Wednesday, June 11, 2008

And Another Thing....




I committed one of the top five no-no’s in French etiquette today. I just wasn’t thinking. I usually am right on with the proper forms of greetings and other protocol, but I had just seen the fabulous Paracas Textiles exhibition at the Quai Branly (more on that later), and was totally in the clouds from the amazing work. I wanted to buy a catalog but they were expensive so I was having one of those justifications for buying it-versus save the money and buy a couple of postcards, conversation with myself. I decided to ask the sales guy if the catalog came in English. That was going to be my maker or breaker because of course I wanted to read the texts in English for full comprehension. Alors, I just said it, in French, “Do the catalogs come in English Translation?” As I looked into his face for an answer I realized my gaff. “Bonsooooir, Madame,” he said in a high-pitched, (for a man), piercing voice while looking at me with pure dismay. Merde. I forgot to say the requisite “Bonjour” before any communication can begin with a sales person. I quickly responded in my best Francais-French voice and smile, “Bonsoooooir, monsieur.” But I knew it was too late. This relationship was going nowhere. “Non!” He says. “They are absolutely not translated in French,” as if the very idea was ludicrous. Well, I said, annoyed but laughing, and giving back the attitude, “if they are absolutely not translated then I will absolutely not get one.” And handed over my postcards.

The “Bonjour” to a storekeeper is one of the essential requirements to living or visiting France, and to successfully negotiating a purchase. I watched recently as my mom got burned my sales people she neglected to address properly before asking a price or question. Our favorite was at the Grand Palais, where literally the guard gave us misinformation about how to get to the exhibition. We knew he was lying and then heard him give the right information to the ladies behind us. In my opinion, that is just going too far. I get the politesse and agree it is nice, but I had to laugh because I guess it is just not on the American/Capitalist/we just want you to buy so we will be nice whatever your attitude, but in France, one slip and you are out. Deal done. They don’t want your money and typically you decide you don’t want to give it up. Well, let’s keep on moving forward. Au Revoir.

5 comments:

Cyrille said...

Excellent article !!

I realise we do the same in our shop ... for us French people, it is so annoying to have 'visitors' who do not say 'hi' or at east recognize (by at least looking at you) that they are in 'your' shop and not just at H&M or in their local Kmart !!!

Those 'visitors' rarely become 'customers' ... but we do see a LOT of americans who have the good 'bonjour' reflex !!

-Cyrillle / Matieres a reflexion

Anonymous said...

I don't know if they still do it, but art magazines such as Connaissance des Arts used to publish "éditions spéciales" on exhibitions, which were like mini-catalogs and cost about 10€. They usually had English versions, which were as good as museum catalogs for an intro, and often more intelligible with better quality images.

As a Parisian living in the L.A., I didn't detect any gaffe on your part, only arrogance from someone who should have recognized that you were not French. It's the Quai Branly in Paris, for god's sake. Unfortunately, it is typical of the French art world's snobbery (including cashiers). It only fuels the reputation of the French as being rude, and I'm really sorry for this.

emiglia said...

I can totally sympathize with this. I'm usually pretty good about this, but on the unfortunate afternoon that I've forgotten the "Bonjour," I've instantly regretted it. The only way I've found to maybe have people get over it is to act much more "stupid-American" than I generally care to act. Sometimes they forgive you if they think that you're very, very dumb and very, very rich.

A Seattleite in Paris said...

Oops. Even when you become used to the politesse rules, sometimes it's easy to slip - especially if you just need a quick answer.

Anonymous said...

I love politeness and on my return from my most recent visit to France, I found myself saying "please" and "Thank you" and "hello" to the shop people here in the US. Half of them don't know what to say back! I rather like taking them by surprise.