My command of the French language is limited at best, but allows me to haltingly converse when necessary. During my recent travels, I exchanged both pleasantries and high alerts with my Uber driver Florian; “Excusez-moi, Monsieur. Vous avez passé la rue!” Florian turned the car around and ventured down a deeply rutted dirt road, clearly altering the car’s alignment. Conjugating verbs with abandon, I continued avoir-ing and être-ing incorrectly, tossing in un peu passé compose for good measure. Clutching wildly at a string of vocabulary words unearthed from memory, I allowed the A-LM French Level 1 and 2 Textbooks from my past to guide me. This was the very first time I was able to utilize the phrase “Et voilà! La piscine!” followed by, “the directions say to turn here, at the pool. I mean, back there. There! S’il vous plait.” C’était formidable.
My newfound fluency allowed me to banter back and forth with the cashier at the Super U, the local supermarché in Plascassier. The cashiers wore personalized nametags affixed to their Super U regulation green polo shirts. Each time I paid a visit to the market, I had the good fortune to land on Wendy’s check out line. Admittedly skeptical of a French cashier named Wendy, to my surprise she was extremely patient with my fragmented sentences and tolerant of my painfully slow Euro exchange capability. Wendy was in a word, super, ringing up produce items without skipping a beat, ignoring the quantity of chocolate bars I sent cascading down the conveyer belt, never judging. She also turned a blind eye to the number of wine bottles in my shopping cart.
It has been two weeks since my return and culture shock haunts me still. With barely one eye open, I am dreaming of towering cypress trees stretching skyward beneath pastel skies. The visual assault from my neighbor’s front yard destroys my Provençal reverie.
Outfitted in deluxe Party City Halloween décor with a sprinkling of Home Depot mums, the Garden State attempts to erase my memories of Provence. Inflatable ghosts and orange string lights are in blinding contrast to the blues and yellows of the French countryside. I grab my very un-French, very-tired L.L. Bean canvas shopping tote and head to the market.
Approaching the check-out line, I am juggling a quince in one hand and a pair of pears in the other. Setting them on the counter, one would think I am speaking a foreign language. The cashier at the market in South Orange, NJ is clearly befuddled. Despite sharing the same color palate, quince and pear do not share the same scanning and pricing information. Where is Wendy when I need her?
“What kind of pear is this?” Kindly Cashier inquires. Rummaging through a purse filled with extraneous travel receipts, a small bottle of Zicam, a wayward (now melted) McVitie’s chocolate digestive biscuit in a torn cello bag, I barely look up. “That’s not a pear. It’s a quince.” At the very bottom, wedged against sunglasses that haven’t seen light of day since my return, I unearth my wallet. It offers a five pound note, a few Euros and nary a bit of US currency. I offer a credit card.
“Is that a chip?” asks the cashier.
“No, it’s a quince. These are pears.”
“No, the card, does it have a chip?”
“It does. It’s chipped. I mean it has a chip.”
“Oh, well, sorry, our chip reader doesn’t work. So just go ahead and swipe.”
I do. We continue our quince conversation.
“What do you do with a quince? I’ve seen them over there but no one ever buys them. No one. You’re the first.”
The credit card scanner is beeping, indicating my swiping technique is somehow lacking. The cashier assists, continuing her interrogation.
“Can you eat that quince, just like that?”
“No, no, you don’t want to do that,” I assure her. “I’m going to poach it in a sugar syrup before I bake it.”
“That’s interesting. I always wondered, but no one ever buys them so I never asked.”
“So you’ve said.” The credit card authorities deem me low risk and authorize my purchase. Kindly Cashier hands me a pen, indicating my signature is required. For a split second I wonder if I should sign my name, ‘No One.’
How do you keep no one down on the farm, now that they’ve seen Provence? I wish I knew.
Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm