An elegant swan, photo from the internet.
See the resemblance?!
See the resemblance?!
Today the ‘zwaantjes’ ride on BMW’s, wear orange helmets and blue and black leather protective clothing. Very un-swanlike, yet the knick-name remains …
Contemporary Belgian 'zwaantjes'.
Just one advice when travelling in France (or Belgium for that matter) and finding yourself face to face with a policeman never, and I mean NEVER, address him as ‘Mister Poulet’ or Mister ‘Flic’, unless that is the name showing on his badge. You could find your fine doubled or even ‘win’ a night in prison for offending an officer on duty.
During my recent stay in the Loire Valley, we had a short and rather worrying encounter with the French equivalent of our Flemish ‘zwaantjes’. We had just left our B and B at the foot of Vouvray’s bell tower and Vera was sitting on hands and knees beside me in the back of the car, putting the two fruit tarts we had bought for Susan and Simon’s BBQ party in the cool-box. While she was doing this, I was thinking that moving around in a driving car wasn’t very safe and that the police, if they were to see it, wouldn’t be very pleased. She had just jumped back in the passenger seat in the front when we saw the two motorized policemen standing at the end of the road ahead of us.
They couldn’t possibly have seen Vera jumping into place. And yet, they signalled to Mats to pull over and stop the car. One of the ‘flics’ strode (motorized policemen don’t ‘walk’ but ‘stride’ as if they have a broom stick stuck down their jacket and trousers) over to Mats' side of the car.
“Vous parlez français?” he asked. Mats shook his head put pointed to me sitting in the backseat of the car, adding “No, but she does.” The man looked at me and said “La personne dans le siège passager ne porte pas sa ceinture de securité. » (The person in the passenger seat isn’t wearing her safety belt.) I translated the message for Mats and Vera. In the meantime he asked to see Mats driving license. He studied it carefully, while making the mandatory tour around the car. He handed back the license and asked for the ‘papiers du vehicule’ (car papers). I translated the request and Mats and Vera looked very bewildered. “This is a company car. We don’t carry the car papers with us”. Outch!!! I tried to explain to the policeman what they said, adding that in Sweden people in company cars never carry the car papers with them.
By the look on his face, the policeman found this very unusual but had no arguments to proof the contrary. “The fine for not wearing a safety belt is 90 euros.” he said (in French, of course). Once again I translated the message. And then Vera made an almost crucial mistake – thank heavens French policemen, or at least this one, don’t understand English, because she said “I haven’t had time to fasten it yet, because I have been busy in the back and was just sitting down when you saw us.” “Keep quiet” I whispered- “You’re making it worse!” The policeman looked at me. I had to come up with a translation. “We have just left our B and B up there” – pointing at the bell tower – “And she forgot to fasten it. She didn’t do it on purpose”, I pleaded.
The man frowned and in French said “I suppose you are on vacation and don’t have that kind of money on you?” I didn’t even bother to translate it back into English and nodded “That’s right.” “D’accord, continuez.” (Okay, you can go.), he said. I noticed that he looked puzzled though. He must have recognized my Belgian accent and was probably asking himself what a Belgian middle-aged woman was doing, travelling with a Swedish couple in a Swedish car with a Stockholm license plate.
For a moment there I thought that he was going to confiscate the car and that we wouldn’t make it to the party I had been looking forward to for months. But he let us go … But wait ... this isn’t the end of the story!