I've talked before about the relationships in this country, the way people remember you when you return to their store. Today this advantage was in full force. This morning, I took my parents to the local market, which although smaller because it is vacation season, was still up and running. We were on the lookout for some gifts for my parents friends, and some bread and cheese to bring to Yann's house when we went there for dinner tonight. As we wandered the aisles, I spotted the amazing cheese lady who had so kindly obliged me when I asked her to pick out a cheese for my baguette a few weeks ago. I hung back a bit, she was helping other people, and I didn't think she'd remember me. But as soon as she looked up from her stacks of cheeses, her eyes met mine and a huge smile spread across her face. My parents and I approached the counter and I introduced them in my elementary French. (That you, Prof. Sadock, for that lesson.) I also managed to explain that they were here for 5 days for vacation and that we were going to the house of a friend for dinner and we wanted to pick out two cheeses. She got very excited and started rummaging through the cheeses. She found an excellent soft one and cut off massive chunks of cheese for us to try. Then it was on to hard cheeses, and after tasting two, we had found another perfect one. As we prepared to pay, she strode over to the back counter and swiped up a half-round of the softest, gooeyest cheese I'd ever seen. I couldn't understand what she said, but it was clear from her motions that this was meant to be a gift. When we finally unwrapped it at Yann's, both the Frenchmen at the table oooohed and ahhhhed over it by smell alone, and once I ate it, I understood why. It was the most incredible cheese I'd ever tasted. And it wasn't just a sample, a tasting, a piece, no, it was the whole half-round that she had gifted to us! My heart is still full with gratitude and happiness that she thought so much of us to give us that lovely present, and that she knew that we would appreciate and enjoy it.
I think one of the things about the personal relationships that you have in France with the people that you purchase from is that its not anonymous the way purchasing is in the States. In the States, I can go into Shaws, buy my food, use the self-check-out and never have to interact with a single person. Here, there are larger grocery stores, but even they have their regulars and they know you when you go in and out. And the market, oh, the markets! You talk to them once and the next week they remember you and talk to you again. Back home I often felt invisible, but here, I feel the opposite. But not in an exposed, embarrassed sort of way. Just in a community sort of way. And I've only been here 4 weeks.
Tonight I was walking home from the metro quite late and as I walked up my street, I passed the little drink shop where my Dad and I bought a soda for my mom last week. I'd only ever been in there once. But the owner, who had rung up my purchase last week, was outside closing up shop. Even though I was across the street, he waved his arm and called out to me to ask if I was having a nice evening.
I could so live here.