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Tag Archives: southern expressions

Faux pas on aisle 4!

Thank you Google Images, I couldn’t agree more!

When thinking of shopping in Europe, one conjures images of sidewalk markets brimming with fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer’s garden. Those certainly exist and my husband and I enjoy them on Sunday afternoons. But just like in the US, there are chain stores where you get your non perishables as well. This is how I received a crash course in French grocery store etiquette.

First, please know that I’m not the kind of shopper who:

1) leaves a cart in the middle of the aisle

2) pays by check regularly and if I do, doesn’t fill in the check prior to checkout

3) invades your personal space in the checkout

4) abuses the express checkout by getting in the ‘10 items or less’ aisle with 11+ items

Admittedly, I do fancy myself as someone of at least average intellect, but the expat experience will sometimes make you think you are, as my father would say, ‘a few bricks shy of a load’ sometimes. So, I’m confessing now, that I did the unthinkable; yes, the almost unforgivable act of taking someone else’s shopping cart by accident. But before you judge me, please read on. And hopefully, just maybe, you can find it in your heart to forgive my egregious breach of shopping etiquette.

One of my favorite movies is Mr. Mom with Michael Keaton and I couldn’t help but laugh for thinking that kind of shopping disaster could never happen to me. Let me just say, be careful of what you find funny or ridiculous, because it could happen to you!

Granted, I didn’t knock fruit over or abandon a child in the cart, but the same awkwardness and cluelessness are spot on. As we do in the US and the UK, we take our carts (or trolleys for our UK friends) and mind our path while not blocking the aisles as best we can. So naturally, I did the same, keeping my path as close to the right as possible (or would it be the left in the UK?) and went about my shopping. I wouldn’t say I received dirty looks, but people curiously looked at the cart first, then at me. I didn’t understand that you don’t push your cart around all the time to each location, you instead park your cart in a general area and walk to get the other items you need, then return to your parked cart when finished. Well, didn’t get the memo, yet again. How can something as simple as pushing a cart, be so different in another country? It was when I realized my faux pas and began leaving my cart, that I unknowingly lost it! The one I returned to had the same stuff in it as I had and was in the same general area, so it must be mine. So I thought.

Getting in the checkout lane (or ‘till’ for our British counterparts), I noticed people stacking their groceries like mad onto the belt. It was at such a fast and furious pace, it looked like an actual race. Naturally, I followed suit and began to pile my items in anticipation of being next, as if I were to win an imaginary prize. If it weren’t for my husband telling me that you have to weigh and bag your own items, I would have been up the proverbial creek without a paddle.

When the clerk was ready, she began scanning my items at lighting speed, sliding them down the stainless steel chute, as I did my best to keep ahead of her by bagging at the other end, still with my eyes on the imaginary prize. Back in the US, I remember the young man who usually bagged my groceries would ask,  ‘paper or plastic, ma’am?’ In France, you bring your own bags or purchase them at the store. It’s not posted anywhere so if you don’t know,  ‘you’re just caught with your bags down.’ In the States, it would always amaze me how the baggers could quickly ascertain which items work best in the same bag and stacked them from heaviest to lightest on top and hand you your candy or gum in one fell swoop! Now, I was just cramming the stuff in the bags as fast as I could, in an effort not to hold up the line.

After the ordeal was over and it was time to return my cart, I thought; now, I can relax. Gingerly pushing the cart sideways up a slight, uphill grade (the carts have wheels that turn 360 degrees–see previous post for more irony) to its holder.  I began to take the coin out of the slot in the cart and it wouldn’t move. I pulled and pulled and still, nothing. I saw the chain and realized, ah, ha! There is a lock that clenches the coin and triggers the engaging or releasing of both the coin and chain. This [locking system] had escaped my notice upon getting the cart, as my hubby was kind enough to do it for me.

