A French letter

My love affair with Collioure reached its testing first-argument stage last week. And it was a learning experience for both of us.

On the evening in question, your honour, I popped into the local supermarché and purchased 2 (slightly overcooked) croissants and proceeded to pay the full €1.10 as charged at the checkout. Having the exact change, I didn’t bother waiting for the receipt and continued on to Café Sola wherein I spent a pleasant hour pretending to read a French newspaper and drinking coffee.

On my way home, I decided to pop into the supermarché again for a few staples: milk, tabouleh and cucumber. When I got to the checkout this time I put these items through only to be challenged by the cashier about the bag of croissants in my hand.

The rest is a bit of a blur. There were a lot of French words spoken at volume and speed (none of them by me). The manager was consulted and the queue of 10 observed impassively – the perfect jury. Meanwhile, I stood there with my mouth open and no recollection of a single French word. I gathered that I was being asked if I had a receipt for the croissants but couldn’t remember any of the words required to explain my position except ‘non’.

We were at an impasse and there was no option but to return the croissants which I duly did, muttered something darkly about this not being ‘bon’, and left. Outside, I climbed onto my high horse. I had just been accused of stealing! Moi! In front of almost 0.5% of the population of Collioure! This was my close reading of the situation and, if I was right, this was most definitely not ‘bon’. Mortified, angry and for the first time feeling a twinge of  aloneness, I stalked back to the cottage to fester.

Several hours later it struck me that there was something strange about the incident. Why did the gang of 10 not look disapprovingly at the thief/defendant? Why were the prosecution, judgement and sentencing delivered in such casual tones? Could this be a cultural difference and, therefore, a misunderstanding? If I didn’t get it sorted I would starve as the supermarché is my main source of supplies and of course I couldn’t return there after such an embarrassing incident.

Out came the English/French, French/English dictionary and a letter began forming on a blank sheet of paper explaining why I didn’t have a receipt and that I never take anything without paying.

The following day I slipped quietly into the supermarché and gently accosted the manager as he was re-stocking the cereals section. Yes, he did speak a few words of English and, yes, he did remember me from yesterday. I showed him the letter. He scanned the first paragraph, looked at me like a bewildered puppy then proceeded to mime someone furtively grabbing a box of cereal from the shelf and tucking it inside his jacket.

It was a tricky moment, I can tell you. But we dealt with it, me and the supermarché manager. I (think) I explained that I am no shoplifter. He (I think) explained that there was no suggestion of shoplifting, merely a pedestrian request for a receipt with no judgement involved. I suspect I was now being accused of over-reacting but I let that go and me and the supermarché manager shook friendly hands over what had been a misunderstanding on all sides.

Walking toward the door I turned to look fondly at my new friend. He was showing my letter to a staff member. As I left the two of them were, how-you-say?, rolling in the aisles.


One response to “A French letter

  1. Mary Nolan

    Hi Christine,

    Really enjoyed the last couple of posts. Jane directed me to your blog – I only heard about your move recently. Those language barriers are really tumbling down – haha. It sounds lovely over there. Take care, Mary x.

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