samedi 17 mars 2012

Monoprix and Me

Readers ask me why I continue to shop at Monoprix, since my complaints  about this market are incessant.  Proximity is one reason.  Quality, certainly when compared with Franprix, is another.

 Ease of negotiating the aisles, however, is not one of the reasons.

Here we are in the cheese aisle.  It's noon--a peak shopping time.  Got a shopping cart?  Sorry, the cheese aisle is off-limits to you!!!!

This stack of cardboard will stay there, blocking the ham section, forever.  Or until the one guy whose labor-union allows him to remove the cardboard packaging gets to work. 

If you were tempted by anything in the shelves which this palette is blocking, you are SOL.  That thing ain't going anywhere.  AND DON'T TRY AND MOVE IT YOURSELF unless you want to get yelled at.

Hello noontime crowd.  Open up another register so the line doesn't back up into the wine section at the rear of the store?  Of course not!  Because the checkout girls need their lunchbreak too!

Now here's a recent addition to the Monoprix.  Surely influenced by the draw of  Krispy Kreme's "HOT DONUTS NOW" , they've installed these baguette-makers. One euro, one minute, and you've got a freshly-baked-from-industrial-dough baguette! Monoprix's bread is as far from artisanal as you can get, but I give them points for this fun contraption.

Tongue Tripping

While shopping at Sephora recently, I had a reminder of the lacunae which exist between the signifier and the signified. It came about during a brief exchange over moisturizers. Not seeing my old standby on the shelf, I asked the saleswoman if they had discontinued this particular cream. She said no, the product had merely been repackaged. Then she said:
“C'était comment, votre pot?”
(“What did the old jar look like ?”)

But this is what I heard:

“C'était comment votre peau?”
(“What was your skin like ?” )

To which I responded with a detailed description of the varying tendencies of my skin to go from dry and flaky in the winter to soft and well-moisturized according to the degree of humidity in the summer….

She finally stopped me when she realized I was not talking about the earlier packaging of Clarins© Crème Hydratante.

I consider myself fluent in French. I hold advanced degrees in language and literature, and I’ve lived here most of my adult life. I’ve birthed a couple of babies in French, bought three properties in French, taught in the French university system in French, married and divorced in French. But there was a time when my language skills were not as polished as they are now.

In my early 20s I rented an unfurnished apartment. I spent a good deal of time amassing furnishings for the place and was anxious to show off the result to any and all visitors. The only thing lacking was a bed. (I can’t recall why the most essential item one could have in an apartment was the last thing I got around to purchasing. Where did I sleep?)

The landlord came around one day to see my progress. I proudly showed him all my “finds”. He nodded his head in approval. Acknowledging the lack of a bed, I said to him

“J’ai tout ce qui me faut. La seule chose qui me manque, c’est un matelot !"

What I thought I had said :

“I have everything that I need. The only thing missing is a mattress!”

But what I really said was:

“I have everything, everything, everything that I need. The only thing I’m missing is a sailor.”

He advised me to take a quick trip to the nearest naval base to complete the apartment.


From that apartment, I moved to a room in a Countess’s place. I was not used to being around aristocracy—even fallen aristocracy—and her presence made me nervous. My language skills would completely disappear whenever I had to speak with her.

One day she relayed a message to me that I had received a phone call. It was Madame X, inviting me to a dinner party. I tried to tell the Countess this:

“Je suis ravie lorsque Madame X m’invite. Elle fait tellement bien la cuisine. »
(I am thrilled when Madame X invites me over. She is such a good cook.)

But filtered through my anxiety, it came out like this:
“Je suis ravissante lorsque Madame X m’invite. Elle fait tellement bien la cuisine.
(I am ravishing when Madame X invites me over. She is such a good cook).

Yep. Anytime I get an invitation from Madame X, I always put on full makeup and get my hair done. You must look ravishing when going to eat a fine meal.

During my married life, I lived in the 16th arrondissement. (Le seizième.) One Sunday my then-husband wanted to see what time mass was held at the local church. He asked me to call the diocese to check out mass hours: “Appelle le diocèse”. What did I hear? “Appelle Dieu-seize”. "(Call God-sixteen".) I thought that perhaps there was a direct line to God from the 16th arrondissement; you just had to dial 16 to access Him.  (Upon reflection, and considering the tendency towards haughtiness that pervades that arrondissement, I suspect the residents of the 16th do think they have a dedicated channel to God.)

Then there was the time I confused “aujourd’hui” (today) with “au revoir” (goodbye). Or the time I told someone that the place they were looking for was located on the Quai Branlé (the masturbating banks) instead of the Quai Branly (a proper name).

I’ve embarrassed myself plenty on a linguistic level during my time as an expat. But as I used to tell my students, you have to check your pride at the door if you want to learn a language well.  If you aren't making mistakes---hugely embarassing mistakes--you aren't speaking enough.

samedi 3 mars 2012

What next? Making us all buy an Easter Ham?

On July 1, 2012, France will require all drivers to have an unused breath-alcohol test in their glovebox.
T he government's assumption that we all drink alcohol is offensive. The government's assumption that we all have the sense when drunk to actually test our alcohol levels is frighteningly ignorant.

 I doubt this new law has much to do with keeping people safe on the roads. Think about it. How would having an unused breath-alcohol test in your glove box prevent an accident? (If the cop pulling you over finds the kit used, or no kit at all, the fine is the same: 17 euros.) Now, if the law required you to have TWO breathalyzers in the car, that would make sense! Ideally, after a fine meal or an evening at a club, you’d use one test, come up sober, and take the wheel. If the cop pulled you over, you’d show the second, unused test.

 If France were truly concerned with keeping its citizens safe, it would put into place immediately the Loi Morange, the proposed law requiring landlords and homeowners to install smoke detectors in their dwellings. With 10,000 people perishing in household fires in France each year (compared with 4,000 road fatalities per annum) I cannot understand why the government has set the date for the Loi Morange to go into effect in July of 2015. Why such a long leadtime for something so inexpensive and so effective? Why no leadtime for this breathalyzer law?

Something is rotten in Denmark, er, France. Could it be that this breathalyzer law is less about keeping us safe and more about subtly snubbing the part of the French population that doesn’t drink? Another slight to the Muslims? (Oh, and the Mormons, too, although they only represent 0.05167 of the population here.) Can you imagine how the practicing Muslim must feel about being required to purchase and carry around an instrument he will never, ever need?

This law is as thoughtless as the weather girl announcing the Saint’s Day on the nightly news, or the ubiquitous fish on the Friday lunch special at every restaurant in this country. Hello? We are not all drinkers nor Catholics. If you require all of us to have this device in our cars as of July 1st, you should distribute it for free.