Telephone books with a French touch

The new telephone books came in the mail.

The new telephone books came in the mail.

By Peter and Jean Richards

A few days ago we found in the mailbox at our house in France a heavy cello-wrapped package containing the Annuaires for 2013 — the new telephone directories for the year from France Telecom. They come every March. You get two volumes, the Pages Blancs and the Pages Jaunes — the White Pages for individuals and the Yellow Pages for businesses.

They have a certain Gallic charm, but they are virtually useless, a big waste of paper and not at all an environmental plus. The books are 10¾ inches high and 6¾ inches wide. The Pages Blancs contains 1,008 pages and the Pages Jaunes has 784.

Does anyone still us a telephone directory? We tend to use our computers to find telephone numbers.

The French directories we receive only cover one département, roughly the equivalent of a state in the U.S.A.. All French départements have a number; ours is 17. There are 96 départements in metropolitan France which includes the contiguous ones in mainland Europe and two on the island of Corsica. To find someone in France using the books, if you do not know the address, you would have to peruse 96 telephone directories.


Now, the fun part. The directories are broken down by towns and villages so you have to know the name of the locality where the person lives. There are lots and lots of localities, scads bearing the names of saints. Many of these names are composed of the same saint’s name with a geographical tag. The example we use to illustrate this gives numbers for people in the communities of Saint George de Longuepierre (17470), Saint George des Agoûts (17150) and Saint George des Coteaux (17810). The five-digit number in parentheses after the commune name is the postal code, the first two digits designating the département where it is located, in this case 17 (Charente Maritime),


Also shown is a page from the Yellow Pages to illustrate how one must locate the information for a particular plombier (plumber). There are two listings for plumbers in Saint Laurente de la Prée but only one each for such localities as Saint George des Coteaux, Saint Germain de Marencennes, Saint Germain du Seudre, Saint Hilaire de Villefranche, Saint Jean de Liversay, Saint Léger, Saint Loup, Saint Mard and more.

A bonus included with the new directories was a chéquier (checkbook) containing three coupons for discounts on various services. The first one was for a bride-finding agency, containing a particular orthographic double entendre for those seeking a bride of Slavic heritage.


The phone directories now come in the mail every March. Until a few years ago you had to pick them up at a telephone company office, often several of kilometers from your residence, Our nearest pickup point was 25 kilometers away.

But all this information is on the Internet, where it is considerably easier to find a number or address.

A bit of good news for non-French speaking people is that there is a telephone number for France Telecom for English speakers. The people who answer are very helpful and have always been able to help us solve the problem about which we called.

Copyright © 2013 Peter and Jean Richards


About oldmainetravelers

The Old Maine Travelers are Peter and Jean Richards, who met more than a half century ago covering President John F. Kennedy on what would become his last trip to Boston.  They worked for many years as wire service and newspaper reporters and editors.  Peter did a nightly television show on WGBH, Boston, before he went into government in the administration of John V. Lindsay, mayor of New York City. After they moved to their brownstone in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Jean did a spell on Madison Avenue in the real “Mad Men” days and later became public relations officer at Chase Manhattan Bank.  Since 1973 they have worked together first as owners and publishers of a group of award-winning newspapers in Dutchess County, N.Y., and then as antiques dealers.  Now they are old and live on the coast of Maine and in the Southwest of France when not traveling further afield. In the red barn by their house in Damariscotta, Maine, they tend an antique shop specializing in 18th and 19th century furniture, metalwork and accessories, buying objects they know about and like and selling them from May to October to delightful people of obvious discernment and taste. In France, they live in an old stone house in the shadows of the remaining towers of an unfinished 17th century church and above Roman drains in a town along a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. They love it — for its authenticity and abundant boulangeries.  The rest of the time they travel the world together seeing the sights, seeking out museums, stumbling into interesting conversations, savoring local specialties and otherwise bumbling along in their own style. For years they have sent article-length postcards to family, friends, fellow travelers and some media. Many of these will now be posted here.
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