vendredi 1 juin 2012

S is for Shopping

S is for Shopping

Shops can be a bit of a puzzle here. Go to any small, independent store — of which there are still many in any town — and the service is invariably second to none. Ask for something as mundane as a tin opener or as embarrassing as haemorrhoid cream and you’ll be asked whether it’s a present and if you want it gift-wrapped. Say yes, and regardless of the number of people waiting to be served, the assistant will produce a little box, a flourish of ribbons and maybe a pretty card, and wrap your purchase with a degree of flair and no extra charge. They will then bid you a friendly “au revoir”, as indeed will all the other customers who have been waiting patiently.

Go to a large store or hypermarket and the story is different. The assistants at Lerclerc in Montauban are the rudest and most unhelpful I have ever encountered  — and I used to live in London, remember. On one occasion, the girl at the checkout watched as we unloaded a full trolley. As soon as it was empty, she pointed wordlessly to a sign we’d overlooked: 10 items or less. There was no-one behind us, but we had to transfer everything to the next checkout. As our stuff was rung through, our tormentor sat happily filing her nails.

We don’t go there very often. However, yesterday we ventured in as we needed something specific. Bad mistake. As Gavin was waiting to pay, I went to go to a seat opposite the checkout as my back was hurting. The girl had hysterics. I wasn’t allowed to move in case I absconded with the trolley of as yet unpaid-for provisions. No matter that I could have been caught pretty easily and Gavin was there as a hostage should the gendarmes need to be summoned.

All this, of course, presupposes that the shop you want to patronise is actually open. You can check and double check its hours, then arrive to find a “fermeture exceptionnelle” [exceptional closure]. And if it closes for lunch between 12 and 3pm, don’t even think of entering after 11.45 or before 3.15. We rushed to a local supermarket the other day just before it was due to close for lunch. I waited in the car park while Gavin dashed inside. As I sat there, a member of staff pushed a button to bring down the barricades. A lot of arm waving and shouting managed to halt the operation and prevent me from spending a couple of hours marooned there, with Gavin stuck outside clutching several tins of cat food.

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