Did you ever feel like you are not being heard or you are not being understood? Being abroad can make you feel this way. I know I have had a few encounters that I walked away from that have been less than pleasant. But growing up in American has taught us that people always act a certain way or that we should be treated a certain way. Because of these ideas, I felt that I had a rather “rude” experience with one of the sales women at the local patisserie/boulangerie.
Imagine this. It was finally a nice and somewhat sunny day in Paris, which was a welcomed sight compared to the cloudy and cold days we had been having. I had just had a long day of class (because I only had one class that day but it felt like an eternity). I’m walking home, planning on sitting and relaxing with some Netflix and possibly even taking a short nap. But I want a little treat to go with my Netflix so I stop to get a pain au chocolat. (chocolate croissant for those of you who do not know French…like me). I walk in to the store with a “Bon jour” and a smile on my face. I get a rather unpleasant “Bon jour” back from the lady behind the counter but I brush that off because the sun was somewhat shining. She asks me what I want but I wanted to look at all the options first to see if I wanted to be adventurous that day. But I couldn’t help but feel like she was rushing me as she stared and waited for me to answer. So, in a fluster, I attempt to ask for a pain au chocolat but her impatience was pressuring me so I stumbled on my French and she looked at me like I was a huge waste of time. Finally I just pointed and asked for it in English. Then she grabbed it and threw it in a bag and rings it up. I have no clue how much it cost so I just threw down two euros and left with an “Au revoir” but I got nothing in response. Leaving that place, I felt like the sun was shinning a little less bright and the wind had got a little more chilly.
Now, if we got that kind of service back home, the café would definitely be getting a bad review, but in France, that is more than common. Yes, people have bad days, and yes, in America you don’t show it if you are working with customers, but in France, life is very different. People are constantly on the move and always seem to have something better to do than stop and wait for a foreigner to try and ask for a chocolate croissant. Now, let me try and write this from the lady behind the counter’s point of view.
It’s 3:15 in the afternoon. It has been a long day at the patisserie/ boulangerie and I just want to go home. This morning was incredibly busy, lunchtime was incredibly busy, and now we are getting the kids and parents who are just getting out of school. Plus, we have to pick up the slack since the other patisserie/ boulangerie down the street is closed. I mentally prepare for the next long hour when a American walks in to the store yelling “Bon jour”. I respond “Bon jour” back as I am trying to help another customer that had been waiting. Once I finish with her I ask the American student what she wants. She doesn’t seem to know or even understand me, and another group of people just walked in who probably know what they want. But she was here first and it looks like she is ready to order. It takes her what seems like an unnecessary amount of time to order a simple pain au chocolat so I quickly grab it and ring it up for her. She didn’t have her wallet out so now I need to make the other customers wait a little longer because this American girl has no clue what she is doing. Finally, she pays and I move on to the next customer. I don’t even hear her say “Au revoir”.
Two completely different stories but both completely understandable and completely valid. Sometimes, we just need to stop and look at things from other perspectives in order to try and realize why a person is acting a certain way. An encounter like this is not always uncommon in a French patisserie/ boulangerie but in America, it is definitely uncommon because we are taught that the customer is always right. In France, though, it is completely different. They grew up without being patted on the back for everything, good or bad, that they did. The grew up in reality, not in a world of rainbows and butterflies, so if someone is wrong or don’t know, it is not uncommon for the French to let them know. This is what happened to me in the patisserie/ boulangerie and it is just part of the culture and is not meant as an offense. I don’t know French and I wasn’t sure on what I was going to order, not to mention the crowd that had just walked in, so I definitely could have had more pleasant experience, but it was reality. All in all, make sure you not only know your surroundings, but also know and understand the culture you are immersing yourself in to. By doing that, you can avoid experiences or at least better understand bad experiences you might have with locals, like I did.