Sunday, January 30, 2011

Street Smarts

Walking as much as I do in Paris has required that I develop a new set of guiding principles to assist me in navigating various obstacles during my hours spent as a pedestrian in this (perplexing) 'city of lights' (and poop, tripping hazards, and overzealous street cleaners).

By now, six months into this blog, I must sound like a broken record for going on and on about the dog poop found on the sidewalks, gutters, streets, and even in the Metro stations. I am still uncertain if the Metro poops are of canine origin. But I do know one thing- I am missing out on lots of sightseeing and people-watching since most of the time my eyes are looking downward while scanning approximately ten feet ahead (at least my mountain bike training is proving to be useful) for any upcoming nuggets, piles, smears, logs, or skids in varying shades of brown. Guiding principle #1: Scan my environment.

At least once a day, if not I, then another Kaplan family member, alerts the rest of us, "Watch out, right there!" while pointing to the offensive outputs of a dog's last meal.  It is comforting to know that if I let my guard down for even one second on Guiding Principle #1, that my peeps have got my back. Or rather, my shoes. Guiding principle #2: Warn my loved ones.

My shoes, most of which I adore just a bit too much- especially my Paris-acquired ones- have yet to come in contact with any poop. I have set a goal for myself; to make it through the entire year without stepping in any, and so far, so good. Ironically, the day that I gave Raelyn my old Ugg boots (her foot, at the moment, is also a size 6) she christened them Parisian by promptly stepping in the stuff. Her peeps apparently failed to heed Guiding Principle #2. Thank goodness our building's courtyard has a hose. Raelyn learned how to use it that day. Guiding principle #3: Do not over-parent and do for my children what they can do for themselves (or what I find too disgusting to handle).

The photos below are part of a series of a dozen poop images that I captured with my camera within a two-block stretch of sidewalk between the grocery store and our apartment building. These Parisian streets are filled with so many of these landmines I wish I owned a hovercraft.  Even if I manage to miss the main pile, someone else who didn't has subsequently smeared it in various other places on the sidewalk creating even more obstacles. Guiding Principle #4: Footprints are my friend and a warning device for what's ahead.

I would not want to own the bike that belongs to this chain.

Where there's poop, there's often pee. These double obstacles are the norm.

Footprint warning and additional smear ahead.

In addition to the landmines in the form of dog poop, Paris is a city that surprises me with its numerous puddles of puke. Sure, Paris is a metropolis full of late-night revelers and homeless alcoholics, but so are San Francisco and L.A. and I can't recall the last time I had to  quickly veer left while holding my breath because of vomit on the sidewalk in these two cities. My latest theory is this- the seemingly higher incidence of street vomiting is due to Parisians contracting a food-borne illness from undercooked meat. This notion occurredto me last week as I dined at a restaurant while observing my fellow patrons enjoying their steak tartare. The odds of a Parisian ingesting salmonella or E. coli seem to me to be statistically higher than in L.A. or San Francisco because of the sheer volume of raw meat that is consumed here. Despite the U.S. slaughterhouse methods (Food, Inc. anyone?) which probably means that U.S. raw beef statistically has a higher chance of containing these pathogens, at least most chefs in the U.S. cook the meat long enough to kill them off. It's probably a flimsy theory, but I'm sticking by it. You can thank me for not posting any vomit photos. I actually don't have the stomach to take any. Guiding principle # 5: Continue to refrain from eating raw meat.

With all these messes on the streets of Paris, the city's street cleaners have a very important job. Like all civil servants in Paris, these guys (I have yet to see a female street cleaner) are decked out in their spiffy uniforms; in this case bright kelly green and flourecent citron. They even have matching kelly green vehicles. I am grateful for the bureaucrat whose job it was to decide on the color palette for these uniforms because they are really hard to miss. And it is crucial, if you care to stay dry, to stay out of the street cleaner's way, so I especially appreciate their noticeable attire. Guiding principle #6: Cross to the opposite side of the street when I see a street cleaner person or vehicle approaching. In the video you can see the woman, stage left, who is scurrying to get out of the way...

In addition to spraying the streets clean with blasts of water, the street cleaners are also responsible for directing the flow of water into the sewer system that snakes its way underneath the city's streets. They do this with rolled up swaths of what appear to be carpet remnants. These damp and dirty rolls can be found on just about every block in the gutter in front of the sewer grate. Sometimes the roll is turned parallel to the street, sometimes it is turned perpendicular depending on which way the street cleaner wants to direct the flow of water. If you have managed to successfully dodge the street cleaner's hose, you still have to manage to jump over the mini rivers that are flowing in the gutters and sometimes out into the streets.

