After the incident with the car, I was a bit anxious in the garage. Despite Magali’s assurances that it wasn’t the norm, I found myself constantly checking around corners and jumping at imaginary sounds whenever I was down there. It just didn’t feel safe. It didn’t help that the garage could easily have doubled as the set of a zombie apocalypse movie with its dark, blind corners and cringe-inducing lighting. Add the fact that I’ve always kept strange hours, and you have a recipe that Hitchcock himself would have loved.
In general, my experience in France has been overwhelmingly positive. In the States, the French are portrayed as rude and unfriendly and hostile to outsiders. (Many of the French say this about themselves, ironically.) But I have found none of this to be true. If you try at all, they will support your effort wholeheartedly. Of course there is still the infamous French bureaucracy to contend with which has justifiably earned its title as world’s worst. (I’m still trying to matriculate my American car in France 6 months after it arrived but that’s it’s own tale for another day.)
Not long after the incident with the car, Paris was the target of a terrorist attack. Because Chartres is an hour south of Paris, I was shielded from much of the chaos. I wasn’t certain how it would affect the day to day life of the average Chartraine. I took my cues from them. By and large, nothing really changed. Life went on as it had before. It is a testament to the resilience of the French people.
I knew with the move, there would be changes in myriad facets of my life…a new language, a new culture, a new cuisine pretty much a new everything. In situations such as this, a certain amount of cluelessness is to be expected and I was mentally prepared for the inevitable ‘Stupid American‘ moment. It came not long after I moved in.
I pride myself in being the considerate foreigner. You know, the one who is respectful of the cultural differences, who learns the language, the mores, etc. For the most part, the French have rewarded me for my efforts but every once in a while I have an ‘Oh, she’s American.’ moment. It’s never intentional, but through a series of incidents, things went a bit awry at the supermarket. (Yes, again. The supermarket would be the bane of my existence for quite some time.)
The weather had been cold and rainy and all my warm clothes were in the car floating across the ocean so I was staying close to the house. But necessity drove me outside and I found myself at a huge supermarket in a beautiful new mall. (The mall also housed an awesome ice cream shop that I planned on patronizing after grocery shopping but the day turned out to be such a mess that I high-tailed it out of there and went straight home.) It began like this:
This supermarket was huge. I’m not understating this. I mean ridiculously huge. And the produce section, which I had been fastidiously avoiding up until now had not only unidentifiable fruits and vegetables but multiple versions of them from different parts of the world. I decided to take some pictures. There were a lot of interesting things there and I thought it would be nice to share with my friends back in the States. That plan did not go over well with security.
As I was standing in the liquor aisle snapping photos, a young lady came over to tell me I wasn’t allowed to take pictures. Now normally, I’m not bitchy like this but something about this girl rubbed me the wrong way so when she came over and started speaking to me in French I acted like I didn’t understand her. I knew EXACTLY what she was saying but I didn’t care for her attitude so I played like the stupid American until she left exasperated and returned with her english speaking colleague. He was quite pleasant, spoke extremely halted English and after explaining to him that the supermarkets in New York weren’t equipped with rows and rows of hard liquor, he shook his head knowingly, smiled and went on his way.
After about 10 minutes, I made my way to the register only to realize that the rotisserie ham and potatoes in my cart had leaked all over my new designer shopping bag, the floor, the counter, everywhere. I was mortified. As if that wasn’t bad enough, after cleaning it up with the assistance of the cashier and a lot of paper towels, the cashier handed me my bag of bananas and rattled off something quickly in French that I didn’t understand. After seeing the blank look on my face, she pointed to the produce section and told me to return there. I had no idea why, I just did as I was told. Turns out, that you have to weigh your produce in the produce section like in the old days not at the register like we do now. Yea I felt like an idiot. In an attempt to mitigate my ignorant behavior, I explained that salient detail to the cashier. She nodded in agreement and told me not to worry. Apparently, it depended on which store you went to, so I did receive a small amount of vindication. I apologized for being so dense and thanked her for being so patient. I could just imagine her rolling her eyes after I left. She had the patience of Job.
France is different than the States in many ways. For one, they are more ecologically conscious. Everything is smaller – food portions, appliances…cars. In fact, dryers are considered a luxury item here as most people dry their clothes on a line. (Still on the fence about that) But for me, one of the starkest differences is the level of comfort with darkness.
I had a love hate relationship with the hallway lights at the airbnb apartment when I first arrived. The lights had to be triggered by a timed light switch. Our hallways are lit all the time. Not here. I lost count of how many times I entered the building, hit the switch to walk up the 2 flights of stairs, stopped to adjust something in my shopping bag or tie my shoes only to find myself standing in the middle of the stairwell in complete darkness because I had taken too long to get my sorry butt upstairs. The worst part was, I continued doing it. It was like my mind couldn’t comprehend the idea that I only had a short window to get from point A to point B before the lights turned off. Luckily for me, my apartment has motion sensor lights.
A level of comfort in the dark is necessary here. I’m sure no one else even notices it. But coming from the light pollution capital of the world, it definitely does take some getting used to.