Beki Grinter

Epicer

In European Union, France on November 22, 2009 at 1:46 pm

A week tomorrow and we will set foot on U.S. soil again.

We’re excited to be returning. But, it’s just gotten to the point where we have even more understanding … well it feels like that. I’ve felt my French has been through two step changes. The first was when I got numbers. The second was when less stuff just started going wrong in conversation. The second took me a while to realise, but it’s started.

It’s compounded by a third change, which is that we’ve just started to develop people with whom we can have conversations. Our epicer is one. The other day we went into his shop to get some pain industriel and a bottle of wine (what more do you need for a meal when you have cheese and meat at home?). We paid the 8 euros, actually we paid the 8.04 euros but he only asked for 8 which was kind of him. And then I said that I didn’t like the little 1 euro cent coins.

So, in response he asked me “when is England going to join the Euro” which wasn’t exactly what I had had in mind for a conversation. I understood that was what he asked. Then I started thinking about all the things I would like to be able to say (this is a political conversation of course, but the French like to have political conversations… and why not, it does have the nice property that then politics gets discussed as opposed to being reduced and processed down to trite positions). But somehow, and together, we managed to keep the conversation going. We learnt that despite the inconvenience of the currency, our epicer liked London (and Sandwich and Cantebury), enjoyed the global diversity of restaurants, and didn’t find it as expensive as he’d be told it would be. He bought his daughter over to join in the conversation. Luckily she was shy, I still find it a little embarrassing when an 8 year old can very soon outstrip me in terms of my language skills.

Then a customer, we think, also joined in. He walked into the shop and helped himself to a coffee behind the counter. I’m not really sure what type of relationship our epicer has with that person, customer, store help, friend, probably all of those and some more that I don’t know. He too had been to England, and so it was a trip around the Isles all from the warmth of the epicerie.

In addition to the newly talkative epicer, I think it takes the French a while to warm up to etrangers, the two ladies in the post office are now getting more friendly… (and of course they know where our mail goes and that we’re not from these parts…). One loves to use English words (I won’t call it conversation, that she prefers to do with us in French), but she recently wished K “a very very good day” and told us that she would give us “beautiful” stamps (for England, unfortunately it was the usual Marianne for the U.S.). The other one, who I have had more interaction with smiles now when she sees me. This is because I am well trained to say bonjour to everyone and au revoir on the way out. Shopping is not an exchange, it’s a social activity. And not social in that “store greeter” manufactured way, it’s actually really social. Authentic social, before the chains drove civility out of business.

We have a few bar/restaurants that we like. One that takes courage is run by a man who is passionate about wine. He also offers just one plat du jour. The plat du jour is of course in French and frequently not written down, so you have to get it by comprehension. He also happens to like game birds, (when I learnt French meats in the UK curiously we did not focus on them, opting for the four-legged meats over the two winged ones). So, it’s an adventure every time we’re in there… but one that’s getting easier. A good thing since the menu is 9euros, very reasonable, and the man pours a generous serving of wine. I’d tell you what the name of the place was if I knew it, the sign just says Vins. Very reasonable indeed.

Then there’s Autour du Zinc. It’s a husband and wife operation if I had to guess, perhaps with the help of one of their parents in the kitchen. The lady knows we’re Engligh speaking… We went there for the nouveau Beaujolais tasting. I think we discovered that that is always accompanied by free plates of food… so she told us about the buffet, and then so did her husband, so she told him that she’d already told us and that we understood. I understood that. It’s nice to have people watching out for you.

Next door but one there’s another small place that serves wine by the glass and free snacks to customers. There’s a lady in there who has dealt with us a couple of times. I decided to order a Haut Cote du Nuit, which I wanted to try and pronounce properly. Unfortunately it’s either pronounce it in real-time badly or pronounce it better and take as much time as a table of 8 ordering a 4 course meal. I made another joke. I explained. I had two types of French. Fast and not good. And not fast and not good. She laughed, and not in that pained way when someone makes a joke. I think she genuinely thought it was funny. And I was glad. Sharing a joke, even if it is at your own expense, is part of what makes connections.

I will miss Metz. It’s not the buildings but the people. Good people, and very very generous. I can’t really think of a bad experience I have had people wise. A few embarrassing moments, but not anything intentional.

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