Guiding principle #7: Employ my puddle-jumping skills when necessary. 

Now, if all of this wasn't enough to keep me on my toes while out and about, there are plenty of things that could literally knock me off my feet on these Parisian streets. Living in a society that is not as litigious as my U.S. counterpart means that less attention is payed by the city of Paris towards minimizing potential tripping hazards for its citizens. Soren and I frequently run along Paris's Promenade Plantée, several miles of a former elevated train track that has been turned into a beautifully landscaped recreational trail. Fortunately, we have not been tripped up by the metal plates protruding from the pavement along the way, nor the piles of landscape clippings strewn across the path resulting from the hardworking maintenance crew. The City of Walnut Creek would never willingly allow such hazards to exist on their trails and streets.

I recall reading a Contra Costa Times article about five years ago in which it was explained that the new cobblestone crosswalks that had been installed on the newly-opened section of Locust Street were being replaced because citizens were finding it too difficult to walk upon and a few had even fallen. I would hate to see how these citizens would manage as pedestrians on the streets of cobble-stoned Europe. Guiding principle # 8: Wear sensible (but, of course, fashionable) shoes and continue to scan my environment.

One of Paris's many sidewalk hazards

It rains in Paris more often than in Walnut Creek so I almost always have a compact umbrella stashed in my purse. However, I usually only dare to use it when it's really coming down because it is an incredible hassle to jostle myself and my umbrella along the narrow sidewalks of Paris with my fellow umbrella users. I often give up my sidewalk rights to make room for passing pedestrians on clear days. Add umbrellas to the equation and I am looking at a potential poke in the eye and another trip to Dr. Bomhof. Guiding principle # 9: Use my umbrella with extreme care and hope that others do the same.

Umbrellas cannot fit under the scaffolding on the sidewalk. Notice how the umbrella woman is close to receiving a poke in the eye from another umbrella? 

Imagine my condition had I not been abiding by these nine protective measures: Wet, poop and puke covered shoes, bouts of vomiting, scrapes on my hands and knees from tripping and falling on the sidewalk, and a missing eye. Not a pretty picture. I trust that my guiding principles will keep me safe and sound for the next six months. They have been working well for me so far.

add to those that already  me through my everyday existence.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

What's Up Doc?

One of my biggest fears about moving to Paris was health care; finding a doctor, which emergency numbers to dial if necessary, knowing the location of the nearest hospital, and how to communicate our needs and problems effectively in a foreign language. Luckily, none of us have any chronic health conditions that need ongoing attention. I really hoped that we would manage to make it through the year without needing to seek medical attention. Wishful thinking. Six months into our life here and we have sought medical assistance twice now. It's been amusingly interesting to compare and contrast the French health care system to that of the U.S.

We averted our first opportunity to access the French health care system in late August when Raelyn's cast, which was due to come off at a doctor's office at the American Hospital outside of Paris, just happened to unravel itself. Actually, it had a little help in the form of Raelyn taking a bath and then peeling it off of her arm, but it saved us from making the trip all the way out to Neuilly sur Seine when what we really hoped for was to find an English-speaking doctor in our neighborhood.

Soon after, we learned that if you ask your local pharmacist, they will give you a referral to a doctor in the neighborhood. No need to call a Member Services department to verify that your desired physician is in-network. All that we wanted and got, easily enough, was a good word from the pharmacist about an Eglish-speaking physician that was in-neighborhood. Soren returned from the pharmacy with a little slip of scratch paper upon which the pharmacist had scrawled the doctor's name, address, and phone number. This little slip of paper provided me with much relief.

By mid-October, we decided that we should take preventative measures, like we do back home every year, and get flu shots. Soren had already received his shot at Kaiser's flu vaccine clinic during one of his business trips back home. Paris, to my knowledge, does not offer any flu vaccine clinics at hospitals or drug stores. Instead, it works like this: First, purchase our flu vaccines at the pharmacy. Each vaccine comes in a small rectangular box stamped with an expiration date. Total cost for three vaccines = 30 euros (Kaiser's flu vaccination clinics = $0). Second, refrigerate the vaccines at home until our appointment time. Third, call and schedule the vaccination appointment with the doctor. Soren did a great job of managing to arrange our appointment in French because the receptionist that answered the phone did not speak English. Finally, arrive at our appointment with our baggie of vaccines. Can you imagine this system in the U.S.? Patients responsible for purchasing, storing, and transporting their own vaccines? We even heard that some French people skip the doctor's visit altogether and simply inject themselves at home. No thank you.

