That’s a slap on the face.
Pow! That’s a lot of shouty words I haven’t learned in French class.
Bif! That’s another slap.
Nothing this exciting ever happened at school drop-off back home.
I’m standing outside the pretty little French schoolhouse where dozens of parents are milling around while their wee ones are chasing about playing tag.
Just to one side, two women are having a fight. A proper fight.
I really want to know what is going on here but Small and Medium have just seen a woman strike another woman and they are scared so I grab them by the shoulders and steer them away.
I wonder what the women are saying too each other – and look too obviously in their direction. Smack-happy lady fires me a look that says: “You’re next.”
I up the pace, moving swiftly across the gravel in front of the school building and through small groups of parents oblivious to the drama not 15m away.
“Is it um, normal, to have fisticuffs between mothers at the school?” I ask Monsieur C, who I met at the weekend and already love like a sister because he invited my family, complete strangers, to his home for a chasse au tresor [treasure hunt] and showed us all a supercool [super cool] time.
“Really?” he says. “Sorry.” Which makes me like him even more because that’s a very New Zealand thing to do – apologise for something that is out of your control – like the weather or the prices or the flight time to New Zealand.
“There are some feuds,” he says with a grin. “It’s, well, it’s like the houses. They are all painted and look perfect on the outside but…”
I’m watching an older gentleman who works at the school very calmly try to separate the women. The bell goes, children disappear into class, parents disperse and the argument continues, while the gentleman stands to one side, looking disappointed, like a referee forced into early retirement.
I lock my gaze onto the gravel and march purposefully past, determined not to cop a smack on the way. It’s terrible, but I am amused. I’ve just been writing a piece about the very good manners I see here and now this…a scene! It does remind me that wherever you are, if people are pushed to the limit, they will crack and behave badly.
At home, a scene like this would have upset me to the core because it would be my school, my community, involving indirectly or directly people I love.
I don’t want to sound heartless because I love it here and have already dared to start hoping that we will make some wonderful friends despite being just another bunch of annoying foreigners wanting to spend a Year in Provence.
Right now though, I am a stranger, I am not involved and I like it that way.