Saturday, September 5, 2009
The French rarely miss an opportunity to scold. They appear to relish in it and show no mercy to the young, the old or the foreign.
My dear American friend Michelle was strolling through the Champs de Mars with her sun-screen slathered child sitting in the stroller in front of her. It was a beautiful summer day so she pulled back the cover and let Jackson enjoy the light. A French mother came striding over tisk-tisking Michelle for exposing her child to such a dangerous amount of sun! Michelle starts to explain that Jackson is covered in sunscreen but the woman isn't having it and scolds Michelle unmercifully for being an inattentive mother.
I have identified several situations in my life which tend to provoke an unsolicited tongue lashing and I now avoid them like the plague.
In spite of my efforts, from time to time, I find myself on the wrong end of a wagging finger. This happened just the other day in the metro. Grégoire gave me a beautiful new wallet for Christmas. This pale soft leather portefeuille neatly closes with a hidden magnet to contain my cash, cards and metro tickets. The trouble is that this magnet demagnetizes my about half of my metro tickets every time I put a carnet (10 pack of tickets) in there. When you run a demagnetized ticket through the turnstile there is a loud meeeeeep as the bar locks in to place and a crash and sigh as the people behind you bump in to you not understanding why you have stopped up the system. You then have to make your way through the crowd to the ticket sales desk, explain your situation and hope that they replace your ticket.
I have had less than pleasant experiences with ticket sellers in the past so I stock up on demagnetized tickets and trade them all in at one time when I see a nice looking salesperson. I thought I found such a person last week, a young plump girl with an eyebrow ring. I really felt like we would connect and bond over these silly low tech tickets that are always demagnetizing themselves.
"Bonjour, I believe these tickets are demagnetized." I say as I smile and slide the tickets under the window. Silence. Eye roll. She looks suspiciously at my tickets and asks if I know how it is that my tickets have magically demagnetized themselves? I shrug, unwilling to admit that my wallet is surely the culprit. Admitting fault is a rookie mistake in these kinds of situations. More on that another day. She says, "It's not surprising madame that they are demagnetized given the sate they are in..."Oh God. I picked the wrong person. "...you know these little tickets have value! They should be stored is a specific and safe location." I nod, assuming her little scold was over and assuming that if I seem sorry then it would speed up the reissuing process.
But she continued, "And this one! I can see that you ran it through the machine!" She was in an indirect, yet very clear way, accusing me of laundering metro tickets. Of making false claims of demagnetization in order to get fresh tickets in exchange for my used ones. I suggest she run the ticket through the ticket reader which will tell her if it is used or if it is simply demagnetized. She scoffs at this suggestion and tells me that computers don't know everything and that she can see as plain as day that this ticket has been used. Mid-rant I pull out another demagnetized ticket out of my pocket that I forgot about and hand it to her, I figure I am already in trouble so I might as well get as many tickets traded in as I can. This sent her over the edge. She turns red and squawks at me through the holes in the glass, "Metro tickets must be respected! You can't just stuff them anywhere like kitchen rags!!". Silence. I nod. She hands me 3 fresh tickets and holds the 4th up to the glass, "I am keeping this one to teach you a lesson. Next!"
I walked away from the window 1.18€ poorer and laughing. When this kind of thing would happen when I first arrived I would have surely left in tears assuming I had done something wrong. Now I just shake my head and think what is wrong with these people? They are so crazy! I am looking forward to the next step which will surely be having the courage and the vocabulary of a native Parisian to scold her back for selling such flimsy and delicate tickets to me in the first place!