La Montagne et Moi: La Carte grise

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“J’ai longtemps fait’ (for a long time, I did) the 1,000 mile (1,630 km) round trip by car to our home in the UK every 8 weeks – ‘en partie’ (partly) to keep my insurance valid and ‘en partie’ to ‘faire des réserves de’ (stock up on) chicken noodles, marmite and peanut butter and to ‘remplir notre cave’ (replenish our wine cellar) – or more accurately – ‘porte-bouteilles’ (wine- rack).

My dutiful old Kangoo, Piglet, ‘qui aura’ (which turns) 14 this year, had been valued at £2,000 max and to import her to France would have cost about £1,500, or ‘c’est du moins ce que je croyais’ (or so I thought).  But after a few months of looking at extremely expensive second–hand cars, I realized that despite the cost – and ‘le dossier’ (the application) that makes ‘un emprunt’ (a mortgage) look like ‘un jeu d’enfant’ (a walk in the park), I would have to ’prendre le taureau par les cornes’ (take the bull by the horns) and Piglet would have to become Cochonnet.

‘Je vous épargne les details’ (I will spare you the details) of the application process, but ‘je m’en suis sortie’ (I managed it) for the princely sum of about 100 euros (because it was so old!!) and the day I got my ‘plaque d’immatriculation française’ (French number plate) was momentous. ‘Je ne me suis jamais sentie autant ‘française’ (I have never felt more French)! And the joy of not being ‘dépassé’ (overtaken) or ‘collé’ (tail-gated’ by ‘les gens du coin’ (the locals) was liberating.

Yesterday I took her for her first ‘contrôle technique’ (MOT). I arrived at the garage ‘bien en avance’ (in plenty of time). The lady asked for my ‘Carte Grise’ (V5). I explained that I was still waiting for it and only had a temporary piece of paper. She pointed at the expiry date, which I hadn’t noticed. ‘J’étais en situation irregulière’ (My papers weren’t in order) … I had to go to the ‘préfecture sur le champ’ (town hall double-quick).

‘Par miracle’ By some miracle it was open. I explained the situation to the young man ‘au guichet’ (at the counter). I’m still waiting for my grey card I explained. ‘C’est bien bizarre’ (It’s very strange) he remarked. You appear to have signed for it at the post office several months ago. ‘I can assure you, I have never received a grey card’, I insisted. ‘Il faudrait qu’on lance une investigation’ (We will have to start an investigation). It may take several months and in the meantime….’ The threat of being carless jogged my memory. ‘Pourriez-vous me la montrer?’ (Would you show me what it looks like?”) I asked. He called the customer next to me over and he took out a cream (not grey) piece of paper (not card) with a shiny silver square on it.  A distinct image came to mind of opening an envelope and seeing the same document. ‘J’ai présenté mes excuses’ (I apologized) profusely, ‘J’ai rougi’ (went bright red – I seem to use this phrase a lot!) and left ‘en coup de vent’ in a flash, drove home to unearth ‘ledit’ (said) paper and made it back ‘juste à temps’ (in the nick of time).

J’ai toujours le volant à droite ‘I still have a right-hand drive’ which makes certain corners a bit tricky and ‘les péages’ (the tolls) a nightmare when I’m by myself, but overall I’m ‘heureux comme un poisson dans l’eau’ (happy as Larry) tootling about at the speed limit with a real sense of entitlement. Vive ma petite Cochonnet! (Long live Piglet!)”