Upon arriving at the doctor's building, we press the door buzzer to notify him that we have arrived. The building's door buzzes and we enter. We ascend one flight of stairs and reach his office door. The doctor's waiting room, on the other side of this door, is small; a few chairs, an end table with magazines, and a coat rack. What is missing is a receptionist behind a counter, the front office of the doctor's office (a.k.a., the Gatekeeper). With no one to check-in with and officially announce our arrival, we take a seat and wait. Just a few minutes later (as opposed to Kaiser's standard 20 minutes) another door opens and Dr. Bomhof introduces himself to us and ushers us into his office. There is a desk, an exam table, and a credenza filled with books. The doctor takes a seat behind his desk, invites us to take a seat, and we proceed to get acquainted.

Dr. Bomhof  is Dutch, he studied medicine in Paris, and has been here ever since. He is pleasant and personable, his English is excellent. He asked us lots of questions, not about our health history, but about where we are from and what brings us to Paris. The short answer is always, "Because of my husband's work." We never get away with the short answer. It always turns into answering, "What line of work is that?" and then the French are even more curious when they learn Soren is self-employed (entrepreneurs are a rare breed in France) and not an employee of a big company that has stationed us as expats in Paris. Follow-up questions usually include, "Why Paris?", "How long?", and my personal favorite directed at me, "And, what do you do?" Um, it's called trying to raise two decent human beings.

I had read in one of my books that the French are not into asking about what one does for a living, but rather, what one is. From their perspective however, it is typical for French mothers to have a career, most here do. What they don't understand, however, is that I am not offered government-subsidized child care in my country and that the costs of childcare would likely outweigh my earning potential, not to mention that with a husband who travels a ton, paying somebody else to raise our kids so that I can have a career isn't a choice that works for me. I guess it's just another way of saying that I want to be sure it is my presence that sends my kids to therapy someday rather than my absence.

After concluding our lengthy introduction (a far cry from Kaiser's 10-minute total visit rule), Dr. Bomhof wants to know why we are interested in receiving the flu vaccine. Short answer: Because we get it every year. "But why?" he inquires, "You are young and healthy, no?" Long answer: Because the U.S. medical profession tell us to, Soren spends a lot of time on planes, and we don't want to get sick and visit you more than we have to. The doctor chuckles. He explains that very few French (under the age of 60) receive an annual flu shot and, in fact, last year, with the H1N1 scare, France organized a flu vaccine campaign that wound up being poorly-received and many vaccinations went to waste. He humored us since we had gone to the trouble of purchasing, refrigerating, and presenting our vaccines to him and injected us despite that fact that he thought we were being a bit silly and overcautious. Total cost for three injections = 50 euros (per-visit copay at Kaiser per our plan = $100. We elected a Kaiser plan with a lower monthly premium but higher copays in order to ensure greater inpatient and long-term care coverage. We see the doctor so infrequently, but every time we do, I think, 'ouch'!). Dr. Bomhof said that we can choose to pay him cash on the spot or send him a check. We payed cash and he wrote a receipt. No front office necessary apparently. I began to wonder where he is hiding the French receptionist that Soren had spoken to originally.

Fast-forward to mid-January. It is the night before the girls and I are to depart on a train headed to Brugges, Belgium. Soren, who has been in the Netherlands, is meeting us there during his weekend break from teaching at the university in Breda. I was in the kitchen cooking dinner when I hear a shrill scream and loud crying coming from the dining room. It turns out that Nola has been attacked by two dining chairs. One hit her on the back of her head, the other one simultaneously crashed into her nose. I find her crumpled on the floor lying amidst the felled chairs while cradling her head and nose in her hands. She has a huge bump on the back of her head and a gash across the bridge of her nose that is bleeding while it begins to swell (for the unusual story about how this injury occurred, check out Nola's blog: After assessing that her cut did not require stitches, she sat icing her injuries while I googled information about broken noses. Based on what I read, I made an initial judgement call that her nose was not broken. My motto became, 'Have Ibuprofen and BandAids, Will Travel', and off we went to our weekend in Brugges. Nola was a trooper, BandAid and all.

