Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Something Like Something Else

Over the past month DI Arts & Culture reporter Brigid Marshall has been trekking through the French countryside in hopes of becoming more cultured. Thus far she has been accosted at French grocery stores among other very important cultural situations. Here comes the piece of writing that most accurately displays the events that took place no less than one week ago.

Something like Wal-Mart should have been familiar, but then again, it was just something like Wal-Mart. And France's chain super store, "E.Leclerc" isn't Wal-Mart.
Yeah, it's got Neutrogena body products, back packs and a fruit section, but it's also got a milk section that neglects refrigeration and security guards prepared for those inevitable thieves: French masterminds and bien sûr! — foreigners too!
E.Leclerc and Wal-Mart were to us, simply different shades of the same color.
Fifteen minutes before the prompt start of class was definitely enough time to scour the store for delicious French pastries and delicious French pop with delicious French sweets, all practically leaping off the shelves (and obviously jumping into my starving university student mouth).
Hypothetically, fifteen minutes felt like enough time to do anything — and that included the necessary sprint across what often feels like a super highway, but is really a typical French intersection, Allés Condorcet. Hypothetically.
And it's not as if you've got a French mindset that tells you otherwise, meaning the truth that fifteen minutes is not enough time.
So I took my chances and searched for that delectable fruit tart that a friend and I had indulged in for the past two days. Who am I to break my newfound tradition? Three's a charm right? Or is that just a phrase fitting in the United States (Aux Etats-Unis, I mean.)
Friend in tow, the two of us paraded down the stretch of side walk separating the French version of Wal-Mart and the French version of college.
It's not like we looked suspicious, no, we didn't look suspicious at all. So, we were matching. It's not like we had planned it. There were no calls made: white "T" with jeans, gym shoes, yeah, any color.
We were in a rush, and honestly, we were American, and looked it. They don't make short red-heads in France. It was all too obvious and easy. We were unfamiliar people in what looked like a familiar land. Sugar is the same everywhere, right?
Marching toward the back wall, nothing but an aisle of diapers between us and les sucres, we eyed the lower shelf. Yes, it's us again our faces said to the French women who now recognized our salivating mouths.
"Oui, bonjour! I would like one tarte s'il vous plait, oui, un euro, forty centièmes. Oui, merci beaucoup."
I had barely noticed my friend announce her choice, preoccupied with the pending joy of calorie indulgence.
"Oui, me too ! But, I would like la petite tarte. Un euro. Merci beaucoup!"
In unison: "We’ll pay here."
"D'accord," they said in return.
We needed to get back though, we had learning to do. Oh, no, ten minutes until class, I mean, dix minutes.
Glancing at the golden pastry box with Pau’s local celebrity King Henri IV, we bustled out quickly not realizing we’ left through the entry door. She scuttled through without a hitch. She didn't look like a thief, but neither did I. Matching outfits, but whatever, it’s not as though they called us the GAP bandits.
Beep, Beep, Beep. Three seconds later the security guard yanked my small orange backpack and shuffled through as if it were an accomplice to a crime.
Taking each item out one by one and starring suspiciously at that MADE IN AMERICA SPF 55 Neutrogena sunscreen. He thought, “That pale skin doesn't fool me Miss USA.” No one in France ever carries sunscreen apparently, and if they do, they’ve stolen it from E.Leclerc.
"Come with me" he barked in French. This is the most action he's gotten all week. No, my friend couldn't come in the back room to get searched like me. Padded down at a grocery store, E.Leclerc doesn't fool around. Definitely not.
Five seconds into the back room a blond French woman came toward me with a metal detector. After tracing the metal up and down, my palms began to sweat. What if I did steal something? Did I stuff some cookies down my pants? They can have the sunscreen!
"Where did you get your pants mademoiselle" she said in French.
The detector was going off down south, oh no, please don't take my pants!
I panicked, "H et M." That was a lie! Intimidation had gotten the best of me. I was a liar and a criminal. The pants were American made, GAP.
My mind flashed questions: Do they have firing squads in France? Did that door lead to their secret shotgun room?
"When did you get those pants?" she followed up.
"Yesterday." Another lie. I got them two months ago, but there was no turning back now. I was a GAP bandit. The E.Leclerc police had no more questions.
They said to leave and remember to cut off the magnetic strip inside all pants after purchasing them. Their detectors were very sensitive.
Apparently I had forgotten this necessary precaution mischievously hidden on the left inside pant leg. That GAP employee is laughing now as they think of their customers pent up in bag rooms at French super stores.
"You can go," I heard them mutter in disappointment.
"I can have my sunscreen?"
Exiting the death chamber the color in my face returned. Was it warmer out here? Breathing became easier as air exited the confines of my lungs.
"What happened?" asked the concerned friend.
She hadn't eaten her tart just yet, but I wouldn't have blamed her if she had.
Placing the crumbling crust, melting custard and sugar coated fruits onto my tongue, I thought, "French pastries are worth the interrogation."

by Brigid Marshall

No comments: