaurants there are. They’re obsessed with pizza here. Maybe it’s a sort of cousin of the crêpe – fast food of a floury sort with a filling of your choice.
When we have been out spending huge amounts of cash on kitchen fitments, or plaster board, or any of that DIY essential collection with which the working man likes to surround himself, we occasionally find ourselves away from home at lunchtime. In the shopping complex which houses the biggest bricolage store, there is also a pizzeria, where we sometimes drop in for lunch. Imagine our disappointment when the last time we went, it was closed for refurbishment – it’s being renamed and turned into another pizzeria.
So we climbed into the car (He Who Does Everything Around Here having the taste of pepperoni so close and yet so far) and headed for the next one along the road, only to find it was full. Everyone else, driven by deprivation, had headed in the same direction.
We ended up in a bar-brasserie attached to a supermarket, where all the workers go to eat. This is a guarantee of good food, by the way – so if in doubt, eat like the French White Van Man. (That ought to translate as Homme de Van Blanc, but we’ll gloss over that.)
In the frantic atmosphere of shouted orders and whizzing waitresses, while we awaited our lunch (not pizza), we looked around. There were the working men with their plates piled high and their carafes of rosé wine (it’s summer: real men do drink pink) enjoying a good hour’s conviviality with their colleagues. A second carafe replaced the first, and they ate and chatted and eventually went out into the rain for a smoke.
This happens a lot: diners leave the table en masse, and then come back for a dessert and a coffee. They are trusted not to do a runner without paying the bill.
The thing is that as of July 1st, every car has to be equipped with 2 self-test breathalyser kits. Really you need one, but if you use one, then you have none, so you have to have two to make sure you have one. (Do keep up.)
The idea is that, if you have partaken of a few bevvies with your lunch or dinner, you can test your suitability to get behind the wheel of your chosen vehicle, and can stop yourself, and say, No, I have had too much to drink. I will spend some of my hard-earned cash on a taxi, leave my car in this rather dodgy car park, and come back for it when I am sober.
However, thinking of the chaps who lunched, and have lunched that way every day of their working lives, I wonder: at what point are they going to think, when they have never thought before, that they may have had more than is wise?
If you attend any country market, you’ll find the local bar busy, well before lunchtime, and frequently before breakfast time, with men (and it is mostly men) knocking back a glass of marc, or a beer. There is a story that in some regions market stall holders will have a bowl of French onion soup on a winter’s morning, and will wash the bowl out with a glass of red wine in which they will dip their bread.
Will they reach for the self-test kit?
And if they do, have they got one (or two)? The shops had sold out long before the date when the law applied. The police can stop you and fine you 30 euros on the spot if they find you less than fully equipped. If you are a foreign person on holiday here, you have until November to comply, except that the police in general do not know this, and will fine you anyway.
I wonder if the kits have a use-by date; and being of a frugal race, will a French driver get within two days of this, and think, I’d better use it before it goes off, and find that all his life he has been drink-driving? He’s more likely to think the kit has failed.
In much the same way as you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink, you can take a Frenchman to a bar-brasserie for lunch but you cannot make him test his alcoholic intake. Lunch and a glass of wine – it’s written into the Constitution, surely?