‘Solid metal fences hiding French gardens are a mystery to me’

Attitudes to fencing might highlight a difference in French and American culture, ponders Peter Wyeth

Metal fences that restrict the view into a property are a common sight in France

Wherever I go for a stroll, in the city or countryside, there is one cultural difference I cannot help noticing: French fencing.

I am not talking about the 2024 Paris Olympic event, but a revealing property habit. I am not sure what it reveals – perhaps other readers can help?

We want passers-by to see the garden

When my wife moved into her Paris house, one of the first changes she made was to remove the solid metal panels behind the tall steel fence onto the street.

We have only a shallow front courtyard but now it is full of flowers in terracotta pots and long, horizontal, terracotta-plastic ones just inside the fence.

Passers-by often stop when she is tidying or planting and say what pleasure it gives them to see the many flowers as they stroll past of a morning.

One or two less obliging locals stole plants from the long pots inside the fence, but hey...

We are unusual in France

We are unusual, in fact I’d say unique in my rigorous sampling of such realities, in that nearly everyone in France adds solid metal panels to forbid the slightest view in from the street.

This even applies in Indre, where we have a small holiday home and where meeting one person during our long-weekend walks can be a disturbing interruption.

One country and suburban variation is to plant enormously high, thick Leylandii hedges around, often modest, properties.

I did see one shocking exception, where a very neat farm has ranch-style open white fencing, and no malevolent dogs rush out to (gr)eat you, but the rule is: get those totally impenetrable fences up so we cannot be seen by anyone passing by, whether on foot or in a car, and, apart from my wondrous wife, I have never seen any such obstructions to sight being torn down by a new generation.

Read more: French privacy: Can I stop someone from taking a photo of my property?

Are people hiding their new Peugeot from the taxman?

One recent shock, to show my balanced approach, was a house directly on to the street, beautifully modernised, but without blinds or curtains, simply bare windows.

From a discreet glimpse of the furniture, I guess they might be Dutch?

The big question for me is: What are people hiding? Or is it prudent modesty so that all passing tax inspectors cannot see a new Peugeot and issue a whopping revised bill?

Read more: France widens tax crackdown to include undeclared sheds and verandas

The contrast between American practice, where often there are no fences at all, either on the street or between houses, and what looks like a French obsession with privacy, where every property from the most modest has everything punctiliously hidden from view, is quite striking.

Readers with a French partner or close French friends could perhaps casually inquire – I’d like to learn more about this nearly-ubiquitous cultural passion.

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