Wednesday, June 07, 2006

How Rude!

Before arriving in France, I read all the books I could find about french politesse, not wanting to offend anyone with the forgotten "Bonjour!" or the accidental smile at an inappropriate time. This was a struggle for my Midwestern Upbringing, between the desire to not offend (for Norwegian-Americans this is one of the main tenets of our existence) and the natural habit to smile at people when they meet my eyes (which in France is considered rude or a come-on.) After a few weeks, I stopped caring quite so much if I bumped into people accidentally, because I noticed that they slammed into me all the time without a care in the world. The more I observed, the more I learned and soon, I began to "get" french politeness, and was Bonjouring and Au Revoiring with the best of them.

Then yesterday, at the grocery store, I was treated more rudely than I ever have been in Paris.

The line for the caisse was about five people long, and my basket was heavy due to the purchase of several different beverages. The surrounding lines were empty, with no one tending them, so I grabbed an extra order seperator (those little metal bars you put between your groceries and the person's ahead of you.) As she moved the belt toward her, the cashier picked up the metal bar, looked down to see another on the belt after the order, and despite the fact that there were three more people behind me, put the first order seperator under the cash register.

How RUDE! The older lady behind me looked around, bewildered, and proceeded to continue holding her groceries, waiting for the release of the only order seperator allowed on this woman's line.

As I came up to my turn in line, she ignored me, giving no eye contact, and not even a response to my "Bonjour, Madame." She rang up my order, pausing in the middle to have a conversation with another Champion worker, and rang it up. She turned toward me, not meeting my eyes, and said, "How are you gonna pay?" I indicated the bank card I had been holding since I walked past the stolen item detector in line and said, "Carte bancaire." She pushed the appropriate buttons, and I began to type in my personal code to authorize the payment.

When I was finished, I picked up my bags, and thanked her for the receipt she tossed in my direction. The older lady behind me, noticing that there were few plastic sacs left, said to our lovely checker, "Madame, there are not many bags, we need some more..."

The checker ignored her.

That was it. I had had it. She can be nasty to me, but this lady was someone's grandma! In my sharpest, most irritated tone, I said, "Madame! There are not enough sacs! She needs more sacs! AU REVOIR!!!!"

And finally, she snapped out of her stupor, and replied, "Au Revoir. Merci, Madame."

Politesse. It's the French/Midwestern Way.

Photo from M. B.



At 7:55 AM, June 07, 2006, Blogger Kat said...

WOW! That takes me back. One of my least favorite things in the world--even here in the US--is dealing with cashiers. In my years in Paris, it was rare that I had a good experience at the grocery store. Good for your for saying something. It took me over a year to get that courageous, so good for you!!

At 12:00 PM, June 07, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's tellin' 'em!

At 6:39 PM, June 07, 2006, Blogger Chelee said...


Rudeness is one of my biggest pet peaves. I can imagine how hard it would be to gauge that sort of thing in a different culture. It's great you weren't intimidated to say something.

At 2:11 PM, June 08, 2006, Blogger Samantha said...

Haha, those cashiers are a special breed all their own...sometimes I wonder if being nasty is included in the job description. Though I don't feel bad for the old woman - those little grandmas may look innocent, but they'll knock you down and/or cut you off any chance they get!

At 8:31 AM, June 10, 2006, Anonymous magillicuddy said...

I live directly above a big ATAC supermarket, and have lived in France for more than 17 years. Trust me it was even worse before -- but granted, NO ONE has every explained to the cashiers in France that some of the items a client may have are FRAGILE. No matter what it is, as soon as it's scanned, it is literaly THROWN down towards the bagging section. I have complained I don't know how many time, directly the store manager, and nada. So now, I don't hello or goodbye, and when they ask how I'm going to pay, I don't waste my breath, I just flip/flop the credit card in front of them.

At 6:51 AM, June 11, 2006, Blogger Samantha said...

I don't know what happened to the comment I left before, but I was trying to say that French cashiers are a breed all their own. I swear rudeness is listed as one of the job requirements. And I'm surprised your supermarket still offers plastic bags, all the ones here in Bretagne have gone bagless - if you forget to bring your reusable bags with, you either have to go without or buy new ones.

And don't feel bad for the grandma - those little old ladies can take care of themselves just fine. You have to watch out for them, they can be quite sneaky at times and will cut you off in line if you aren't careful!

At 2:05 PM, June 11, 2006, Blogger La Rêveuse said...

Sorry about that--Blogger was being really stupid for a couple of days and I thought I had published all, but some must have come out in the wash. My guess is they got hacked, but I have only seen a few font changes, so hopefully nothing is too messed up...


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