In France Life Starts (Again) at 80
As bonus-obsessed global bankers continue to wreak havoc with middle-European lives, two retired French bakers in their 80s are reopening their boulangerie in the Auvergne because, they say, their pensions are now just too meagre to keep up a decent standard of living.
Despite the long and unsociable hours of work involved, retired boulangers Georges and Suzanne Gardon of Clermont-Ferrand in the Auvergne — now approaching their 60th wedding anniversary — have decided that working till you drop is better than sitting at home watching a small pension put less and less food on the table.
Over the summer and autumn of 2010 French unions and students were on the streets in their thousands opposing government plans to make everyone work longer by raising the official retirement age. That however was before a runaway banking and sovereign debt crisis crippled the EU wreaking havoc in some of the world’s biggest economies.
The couple, as do many in France, well remember the prolonged retirement age protests, but shrug their shoulders pointing to the realities of their own situation. As they told local radio network France Bleu Pays d’Auvergne, they will, come November 21, re-open a boulangerie that they closed when they retired in 1999.
“Our joint pension (of 1000 euros a month) is just too slim to allow us to live decently,” the couple said. Georges, 84 , and wife, Suzanne, 81, told France Bleu Pays d’Auvergne , they had worked all their lives — husband Georges started at the tender age of 12 – at jobs that included running a bar and in later life their bakery, and as “we don’t want to tighten our belts we’ve decided to return to the boulangerie”.
Retirement as it turns out was all very well while it lasted, but as Madame Gardon asked: “What do you want me to do all day at home?” However she did reluctantly admit their four children had not been “very happy with the idea, especially at the beginning”.
Under French law children have a material and moral responsibility towards their kith and kin should they find themselves in financial straits but many parents are too proud or unwilling to ask for help.
The couple told the radio station they were in good health, had had a good rest and spent the time until now on randonnées and working their potager. “If we want to live long lives, we must not let go. When we reopen we will bake as many things as we can, but one thing that will not go short will be the bread! “M. Gardon told the France Bleu reporter.
The only downside, his wife added, was that in the 12 years since they packed up shop, baking technology had evolved considerably. Undaunted however she insisted this was “a mere detail” and one that they intended to overcome “in a matter of days once we get used to the new approach. By far the most important thing is to have one’s health!”
A greater barrier initially had been one raised by their bank manager. “We approached the bank for a loan to buy new equipment. But they just laughed in our faces and told us we were much too old,” said Suzanne. “We were also turned down by insurance companies. We ended up scraping together every centime we had to be able to set up the business,” she said.
The Gardons are clearly made of stern stuff and to beat the bankers had a word with the supplier of the new equipment. He, as it turned out, had much more faith in the returning entrepreneurs and, said Madame Gardon, “graciously agreed to rent us what we need thus helping us get around that problem.”
Meanwhile according to Le Parisien their story has touched the hearts of people around the country. Jean-Luc Paillard, a businessman based in Lorient told the paper: “I don’t know this couple but their story touched me deeply”. As a result he said he would buy the equivelent of ten loaves of bread a day from the bakery during the first month after it opened and donate the bread to local charities. “These sort of people give the rest of us a real lesson in life.”
The Gardons are not alone, in being unimpressed by a long retirement despite official cajolings about when we should all stop work.
In Créteil (94010) south of Paris, 81-year-old Paulette Chassigneux has been a taxi driver for 50 years and never had a day off.
However in 2006 according to Le Post, she suffered a major setback when she lost points on her driving license.
This in turn affected her right to an official taxi drivers permit. But as she told the broadcasting network France 3, with so many loyal customers she couldn’t just stop driving so she carried on plying her taxi trade, illegally, for five years with no license and no professional permit.
One day her luck turned however and hauled over by the gendarmerie she was caught without papers.
A chastened and frightened Paulette later appeared before a court in Val-de-Marne aware that for her misdemeanours she faced a heavy sentence — 12 months in jail and a €45 000 fine.
However the 81-year-old, who considers herself too young to be a pensioner, hoped for some sympathy when explaining her behaviour to the judges. On her lawyers advice she presented hundreds of character references and letters of recommendation from her clients to the court in mitigation. Luckily she faced an understanding judge who having read the testimonials and heard her tale let her off both a jail sentence and the fine.
Instead the court ordered her to resit her driving test before the end of May 2012. “That’s all I wanted,” said told France 3 “a chance to be able to retake my driving test. (…) I’m off to study hard, and then I’ll redo it,” she said, certain that thanks to the clemency of the court she would soon resume her job, win back her license and rescue her taxi, happy to go on working “because my customers need me and I need the money”.
Watch the France 3 reportage here:
Story: Ken Pottinger
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