Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Getting Fruity at the Grocers

If there's anything I hate, it's a cliché. I don't like to make assumptions about people, and I don't like other people to pigeonhole me.

It bothers me that my very obvious Englishness has been highlighted now that I'm an ex-pat. I've been bored to tears by foreigners harping on about terrible English food, and how it always rains in London, we are terrible at languages and so on, and I've tried not to make the same mistake and judge Parisians too quickly.

However. The time has come to admit that one cliché about Paris is true: it must be, because I have been hit by it almost each and every single time I set foot in a shop or a restaurant. The times it hasn't been the case have stood out in my memory as glorious exceptions to the ghastly rule.

Perhaps it's only in Paris, I've yet to discover the attitude outside the périférique, but customer service is not what it could be. Shopkeepers don't seem to care for your custom. Waiters don't often go out of their way to make you feel welcome. As an English speaker, your French is often corrected or even ignored and answered in (not great) English.

Oui: I've said it, the French are not into service as we know it. Just one example:

Yesterday in the fruit shop, I asked the fruit-monger if he might be able to make up a basket of assorted fruit for me, for my office. Yes, that's right, I asked a shopkeeper if I might be able to purchase some of the things he keeps in his shop. Honestly, what can I have been thinking?!

Fruiterer: "Oh, I don't think so." He said, indignantly. "I'm alone in the shop today."

Me, incredulous, but still hoping for the best (and speaking comprehensible French throughout this exchange): "Oh, I see. But could you not just... put some fruit into a basket?" I said - indicating the numerous baskets directly behind the belligerent fruiterer. "Hopefully it wouldn't take too long, a small selection?"

Fruit-Man, looking like he was sucking on one of his own lemons: "Well, if I do that, I will have to stop whenever another customer comes in, and serve them first. I'm alone in the shop today."

Me (thinking, yes, yes that's right, you are alone in the shop today. Alone, with no other customers and yet strangely unwilling to put some FRUIT, aka your WARES into a basket, in exchange for some money...) but nevertheless smiling encouragingly: "D'accord, merci beaucoup."

Fruitmonger, petulantly picking out some apples and pears and placing them into the basket: "It's not that easy to make up a basket when you don't know what you're going to put in it you know!"

Me: !*???%!!

Fruit-Cake, pouting and huffing like a character from 'Allo 'Allo: "If another customer comes in, I'll be obliged to take their order first, and then it could take up to an HOUR..."

Me, smiling like a cheshire cat: ?!!?%?*?%

Fruit and Nut Case, reluctantly returning to the till with the completed basket, still furtively on the look-out for any prospective customers he could possibly try and serve before me: "That'll be 24 euros."

Me, handing over the cash sweetly, my glazed smile starting to hurt my cheeks, "Thank you so much, and do you have a bag at all?"

Carmen Miranda, affronted and yet triumphant: "Not at all, Mademoiselle! Pas. Du. TOUT!"

Me, still smiling sweetly as I clasped the cumbersome basket to me: "Merci beaucoup Monsieur, vous avez été très...parisien."

And you know what, I really meant it.