The Complexity of Paying for Ones Drinks
Since we have been running our gite accommodation in the Loire Valley I often wonder how doing the smallest and simplest thing in France can often lead to situations which often verges on the farcical. Take for example paying for your drinks when leaving the bar in Le Puy Notre Dame.
In our bar there are three main sessions per day. The first is coffee or coffee calva(dos) first thing in the morning, then there is the 1130 until 1230, midday session and then the evening meeting starting about 1730 with people coming and going until about 2100. It is not compulsory to attend all three of course, but several do. These appointed times are presided over by Lou Lou who is the bar owner, (Lou Lou is short for Lucien), and his wife looks after the bar in-between. This is because it is quieter and no doubt gives her time to deal with the administrative chaos which I am sure he leaves behind given his habit of giving change for drinks out of the newspaper till, not to mention handfuls of crumpled notes from his pockets. About twice a week I join the midday assemblage because I find this, by far, the most entertaining and, by a judicious juggling of priorities I can normally find the two hours afterwards to recover!!
I went in on the Monday morning after the French defeat by Italy. Lou was leaning on the bar, his chin literally on it, morosely dragging his finger backwards and forwards through a little puddle of spilt beer in front of him and gazing whistfully at the live size replica of of the, “Coupe de Monde”, sitting on the bar in front of him.
“Salut Lou’, I said cheerfully, “Comment tu va”,
“Je peut bouger’, (I can still move) he murmured from the depths of despair.
“Come on it’s not that bad”, I responded, “I’ve got two teams in the world cup and still can’t win it!’
“True”, he murmured “And I suppose each day will be a bit better”, as if he had just lost a favourite aunt.
Anyway he cheered up a little when I bought him his first Ricard of the day. He is quite proud of the fact that, after a skirmish with the hospital, he has cut his pastis drinking down from the bottle a day to three quarters, a major achievement!!!
The normal suspects then started to arrival at irregular intervals. Jackie, our gypsy like painter and decorator/glacier. One-armed Serge, who, despite his handicap is a whiz at hunting and fishing. Claude, a retired winemaker. Roger, 83 and still going strong, who always says he will buy the next tournée, but never does. Stephan, in charge of the Tourist Office and other bits and bobs throughout the village. It has been suggested, on more than one occasion, that they place the Tourist Office sign above the bar!! On the grounds that visitors are more likely to find Stephan au bar than au bureau.
Anyway, all goes well until people start to leave. First of all there has to be the statutory attempt to leave, this deception is always followed by raucous shouts from the bar that some-one hasn’t yet bought a round and therefore it would be impolite to leave before they have done so. At this, the escapee turns round, makes vehement objections that he hasn’t the time, that he must: eat/do the shopping/water the veg /go fishing/bury his grandmother,etc., until finally with a gallic shrug he returns to the bar and settles in to partake of his missing drink. Only after every individual has done this does the group start to break up in earnest. This means that no one person can be accused of prolonging the session past the limits of reasonableness.
I can always tell when Lou has had a few and hasn’t been concentrating because when I ask him what the damage is he fixes me with a challenging look and asks me what I have had. I look him straight in the eye and say I haven’t a clue. Thus, loins girded, as it were, negotiations commence. “How many rounds have you bought?”
“Two, I think”, I reply
“No, just one”, someone says, “Jackie, bought the second, because he said he had to leave. Of course he did not leave at the time, but, unfortunately did leave before he could verify that he had bought the second round.
“So, who bought the third round then?” enquires an interested party, often not even part of the group buying drinks.
So we will go on like this for another ten minutes, analysing who has bought what, until, finally, everyone is clear that I in fact have bought just one round.
If, as in the case of the day in question, I bought a drink or two before the rounds started, it is then necessary to do the whole thing all over again until that is also clear to everyone’s satisfaction. At which point Lou, who really hasn’t a clue, having got bored with the conversation ages ago, will say, call it ten euros. I will look expectantly at the assembled multitude, they will give their agreement with heads shaking sagely and that uniquely French gesture which involves holding the hand horizontal, palm down and fingers spread and giving it a slight waggle. I pay my ten euros and then, of course, the round that I have missed, everyone is happy, an air of contentment settles over everyone and normal café life resumes until, that is, the next club member asks to pay his bill!!!
You could, of course, ask why I do not pay for each drink as I have them.
What! And miss all the fun!
Brian Gites in Loire Valley