By the time we returned on Sunday evening, I was beginning to doubt my initial assessment and began to worry that her nose might indeed be broken. On Monday morning, Soren called Dr. Bomhof's office from the Netherlands, expecting to reach the French receptionist, but no one answered the phone, it just rang and rang. At least with Kaiser, the phone is answered, even if you are just listening to Muzak while waiting your turn in the queue, knowing that eventually, someone will pick up. Even if it is to put you back on hold again. Not that I would equate this with true customer service, but at least it's a step in the right direction. The French don't even try to grasp the concept of customer service (except for 5-star hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants) and not receiving a live person or automated greeting at the doctor's office was just another example of this. Soren called again on Tuesday, the phone was answered by the receptionist and he succeeded in making an appointment for Nola.

When we arrived, we again waited only a few minutes in his waiting room and Dr. Bomhof and I carried on a nice conversation about Brugges and the Netherlands while he examined Nola. He directed me to take her for an x-ray. My insides immediately tightened up because I felt fearful leaving the comfort and confines of nice English-speaking Dr. Bomhof's office and venturing out into the wider circle of French health care. The doctor made it sound simple enough. He simply placed a call to his radiologist colleague and informed him of our impending arrival, gave me his address (which was only a block away) and a medical form, and off we went. I was instructed to return to Dr. Bomhof's office directly from the radiologist's.

When we arrived at the radiologist's office, I was initially confused as to where to go and to whom I present Nola's form. We were inside an 18th century building that was clearly a former home. The living room was now a waiting room (complete with original wood floors, fireplace, and crown mouldings) and the former dining room was the front office. There was nothing 'front' about this front office at all because it was separated from the waiting room by a grand staircase and had I not had the girls help translate the signs on the wall for me, we would have remained seated in the waiting room for who knows how long. After all, I was already accustomed to Dr. Bomhof's system of no front office receptionist.

We approached the receptionist and I apologized to her, "Désolé, mon français est terrible. Nous sommes ici pour ma fille, Nola." I handed her the form and she asked me, "Vous avez la carte vitale et la sécurité sociale pour Nola?" I swallow the gulp forming in my throat and simply reply, "Non." I begin to worry that she is judging me as an unfit mother, showing up to an appointment without the necessary documents. I found myself wondering if I will be able to understand her when she tells us that we will have to come back another day with the appropriate documentation. I quickly speak up in the hopes of preventing such a scenario and state, "Je paie avec cash, si vous plait." Money talks, right? And a si vous plait never hurts. Cost of xray = 32.40 euros (as opposed to another $100 Kaiser copay). Next thing I knew, she handed me a form and directed us to wait our turn in the waiting room. Thirty minutes and one xray later, we returned with xray in hand to Dr. Bomhof's waiting room. A young man was already seated and five minutes later when the doctor opened his office door, he explained to this patient, in French, to please be patient, he is going to see the child first. I was already fond of Dr. Bomhof, but this preferential treatment sealed the deal.

One look at Nola's x-ray confirmed that my initial assessment was correct. Not broken. Phew! I now gave myself permission to stop feeling guilty about taking our broken-nosed child on a weekend trip to Brugges. Dr. Bomhof wrote a note excusing Nola from her physical activities for the upcoming week and gave us the x-ray to take home. In France, the patient is responsible for keeping and maintaining all medical records. So Nola is now the proud owner of a really cool head shot. Total cost of Dr. Bomhof's exam = 40 euros (again, better than our customary $100 copay).

We received an explanation today, from one of Soren's relatives, about the carte vitale and sécurité sociale that the radiologist's office asked for. The French citizen's carte vitale is their basic health insurance card that covers them for basic medical care. The card is embedded with a microchip and contains one's social security insurance details. The card is presented to the doctor who places it into a card reader enabling direct reimbursement from the insurance fund. Reimbursements are placed directly into one's bank account, normally within a week.

This relative explained that, as French citizens, the incurred costs of the girls' care would be reimbursed to us at 50-70%  had we been able to present this identification. Soren too, is eligible as a French citizen. But, we have chosen to fly under the radar, so-to-speak, since his income is not derived from France and therefore he does not pay into France's social security system. This means we are uninsured here in France.

