I was pleased, when I first arrived in my new home town, to receive through the letter box a card informing me of useful telephone numbers. There are three different numbers for the emergency services in France, so having these, along with the number for the town hall, the post office, the emergency locksmith and the centre for lost dogs (would a dog know how to dial the ten-digit number even if it did happen to have a mobile phone?) was both welcome and useful. The fact that the mairie sends out new copies of these about once a fortnight does have me wondering if they have nothing better to spend my taxes on but hey, at least they're trying.
The latest delivery, however, is not just a small piece of cardboard, but an entire 24-page booklet. It's title, Document d'information communal sur les risques majeurs à Perfectville leaves the reader in no doubt as to its importance. This is serious stuff.
After a page outlining one's role as a citizen, as defined by Article 4 of the Law of the 13th August 2004 concerning the modernisation of civilian safety, the booklet explains what I must do should I hear the Signal national d'alerte. The alarm is tested on the first Wednesday of every month and sounds like an air-raid siren, but, I have learned, the real thing lasts 1 minute and 41 seconds instead of 1 minute only. If I hear it, I should seek shelter, listen to the radio, avoid using the telephone and trust the Education Nationale to look after my children rather than going to collect them from school.
Further reading informs me that the major risks in my area seem to relate to subsidence and the transport of dangerous goods. Despite the colourful diagram suggesting that collapsing and expanding soil is a common problem in this part of the Hexagon, the text itself explains that any serious damage to buildings or people is rare. Should I encounter an accident involving hazardous materials, I must remember not to smoke and avoid inhaling any any noxious substances.
So there we go. Sometimes France tells you nothing, but sometimes she provides far more information than you ever thought you needed to know. I shall go to sleep tonight a better citizen than I was when I woke up this morning. . . and try not to worry about which of these major risks is likely to present itself in the near future.