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Friday, November 4, 2011

Getting Called a "Connasse" at a Vegetable Store: Why I Shouldn't Make Jokes with Strangers

Madame S asked me to go pick up some things from various markets today for this evening. No problem, but it had to be early. So right after dropping off the boys, I went over to the town center and popped into the bakery, cheese shop, butcher, and fruit and vegetable vendor. At the produce shop, I had three things to buy, apples 'pour faire un gateau,' green beans and lettuce. I should preface that I hadn't showered and looked awful, which for whatever psychological reason makes me all the more defensive.

"Bonjour" said the young Frenchman.
"Bonjour," I responded with my thick American accent, "Je cherche des pommes pour faire un gateau" I'm looking for cake making apples. He smiled and kind of laughed, and I thought, great, he thinks my accent's cute, we're at that level where we can tease each other. (Stupid, I know.)
We continued our transaction pleasantly enough, until I asked for roquette, a type of lettuce, and he asked me how much. I should also mention that weight in vegetables is not my forté, especially in metric.
"Uhh, comme ça" Like this I made the size with my hands.
"Like zeese?" He responded in English.
"En français, s'il vous plait." In French please.
"Ah, vous ete ici pour apprendre le français?" Ah, you are here to learn French.

This is when I made the mistake of jokingly informing him that since I'm speaking to you in French, it must mean I already speak French. Apparently not funny, because he gave me a strange look and we went to the cash register. At this point he asked me if I wanted a bag.

"No," I said, and he gave me another strange look.

Merde, I didn't understand.
"Uhh," (Even though I just insulted you by telling you I already speak French) "J'ai pas compris" I didn't understand.

"Es-ce que vous voulez un sac?" Do you want a bag?
"Mais no, je l'ai, deja." No, I already have one.

He turns around, and I can't swear to this, but I'm pretty sure he said, "connasse." Which means, bitch, or worse.

In retrospect, I brought that upon myself. I really should have just told him, yes, I am here to learn French, I aspire one day to be as fluent as you, and be able to have an enriching conversation about fruits and vegetables, but alas, I started too late in life, and probably will never be able to enter a store without having anyone a) talking to me in English b)asking why I'm here and if I came to learn French. (Which to be fair, was not my initial reason to come to France.)

Anyway, I know I'm too aggressive, and I need to be more laid back about the constantly-being-questioned-as-to-where-I-come-from-thing, but it just never changes. And to be honest, after you get the same question 450,345 times, you just want a little variation. So when someone appears more flirty/friendly than usual, I start saying dumb stuff as a "joke".

(I also can't help but think of the futility of speaking to a foreigner in English. Especially since the other day I had a beer with a German garçon au pair. I ordered a beer at the bar in French, the guy spoke to me in English. Marius, the German, ordered a beer, and the guy spoke in English. Marius speaks English, but it's harder for him to change between English and French, because he's focusing on French...Why not just stick with French?)

In conclusion, my own language insecurity led me to be a jerk to some poor produce vendor who will probably forever hate anglophones.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Appy Alloween

Last night I spent my first Halloween in Paris. (Last year I was in Prague) For Americans, Halloween in France can be rather painful. In the nicest way possible, the French don't "get" Halloween. And even more painfully, they usually think they do.

I was at Ali's apartment last night sitting around the island chatting with her and her French roomates. Halloween came up, and one of the friends smuggly explained to me that "Halloween is something creating by Marketing. Big companies just want you to buy their products." (She was also reading a book that was condemning capitalism and consumerism, and was explaining the evils of Nespresso, a machine she owns) Well, there's no argument against that. But there's a difference between doing Halloween where you buy a bunch of crappy decorations you don't need, or a slutty costume that vaugley resembles a childhood character, and when you carve pumpkins and drink seasonal beer, make bizarre homemade decorations and spend hours with your college roomates designing historically accurate ensembles.

It's definitely a cultural thing, and just because you have some misguided belief that Americans are materialistic, crude, and uncivilized, you do not have the right to immediately discount this beloved made up holiday. (I don't tell you picking mushrooms in the woods with a pig is weird, do I?) Because guess what? You don't get the spirit of Halloween.

What really bothers me here is trying to explain that Halloween is not, as they believe, about being scary, but coming up with a costume that entertains. Sure, you can dress up as a witch, but how much more entertaining/disturbing is a full grown man dressed up as a baby? Or a reference to some abstract character in a Kubrick film? Or, (insert least favorite politician)?

(By the way, Gui Gui and I dressed up as Spy vs Spy, a comic he had never heard of. I don't think he really got it anyway, but he wore all white, and we looked adorable.)

I guess I haven't grown out of dress up. Maybe by next year.