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.

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