Well, let me tell you, I think that no matter how long you live in a country, there will still be times when you realize that you haven’t quite mastered the language as well as you thought, or that you haven’t 100% assimilated with the surrounding culture.
For me, the language thing doesn’t bother me that much – I know that I’m not French and that I have an accent and that I haven’t gotten all the vocabulary down quite yet. But that’s okay, it’s a learning process. However, I do REALLY try my best to follow suit when it comes to French culture (after all, when in Rome, right?).
I know to greet people when I walk into a store; I know that I should eat the crust of the cheese; that it’s kind of “mal-vue” to eat in the metro, etc
And each time I learn that I’m not doing things correctly, I try to fix it.
What really bothers me though is when something happens that makes me realize that no matter how hard I try, I simply won’t fit in. That it’s not as easy as doing as the Romans do… That there is one thing that is much harder to change than your daily habits: your mentality.
If there is one thing that I probably will never get used to living in France is their idea of (or lack-there-of) customer service.
In the States the client is supposed to be king – and even if you happen to fall upon that shitty waiter you still have the satisfaction of not giving them a tip. If you’re ever not happy with your service in a store, you could go complain to the manager or write a letter to the company. I’m not one of those people who does any of this in the US because I usually just chalk it up to the person having a shotty day, but it’s nice to know that there is this sort of outlet/ system of checks and balances.
Today I felt the full-blow of French customer service. All I wanted to do was go into the supermarket and pick up a few ingredients for dinner – simple right? Wrong. I walk in to the store and stopped in the entry so I could tell my friends to go ahead without me and that I’d catch up with them later. The whole time I’m standing there (mind you, I haven’t even entered the store yet), one of the store employees is going “Bonjour Mademoiselle” … “Bonjour Mademoiselle” INCESSANTLY in a demeaning tone… while I’m trying to have a conversation with my friends mind you. Like legitimately talking over us.
So finally I turned to him and said “Yes?” And he just goes “Are you doing some shopping today?” – I’m thinking, what in the heck is that supposed to mean? He says no more, but keeps making a gesture with his head… Suddenly my friend figured out why the guy was hassling me… My bagged lunch. Yes I brought my lunch to work today and it just so happens that the plastic bag that I had brought it in had the logo of the competing supermarket. He wanted me to leave my bag outside.
For any American this just seems absolutely ludicrous. Can you imagine walking in to Stop ‘n Shop with a Shaws bag and being stopped and told to leave your bag at the entry? Probably not.
But the French mentality is “She might steal stuff and put it in that competitor bag and tell me that she had already paid for it in the other store.” It makes sense, and I get it – this is another one of those “French” rules that I’ve learned to abide by and on several occasions I have had to shop in 2 different stores and have put aside my bags. But my lunch bag was clearly beaten up and even had a fork sticking out of it… I was so pissed at the way that the guy treated me that I stormed out and bought my dinner elsewhere. Would it really have been so hard for him to say “Excuse me miss, to avoid thefts it’s store policy that bags be kept at the front.” ??
No, I really don’t think it would have been.