Seldom do I sign petitions. I’ve never been much of a political activist and you never know what’s going to happen to that list you’ve just signed. In this digital age when nothing ever totally disappears once it’s been put online, something you’ve long forgotten about could come back to surprise you years later. Regularly I do an Internet search of my name just to see if there’s anything new and a link to a petition I joined almost 20 years ago is still right there. A few weeks ago our neighbor Marc came knocking at our door, paper in hand and talking a mile-a-minute, asking us if we’d seen it, did we use it, and did we want to get it back. All we had to do was figure out what “it” was.
We like our neighbors a lot. They have made us feel very welcome here and have provided a great contribution to improving our French since that’s how they speak with us, despite probably speaking pretty good English themselves. Bill and I can’t get away with any “secret” conversations between ourselves when they are around! Marc, from across the street, sometimes stops in for a coffee (well, a whisky, really), to bring us DVDs to watch, or just to chat a bit. On this particular day however, he was on a mission to get our signatures, along with those of all our neighbors, to protest the removal of the mailbox at the end of our street. Once we had read the text on his paper, it was clear that this was the “it” he had been asking about.
In the US, if we had any outgoing mail, we simply put it in our mailbox, raised the red flag on the side of the box, and the mail carrier took it away. That option isn’t available here so having a convenient place to deposit any letters or postcards that we’re sending is important. An interesting side note is that unlike the US, it is not illegal in France to put something into someone’s home mailbox that hasn’t been sent through the postal system. Supermarket and department store ads regularly appear in ours along with flyers from a psychic, various repair people, and the pizza parlor 2 blocks away.
With both of our signatures on his petition, Marc left with a big smile and dutifully went door to door down our street to collect more. He said with a grin that if he didn’t get a satisfactory response from the mayor’s office, he would be taking the matter to Paris. Luckily that wasn’t necessary thanks to the great mayor we have in Carcassonne. Three weeks after we signed the petition there was a letter from His Honor in most mailboxes on our street thanking the residents for bringing this to his attention plus a copy of the letter he sent to the post office director asking that a solution be found as soon as possible.
In the genuinely elegant style at which the French are so accomplished, the mayor concluded both letters with a sentence that might be translated either literally or by custom: 1.) I beg you to please accept the expression of my distinguished feelings or 2.) I have the honor to be your obedient servant. Both endings clearly demonstrate that “kinder, gentler” place we’ve discovered in the south of France.