Unsuspecting friendly faces

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

I've been going to the same couple of grocery stores since we moved into our apartment. There are two of the same chain stores within a two minute walk from our place - one that's open every single day until 8pm - and another much larger store about a 10 minutes walk away. So, when I need something in a hurry or something I forgot to grab at the marché, I hop in the elevator and make my way down the street to the neighborhood grocer. Before I discovered the wonders of marché shopping, I was going to the grocery store nearly everyday, sometimes more than once a day. Actually, my abilities to grocery shop could be added to my CV under Hobbies and Interests if they were considered on par with, say, wind surfing. (And why shouldn't they be?)

Shopping at the same small retailers over and over again, one will begin to run into the same people over time. There are usually only one or two cashiers at any given time (even though there are four checkout lanes at one store), and I've only seen about four different cashiers during my separate trips. What I've come to expect from my cashier is simple: a monotonous bonjour, a rare glance in my direction, and an occasional complaint about another customer from some of the more social cashiers. The odd socializer tends to be in a noticeably happier mood than the others, and offers a genuine smile from time to time. I appreciate that, but I don't usually change my routine when checking out, regardless of the cashier - I say bonjour, try to make eye contact, shine a closed-mouth smile and bid farewell with a merci, bonne journée, au revoir!

It's odd because I feel like I know these people, like we're almost acquaintances, but not quite friendly. Once, while walking through the metro station at Pont de Sèvres, I saw one of my regular cashiers walk past me. We glanced at each other and I think we both realized we knew the other and from where, but weren't quite sure what to do, so we simultaneously flashed a "hey, I think I know you" smile and went on our merry ways. Today, I had to pick up a few things I needed for dinner, including a bottle of cassis which is always "locked" behind a glass case. I rarely buy things behind the glass case (although I'm thinking of changing my habits after I noticed a pretty bottle of tawny porto at a crazy good price), so I forgot that there's a little bell you have to ring to get some assistance. I went up to a cashier who regularly checks me out. She's not a socializer; she doesn't even give me a glance most times, and whenever I realize I don't have enough cash to pay with she grunts and huffs when I ask if I can pay by card. So, I asked her if I could get some assistance with the bottles in the case, and she reminded me to ring the bell first. That was the most I'd ever spoken to her. I went through her line when I was ready to check out and as other American transplants will know, you bag your own groceries here and sometimes the guy in front of you is really, really slow with bagging his stuff, but the clerks just go ahead and ring up your items which get mixed up with his and then you have to wait until the guy's done to start bagging your stuff, and the cycle continues. Well, I was waiting, my cashier was blankly staring at her screen, while t
he guy in front of me bagged his shiz, and as I was leaning to check the total I owed, she busted out with a loud "FIVE SEVENTY-TWO" - in English. At first, I didn't realize she was trying to make a joke, so I just kind of smirked and dug for my change. Then, I told her in French that I must have a really strong accent, and that's when the tides turned and she started doing what she's never done before - being friendly. We chatted about my accent while finishing up the transaction, and for the first time, I walked away from that grocery store with a smile. It's amazing what a little friendliness can do for your day - and I'm hoping it continues.


Candy said...

what a cool story!! the ice is broken so hopefully you'll continue to have random friendly encounters there!

Josephine said...

Smile and the world (sometimes) smiles with you! Laugh and the world (sometimes) laughs with you! Make fun of your accent and the cashier wants to baptize your first-born!! Just kidding!

Hopefully she will realize what a cool person you really are...American and all! :)

Evolutionary Revolutionary said...

I think that's totally universal. I've worked so many crappy retail jobs and some days I just WOULD NOT make an effort unless someone did first. Now that I know how many people usually DID NOT, I really try to be nice to schleppers like that. I'm sure she appreciated it!!

Oh the humanity!!!

Yu Ming Lui said...

I totally relate to your grocery encounters. The first "friends" I made in my neighbourhood in Tokyo was at the supermarket!

I laughed when you said you may pop by your grocery store a couple of times a day — that happens to me. I love to cook but I don't have a good memory sometimes.

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