‘Our kind French neighbours have made us feel so welcome’

The French are often portrayed as ‘stand-offish’ but columnist Peter Wyeth has had nothing but generosity - especially with surplus vegetables

All our neighbours have a vegetable plot and produce more than they can eat

Christmas came early this year in Indre.

In fact, it came in the high heat of summer, and not just once, as with the conventional holiday, but almost every other day.

This feeling of festive beneficence was thanks to the neighbours in our hamlet.

It has just four full-time residents, another who comes only a few times a year, and us – a Parisian-English couple who, in principle, should alienate as many people as possible.

Yet in this tiny place, more or less in the centre of France, if you put a pin in the map, a basket of goodies would invariably await us each time we visited.

Courgettes, tomatoes, peppers, marrows or cucumbers, plums or greengages (reine-claude) in various combinations.

We have a small garden at the front and at the back, and a decaying plum tree, but no vegetable patch.

All our neighbours have one nearby or in adjoining plots, as there is more land than people in Indre. And as our neighbours mainly live alone, they produce more than they can eat.

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Need for neighbourliness, even in Paris

Even in Paris, there are imaginative attempts to replace urban anonymity with a village atmosphere.

Our son has an allotment just the other side of the périphérique, producing tomatoes and marrows aplenty and hosting barbecues.

One Paris resident, Patrick Bernard, founded the Hyper Voisins (Super Neighbours) association in 2017, which aims not just to run social events but to radically change the way local areas operate in the city.

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I won respect for being so English and mad

Here in Indre, other examples of neighbourliness abound.

I was spread-eagled under the car doing a minor repair when our neighbour spotted my perilous jack and offered his own grown-up version, much to my wife’s relief.

On another occasion, having finally got around to rebuilding part of the garden perimeter in an attempt at drystone walling, but without the cross-stones needed to secure it properly, he offered his almost-new orange concrete mixer so that I could pour reinforcement between the awkward sandstones.

The French are often thought stand-offish, but our modest experience has been quite the opposite, with help, advice, and kilo after kilo of delicious vegetables and fruit offered unreservedly by generous neighbours.

Admittedly, this is the country, and a tiny settlement to boot, but we have been made to feel incredibly welcome.

I am certain it all began when I painted the front of our little house in 34C heat last summer, which won respect for being so English and mad.

My wife is not entirely convinced, but we do share the feeling of being entirely blessed in our hospitable hamlet.

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