Saturday, September 15, 2018

Successful French Interactions

Many times I write about my unsuccessful attempts to fit into French life, but yesterday, I came home feeling quite pleased with myself after only a half an hour of several French conversations and interactions. I shouldn't only tell you the bad, so a little bragging on my part.
A bright blue sky over the mountains
I walked downtown late in the afternoon, and as I rounded the corner toward town, a couple standing on a corner called after me.
I turned and the man asked where "une épicerie" was. I paused, wondering if he meant a spice store or small grocery, but then he corrected himself. He was searching for "une boulangerie," a bakery. No problem. I was walking right past the bakery. I invited them to follow me around the corner where the town square opened up, away from the main road that cuts through Quillan.
The couple were from Belgium and I left them at the door to the bakery as I made my way to the papeterie that sells magazines, newspapers, notebooks, pens. I was in search of paper clips, but I had forgotten to look up the word.
I waited for the woman behind the counter to wait on a few other people, which always takes awhile. There are many greetings, kisses, conversation about a zumba class. Finally, the woman in front of me buys two paint brushes along with an oversized pad of paper.
The clerk turns to me, "Madame, bonjour!"
"Bonjour,"I reply before saying in French that I don't know the word for it, but I need the thing that holds paper. I point to the shelf behind her where I see the box of paperclips.
"Les trombones," she says merrily.
"Bien sur," I say, of course. She starts to explain how a paper clip looks like a trombone slide and I nod, understanding.
I pay and slip the box into my bag when I hear the clerk exclaim, "Oh la la!"
I arch an eyebrow and she shakes her head. "It isn't you," she says. She holds up the oversized pad of paper.
I ask if it belongs to the previous woman and she nods. I rush out the door and look both ways before I see the woman in front of the shop window next door.
"Madame," I say, "you forgot your paper."
The woman tuts and goes back into the store carrying a wicker basket on her arm. I'm sure the ensuing conversation between the clerk and her will take at least 10 minutes. That's just how it is. People pause to share their lives with each other.
This old fortress, known as "the chateau" in town, was the tax collector's home. 
I go to the pharmacy next and hand the pharmacist my prescription. He starts to ask for my "carte vitale" which is a health card for French people then stops himself. He remembers that I don't have one. He mutters something about having to print off the papers for me.
Each time he prints off a form that I can send to my insurance company to get reimbursed, but I have discovered that my insurance company doesn't reimburse, so I tell the pharmacist not to bother.
"Vraiment?" he asks, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise.
So, I valiantly pay the 5.59 euros without hope of reimbursement. If he only knew that I pay $20 as a co-pay in the States.
As I leave the pharmacy, I remember to remove the prescription from the bag with the box of medicine. Each time I want a refill, I have to present the paper with the prescription. I have left it in the bag before and had to go to the recycling bin across the road to search for it. Prescription safely in my purse, I head for the Spar, the local grocery, perhaps even epicerie.
I chat with the clerk, commenting on how calm the store is after a summer of lines of tourists. She agrees as she rings up my dishwasher detergent, toothpaste and strawberry jam.
She walks out the wide doors behind me to explain to a man sitting with a bowl hoping to collect money that he isn't allowed to beg on the main street. He is very polite as I move on to the bakery.
The woman behind the counter is fixing a tray with tea for a woman sitting at a table. She greets me but continues her task, preparing the tea pot, the teabag, the cup, spoon and sugar as I look in the display case. I had hoped to buy a coffee eclair, un éclair au café, but as the day draws to a close, the case is empty of my favorite pastry.
The bakery case on a different day when the shelves weren't so bare
Marciel, the baker, comes out of the back and spots me. He walks around the counter to give me cheek kisses, as he asks, "ça va?" which means how are you, how's it going?
I tell him in French that I had hoped to buy an eclair but am too late, the case is bare. He exclaims in fast French and jokingly berates the clerk, grabbing her shoulders in a pinch as if to choke her. All she had to do was ask, he explains as he runs to the back and returns with an armful of eclairs, both coffee and chocolate. I try to say that I hadn't even asked her yet, but he is on a roll, teasing the clerk and saying things like, "Are we a restaurant or not?"
He returns to his kingdom in the kitchen while I wait my turn and take home an eclair.
And as I walked home, I felt like I belonged here in France.
That's Jules in the middle of the street, but the real star was the sunset over our little town. 

5 comments:

Lee I said...

Chocolate or coffee éclair? I'm afraid I would have taken one of each. I knew the French word for paperclip from just this morning, although I had a bit of uncertainty. I was looking in my supply drawer for a paperclip and found a small cellophane envelope with large gold paperclips in it. Perfect. The label was Paper Clips - Trombones. Staples Office Supplies now has French translations on some of their supplies.

The Intrepid Angeleno said...

A choice of chocolate OR coffee eclair???? Like the commenter before me, I would have needed one of each.

Your posts about life in France are wonderful!!!

Lynn Phillips said...

Loved today's post!! We find the best place to have a little conversation is the bakery if they don't have a line.... Love learning about the trombones!!

Just Me said...

Nice !!!

vaiybora said...

Very nice post really ! I apperciate your blog Thanks for sharing,keep sharing more blogs.

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