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First Day

July 1, 2010

After a brief four days of re-acquainting myself with Paris, I am finally ready to start posting. Expect colorful descriptions of the neighborhood I live in now, as well as previous neighborhoods I’ve inhabited, and beyond. There will be waxings-on about French culture, comparisons, and the beauty that is Paris.

UPDATE: Since I first posted this yesterday, some folks, including a French woman who is dear to my heart (and a former roomate) has pointed out how harsh my judgment is of the French in the following story. Let me say this now: I love the French. They are a proud and beautiful people, with an amazing history and that I don’t know what which allows them to maintain a very strong identity in a world that is rapidly changing before my eyes. They produce some of the world’s loveliest things, from clothing and decor to produce and cuisine, and their language is musical, logical, and sounds very refined. Indeed, look in the previous sentence for a good example of why English is a stupid language sometimes…

Pourtant (however), I’d like to point out that within 12 hours of returning to my beloved city this Monday, a person working in a store was rude to me and suggested that my existence as a customer was somehow a detriment to the rhythm of her day.

This is one of the less flattering but undeniable truths about Parisians: They are often ridiculously rude, to customers, tourists, foreign people and their own brethren. It’s easy to attack the French on many levels, so I try to defend them when possible. But something I cannot deny is how completely devoid they are of the concept of customer service.

My own stereotype about Parisians is that a typical store-owner’s ideal situation is to have a boutique where there are no customers, but a beautiful window display and excellently design decor. The purpose of that boutique would be for him or her to hang out all day, looking important and using the desk as a place to hold wineglasses for when his (or her) friends show up at 5:30 p.m. for their aperitif.

But seriously folks, what happened to me the first day I was here (after jet lag and a flight delayed three hours)? I went into the local Monoprix, the big supermarket/Target-style everything store in order to buy some veggies and power converter for my laptop (which, amazingly has survived since 2006 and the updating of the 4th edition of Paris for Dummies). I bought this stupid converter/transformer for a whopping 19.95€, went home and plugged it in.

The shit immediately broke into two pieces and, on top of that, seems to have ruined my battery a bit. It did not work. I returned to le Monoprix with the device, the opened packaging and a receipt that proved I had bought it less than 20 minutes previously.

First of all, the guard told me to wait by the acceuil, or welcome desk, for someone to help me. I waited five minutes, unsurprised that nobody once came there to help me. So I went upstairs and harassed a checkout lady until the store manager finally showed up, by accident. Had she known why I was there, she would have done her best to avoid me. I know, I could see it in her eyes.

I explained to her what happened, that it fell apart upon contact. What was so typically French was that should could not possibly imagine that I might be right, that her store does indeed sell a shitty project. For those of us who don’t speak French, capturing her incredulous mood in English is just not as satisfying, so I’ll try and do both.

Manager: Mais vous avez pas l’acheté comme ça. Sans doute c’est vous qui l’a fait ! [But you didn’t buy it like that. Obviously you’re the one who broke it!]

Me: Mais non, Madame. Comment je vais faire ça, je viens de l’acheter. Je l’ai mis dans le mur, et directement le truc est tombé en deux pieces. [Ma’am, no. How am I going to do that, I just bought it! I put it in the wall, and right away the thing broke into two pieces].

At this point, the bored customers standing around seem vaguely amused by the whole situation.

Manager: Mais ce n’est pas normale ce qui s’est passé. Vous avez ouvert la plastique et puis fait quoi [But what happened is abnormal. What did you do after you opened the packaging?]

Me: Je vous ai dit, j’ai mis dans le mur et c’était cassé! Il n’allais jamais marché. Je suis pas ici pour tromper tout le monde [I told you. I put it in the wall, and it fell apart. It was never going to work! I’m not here to cheat everyone]

At this point, and to the amusement of onlookers, she was visibly annoyed. This is because, according to her cultural upbringing, it is impossible that she has sold me a faulty product. To suggest so is to attack her honor, and therefore, her worldly position as a citizen of la France.

Manager: Alors, ce n’est pas bien parce que maintenant il va falloir qu’on le jette. [Okay, this is no good because now we have to throw away this one.]

Me (hand in head, looking very tired): Mais bien sur que oui madame, il faut le jetter. Il est dommage que ça doit être remplacé maintenant. [Exactly Madame, you’re going to have to throw it away. It’s too bad that you’ll have to replace it.]

She did replace it, and everything is fine now, although she proceeded to give me shit about it for several minutes more. After all, it was my fault that she had to throw away this stupid converter, and not the fact that it was a piece of shit. At least in her mind.

I promise you, dear readers, that not every post will be so negative. But I had to get that one off my chest. Besides, it’s absolutely hilarious. Not every French person is like that, but it’s very typique, and many a good-humored Parisian would attest to that.

A la prochaine [until next time],


3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2010 14:21

    Moi, je t’aime le flaneur!

    Felicitations, Joseph!

    A bien tot.

  2. Cheryl permalink
    July 1, 2010 17:30

    OH MY GOD, did I laugh at this!!!!!!! It is just so typical! Good for you for 1)persevering, 2) and actually getting your product replaced! You deserve a medal! I will be avidly waiting for more from the Brooklyn Flaneur! Good luck my dear!!!!

  3. jean-marie permalink
    July 12, 2010 00:51

    Oh Flâneur, I couldn’t agree more! It’s the sad sad truth!
    But it’s very Paris you know, in other cities you don’t meet this kind of people in shops.
    I call it “la maladie des chaines de magasins” (the chainstore illness) because, there are so many shops in Paris where there is, as a matter of fact, no boss monitoring, wtaching over the employees, so they feel free to behave like assholes if they are not in a good mood.


    J’adore ma France et Paris quand même!!

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