Let's just say, for the sake of comparison, that Nola and Raelyn did possess a French-issued insurance card linked to a French social security number. That means that our total out-of-pocket medical expenses (after reimbursement at 50% for the past six months) would total 74 euros. This total even includes my non-reimbursable flu innoculation cost since I am non-citizen. That's a far cry from the $300 in copays we would have incurred with Kaiser for the same treatment. Not to mention, that a U.S. primary care physician would not do an initial intake with new patients as a family like Dr. Bomhof did with the four of us. Each of us would have had to be seen individually and incur individual copays for these initial visits. How much would it cost for an  uninsured U.S. citizen to receive an exam from a primary care physician and obtain an x-ray from a radiologist? My guess is substantially more than $100 (calculated exchange rate). Based on this alone, it is easy to see how and why France has been described by the World Health Organization for providing the best overall health care in the world. I sure wish U.S. policy-makers would try a dose of this medicine.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I have been neglecting my blog! The title of this post may lead you to believe that I have been so busy shopping that I have not had time to blog. Well, that's only partly true. I have also been busy traveling for two weeks (freezing my buns off is more like it, just doing it in cities other than Paris), nit picking and de-lousing the girls, sharing my computer with the two other bloggers in the household, travel planning (Italy in April), exploring more of Paris, and single-parenting (Soren is gone for three weeks). All of this does not leave much time for blogging, nor shopping for that matter. But, being that I am the house manager and responsible for getting food on the table, I cannot neglect the grocery shopping, unfortunately.

My shopping know-how has evolved since my earlier post ("Shopping in Paris: Je Ne Comprend Pas"). For example, my keen eyes and ears have picked up on the fact that one is not expected to greet the security guards that are posted at the entrances and exits of every non-boutique store. In the first couple of months here I was so intent on not being perceived as rude that I greeted anybody and everybody with a polite, "Bonjour," upon entering a place of business. I soon realized that nobody else acknowledges the security staff. I have no idea why, it must be another one of France's unwritten rules. They never responded to my hello's anyway so I guess they're not allowed to talk to customers.

I have learned to say, "J' ai un sac," to prevent the clerks from placing my items in one of their plastic bags. I don't want to add to the Texas-size trash heap in the Pacific. When heading to my local Franprix, Monoprix, or Picard to pick up groceries, I am toting one of my Lululemon bags on my shoulder while trailing my rolling cart behind me. I usually try to make sure that the side of the Lululemon bag with the punchy statements is facing out because I like to get a kick out of watching the French read these funny quips such as, "Do one thing a day that scares you." Or, "Dance, Sing, Floss, and Travel". I can always tell when they are reading my sac because many of the quotes are printed sideways and I see the reader's head tilting.

Traveling with a rolling cart is quite an exercise in maneuvering. First, one has to manage to roll this contraption up and down stairs, both at the apartment building, the store, and the Metro. Much easier when going, not so when coming home with a cart full of items. Second, one has to navigate the sidewalks, some so narrow that there is room for only one person of average girth plus their cart. Add to this a baguette sticking out of the cart sideways and an approaching pedestrian and you have yourself three options: Forge ahead and pretend you do not see the pedestrian, stop and turn yourself sideways while pulling your cart to the side as well to create a slim margin for passing, or, move yourself and your cart into the street and give up your rights to the sidewalk. Meanwhile, you hope that your baguette makes it though this maneuvering unscathed. I have tried all three approaches. I do not have a preferred method, it's an in-the-moment quick thinking type of thing. Second, the dog poop. It's one thing to make your brain make your feet step over these messes, it's another to simultaneously swerve a heavy cart around them. I care more about my shoes than I do the wheels of the cart. I try not to think about what those wheels are tracking into the apartment.

The grocery store errand is a stressful one in my life here for many reasons. It's hot inside the stores. I always regret wearing my coat once inside the store because I am eager to remove it, but I don't have enough hands to carry it, pull my cart, and collect my items. So I sweat it out. The Monoprix, where I usually shop, is two stories. Up top are the household goods and drugstore items, down below are the groceries. The entrance is at the top level so I collect those items first, put them in my Lululemon bag and then take the elevator downstairs. At this point I start hoping that all the items on my list are in-stock and in a logical location because I don't always have the skills to ask for them if I cannot find them. Last week, I spent a good ten minutes searching high and low for baking soda. No luck. Yesterday I found it by accident. Next to the pickles and ketchup. The baking section is not even in the same aisle. What are they thinking? Granted, I was on auto-pilot keeping my eyes peeled for the yellow box I am accustomed to back home. The brand this store carries is blue. Reprogramming myself is clearly necessary.

