Thursday, 19 November 2009

Labels are for jam ...

I have an identity problem.

As the loose-bowelled Pigeon of Time swoops low over the unsuspecting Tourist of Destiny, and the flatulent Skunk of Fate wanders into the Air-Conditioning System of Eternity (anyone else a ISIHAC fan?), I notice that I can at last see the end of the renovation in my distant line of sight, and that means I have to get my act together to start describing and promoting what we're offering at Grillou to the world.

And that's not as simple as it could be. Because the world of guest accommodation seems to be rigidly divided into this or that: self-catering or serviced, gîte or chambre d'hôte. You book a gîte: you arrive on a Saturday, hand over your security deposit, get your keys, make up your beds, do your thing for a week; then a week later you clean up, hand back the keys and go home, possibly having seen nothing of your hosts, who may not even live on site. You book a chambre d'hôte: you spend time as a part of your hosts' household - you talk with them, get to know them, you may eat with them, effectively share their lifestyle for a night or several ... but although you may be invited to share their living area your own space is usually limited to a bedroom and bathroom.

In France, as indeed in England when we lived there, the entire culture of domestic scale tourism revolves around this distinction. I'm supposed to choose which side of the line I fall on and which particular mould I fit, following which it will be decreed what I offer (or not), how I describe what I offer, what I advertise as, how I legally frame and register my business, how I select my tax régime and what expenses I'm permitted to deduct. And therein lies my problem. I don't do labels, I don't do moulds, and I don't do either-or. And so neither I, nor Grillou, will ever sit happily in a one-of-two-sizes-fits-all system.

We've been here before, in our restaurant days. "Are you a vegetarian restaurant?". "Er - no". "But you don't serve meat or fish ...". "Er - no". "So you must be a vegetarian restaurant then ...". "Er - no". (Okay, I wasn't quite as obtuse as that, but you get my drift). And here in France, where things are as they are just because they are, I suspect it's going to be pretty hard to break the mould. It is, after all, no accident that one of the favourite expressions here is "c'est comme ça" (that's how it is), accompanied of course by the famous shrug of the shoulders.

So when you're offering a chambre d'hôte that actually isn't a chambre but a whole tiny house, with its own hallway and a proper salon and a bedroom with a mezzanine, along with a huge two level gîte-apartment where you can arrive any day you like, stay for three days or fourteen, take breakfast or not, and where your bed will be made up for your arrival and your accommodation cleaned every other day ... well, it's pretty hard here to find yourself a meaningful tag. And that's without throwing into the pot the fact that each unit is designed, in spite of its size, for one couple without children (or four adults, if both are booked together) - and that in itself is going to be challenging to many French people, who are happy to cram as many people/kids/dogs as they can find into the tiniest space when on holiday and seem never to travel without at least two blow up beds for just that eventuality ... not to mention the fact that dinner will indeed be an option two or three times a week, but not every day; smoking will never be an option; and we don't take dogs (or cats, or hamsters, or ferrets).

Oh dear. I think I've just pretty much written myself off.


Sandee said...

After reading your blog, I am thinking, "What a perfect place to visit and linger." I'm madly saving my spending money! I may not get there for a couple years, but arrive on the doorstep of your chambre d'hote/gite/???, I shall! (No dogs, no inflatable beds, just my faithful husband!)

Kalba Meadows said...

And you'd be SO welcome, Sandee! So long as you bring me a selection of quilts to buy. I think I'm in love.
Kalba x