Feeling slightly empowered by my firm grasp of the obvious, I began to insert the chain into the wrong slot (the one holding the coin) for a good 30 seconds, which my friends, is a long time in ‘Cartworld’. Then, in a stroke of belated genius, I decided, maybe I should look at the other carts to see how they lock together (better late than never I suppose) and rejoiced at unlocking the mystery! The chain inserts in the back of the lock box verses where the coin is. After loading the car with my goodies (including a few surprises, like gaining some new items from the cart switch) I collapsed into the car from mental exhaustion thinking, and I’ve got to do this again next week?

Bonne courses, y’all (happy shopping)!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on February 10, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Driving in circles: earning the ‘360 degree honk’ in France

Textbook example of how to navigate a roundabout in a perfect world

In all my years of driving (once considered a good driver in my own land), I’ve never been more humbl…no, make that humiliated, than by getting what I call, the ‘360 degree honk’. This didn’t happen in one trip; rather, this self-appointed, renowned title was earned through many painstaking moments of confusing roundabouts, tiny mountain roads with minimal signage, wrong turns, blood, sweat and tears (mostly by those sharing the road with me) later.

Even if you don’t live in Europe, you know what a roundabout is. Roundabouts are becoming increasingly popular in the US, but for the most part, are still relegated to shopping centers and smaller neighborhoods for their aesthetic value. In France, there is definitely an etiquette to the roundabout which yet again, I learned the hard way. This [style of learning] seems to be a disturbing trend with me, but then again, there would be no blog, right? So where was I? Oh yes, driving in circles.

It was a nice day, the sun was shining, birds were singing, the whole nine yards. What could possibly go wrong? You know that expression, ‘you can’t get there from here?’ Well, now that logic makes sense to me! The roundabout, at first glance (see diagram, if you’re a visual person) looks pretty simple: goes one way, exits to the right (in France), seems straight forward enough, no problem I thought. Insert misconception and foolish optimism here. I won’t walk you through the diagram, that would just bore all of us (including me) but I will tell you my hard-earned short cut: stay in the inner lane until you are less than 180 degrees from turning (roughly 2 exits). If you are turning within 2 exits, stay in the outer lane. And as a true southerner would say, “believe you me,” that little tidbit alone is worth its weight in honks.

In trying to navigate roundabouts, I have have been honked at from every direction, but the ‘piece de resistence’, the act that completed the circle of shame, was when someone honked from ahead of me. Now, I don’t mean across in the opposite lane, I mean directly in front of me. Maybe I was following too closely, but that’s a  pretty common occurrence which generally goes unnoticed in France, so I was truly at a loss as to why that final ‘blow’ to my already fragile ego, was necessary in this particular woman’s mind. In fairness, I’m sure she was just as puzzled and angered by me, which truly does make me sad that neither of us understood what went wrong. But, in that moment, I decided to be triumphant instead of defeated! Why? I achieved what I suspect few people have, ‘the 360 degree honk.’

Instead of staying angry and embarrassed, I decided to just wave at my disgruntled road buddy. This had the opposite effect and resulted in angering her even more. I really only wanted to make light of the situation by my gesture, not insight her into a frenzy of French expletives! Sadly, I couldn’t have done a better job at making her angry if I had tried, ‘alors’ (oh well). Not a proud moment and I wish I could have written a different ending, but at some point, you have to put things in a new perspective or you just want to give up. So, waving became my coping mechanism in response to the 360 degree honk; I was liberated.

Bonne Route: Garonne-Danube vu par Clara

By basking in my pseudo-accomplishment, I was able to shrug off my driving ineptitude in order to keep trying. As expats, it’s inevitable; you will offend some people without even trying, so you have to find ways not to let it bother you and embrace the fact as, ‘c’est la vie’ (that’s life). Eventually, we all get over it [being offended] and ourselves in the process. My advise? Just keep following your own road, whether it leads in circles or not, learn from your mistakes and just keep on truckin’. Bonne route (happy travels) y’all!