The grocery clerks here are sedentary. They do not stand, they sit perched on stools, chatting away with their fellow cashiers while slowly, mindlessly, and carelessly tossing my items down the counter to the other end where they make a soft 'thwack' against the barrier. Of course, I say, "Bonjour," but it hardly seems worth the effort because the response I get is always a robotic and listless 'bonjour' back at me. The quality of my bonjour (yes, I have played around with it) has not produced any marked effect on the clerk's treatment of me or my groceries. I know the French are supposed to be all about who they are, not what they do, but a little pride in a job well done would be really appreciated by me in this regard.

As with collecting my groceries, at the checkout counter, again, it's all about strategy. I have to unload the light items first, obviously, because they are on top of the cart. However, I can't let the clerk process them first because if I do, she will send them down to the end of the counter followed by the heavy stuff and a sad crushing will occur. The difficulty with this is that the counter space for unloading groceries is very small so there is a lack of room to store my produce and bread until I am ready to send them towards the cashier after the heavy items. So I resort to creating a produce tower topped by a loaf of bread at the edge of the counter, farthest away from the cashier, hoping it does not topple to the floor while I am processing the heaviest items.I have become pretty skilled at playing blocks with produce.

After managing my topple-less tower, my anxiety increases further still because there are no baggers. At this point in the checkout process I have to dash down to the end of the counter and start the heavy-light process all over again, although at warp speed. This is because the clerk does not wait for my items to be removed from the counter before sending down those of the next customer. Usually, I am 3/4 of the way done with placing my items back in the cart when it is time to break to pay the bill. This too, I have mastered with speech, "Je paie avec carte de crédit." It is necessary to verbally declare my method of payment because Parisians rarely use credit cards (at least for grocery purchases). Instead they use cash, debit cards, or old-school checks (when is the last time you have waited in line behind a check writer?). Upon learning that I am paying with my credit card she pushes a special button on her machine that allows for this atypical transaction. By the time I am signing the receipt, the next customer's items are flying down towards mine and it's time to get back to bagging. By the time I am done with this necessary evil of an errand, I am ready for a cocktail. Make it a Kir Royale. Is 11:00 a.m. too early for a drink?

One time, I stopped in a Franprix spontaneously remembering a needed item and I was without my sac. The customer behind me in line finished her transaction and had left the store while I was still struggling to wrestle open one of their plastic grocery bags. My germophobia prevents me from engaging in the sure-fire way to open the bag; finger-licking. So I sat there for an eternity using the 'making-fire' technique instead. Nobody offered any assistance. Probably because they had me pegged for the fool that I am in not finger-licking and they wanted to watch me suffer.

The only time I have felt good upon leaving my local Monoprix was two weeks ago. Here's why: My clerk was so busy talking to the clerk behind her that she did not realize that some of  my tomatoes had escaped from their bag due to her careless handling of them.She tossed the bag down towards me and when I realized some tomatoes were missing I looked up and saw that one was still on the scale to her right, too far away for me to reach. Meanwhile, she had swiveled on her stool so that her upper body twisted around towards her clerk-friend (it always helps to make eye-contact when in a deep and meaningful conversation with a co-worker). Because I couldn't think quick enough on my feet to muster the words for, "My tomato is lost and forgotten over there and would like to be reunited with its family," I simply extended my arm and pointed at it, right at the same time my clerk swiveled back around to attend to the less important task of processing my groceries. Her swivel motion + my arm extension = Collision. Her face crashed into my arm and her eyeglasses were knocked askew. It looked like it hurt. I immediately offered a polite, "Je suis désolé Madame," while feeling like she should really be the one apologizing to me for not doing her job. She gave me a very perturbed look, took her glasses off, put them on, took them off, readjusted them, put them back on and then swiveled back towards her clerk-friend. My five months here have provided me with enough understanding so as to know that what she said next was something along the lines of, "This bitch just broke my glasses!" All the usual stress at the checkout stand left my body in that very moment. Now all I felt was anger. How dare she blame her carelessness, her lackadaisical behavior, and what clearly was an accident on me! If only I knew more French, I would have had some choice words for her. As it was, all I could muster was my most exaggerated eye glare possible along with a tightly clenched jaw while saying this through clenched teeth with a low voice, "C'est un accident, dé-so-lé." I drew out the sorry part so that she would hopefully catch all my cues about the fact that I knew she was talking @#$!&% about me. By the look on her face, I knew she got my drift. I also took the fact that she said, "Au revoir," before I did as a sign that I had won our little checkout battle. 

Note to self: Learn some French swear words.