 
20 Comments

Posted by on January 20, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Ex-pattycakes: building bridges, one banana bread at a time

For the recipe, just click on the banana bread! (also, I add 1/2tsp. cinnamon, but you do what works best for you.) ~Image courtesy of Google

What a wonderful surprise I received last week, homemade ‘bugnes’ (pronounced: “bewnye”, a beignet-style french donut)! Our downstairs neighbor rang (who owns the village grocery store) and brought one of my favorite things, that’s right, the bugnes. I don’t think I’ve met a Southerner yet who didn’t have an overactive sugar gland. My mother told me that when she was pregnant with me, she always craved donuts and sent my dad out on several sleepy-eyed mornings to curtail her cravings for the deep-fried dandies, so naturally, I blame her for nurturing my sugar addiction (mom, if your reading, you know I still love you).

You may be thinking, what do banana bread and bugnes have in common besides both being desserts? Nothing, except the story I’m about to tell you. If you’re from the US, you already know that banana bread is an American classic, but in my parents’ household, it boarders on iconic status! My dad would say, “Momma, I wish I had a dollar for every banana bread you’ve made and I’ve eaten.” Every time my mom asked my dad what he wanted for dessert, he would always say, yep, you’ve guessed it–banana bread. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a cook until just a few years ago, because when you grow up with a great Southern cook in the family, ‘you’ve got a hard row to hoe’ (‘Southern-ese’ for big shoes to fill). So instead, I became a stellar sous chef and dishwasher–voilà. I hear your wheels turning, do you know where this is heading? With so much change hitting you from all sides trying to adjust as an expat, we often default to our comfort zones. In my case, my default mechanism was the one thing that didn’t need translation, food.

If someone makes you something, they like and appreciate you or they wouldn’t have done it. The gift of food says it all. So I wondered, what can I do to show my appreciation for helping me feel welcome, tolerating my abuse of their language and meeting every question with a preemptive head nod and two second delay before responding in my best pigeon French? I know, I’ll bake them a banana bread! Curious how what makes us feel comfortable, becomes something you then want to share with others. In my case, when I was at my most vulnerable, I wanted to share a happy memory from my childhood in the form of banana bread.

So, never having made a banana bread in my life and after a few failed attempts (with tweaking the recipe from American measure to metric), I was finally ready to make deliveries! And with a big American smile and a good dollop of nervousness, off I went rounding the village like some ‘half-baked’ St. Nicolas! I gave everyone between La Poste (post office) and the boulanger (baker), a banana bread. And without having to say much, let them know I genuinely appreciated their help at a time when I needed it most. I told them that it was a special dessert from the US, particularly in my family. They were all so shocked and excited, that it was touching. I found myself having to say, “De rien” (you’re welcome) very quickly and scoot out before the unexpected welling of emotion became obvious. Believe it or not, I’m not a crier, but the expat experience will pull emotions that are buried inside you, by awakening your joys but also your hidden pains. I guess that day, the emotion of being away from home, family and all things familiar (even though I’m 43 years old), hearkens back to our childhoods to that place of comfort we could all run to, whether it was our parents (if you’re the lucky ones), our favorite stuffed animal or imaginary friend. We all need to feel comforted when facing the vast unknown, just as we did as children and that never changes no matter how old or wise, we think we’ve become.

In making each delivery, it felt great to see their eyes light up as some asked, “Pourquoi (why)?” I just simply responded, “pour votre patience avec moi (for your patience with me) and skirted away before the water works began. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, in receiving baked goods from my neighbor, I now know that on some level, they like and accept me, no matter how awkward I feel. Even though I am still very different from people in my village, France and Europe as a whole, in the end, what a comfort it is to know that some things are still universal. Food is a tie that binds us all and making something from the heart and sharing it, is the universal language of caring. Bon appétit, ya’ll.

 
27 Comments

Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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