Leisurely Sunday lunches provide only one example of the difference between French and American ways of approaching life. Although many Parisian women often walk very fast along the sidewalk and drivers usually screech to a halt when the little green figures pop up at street crossings, the truth of the matter is that a slower pace prevails in nearly every endeavor.
Take Monoprix, for example.
Now it is true that Monoprix is not at all like Walmart, but for the days and times when I cannot make it to this or that neighborhood market, Monoprix is a godsend. What’s more, nearly everything I could want is under one roof and saves me the trouble of scrambling for the word for pencil case (trousse) or some other such term.
Upstairs, I find all the clothes and snappy accessories that, if I could afford them, I might be able to pass myself off as French, until I opened my mouth and just the position of my lips alone gives me away: English speaker, bien sûr!
Downstairs in Monoprix, I find the Alimentation department, or grocery store. Zipping here and darting there, I make quick work of le shopping, throwing everything into little gray carts that look like the hand-held baskets in American supermarkets, but with a nifty little extra: an extendable handle like a suitcase might have, making it far easier to pile up a number of heavy items without breaking an arm lugging the basket around. On second thought, it bears a striking resemblance to a pelvis, and I start pondering the implications of that.
So far, the experience resembles the American shopping, non?
Then comes time to pay. And that, mes amis, is where things become decidedly different.
I approach a check-out line – there are usually six lines open. A big red neon “X” marks the closed lines.
In front of me, a lady, wearing bright red dreadlocks hanging to her waist, tosses two boxes of red hair dye on the counter and a myriad number of other things. The fake leopard-skin jacket she wears barely comes to her waist. She taps a package of cheese with long narrow white fingers, tipped with blood-red polish, and proclaims loudly that the cheese is on sale. The checkout clerk responds by raising her eyebrows and then glancing at a printed sheet of approximately four pages, the dimensions of the average American newspaper before austerity cuts shrunk the pages by one-third. Slowly she leafs through the pages. Finally, she finds the cheese in question and plugs in the price. By now everybody is happy and moving on? No, now the customer starts to tell the clerk about her hair and the problems she has with it. The clerk replies that she likes the lady’s hair and off they go, talking about hair, while the clerk scans the rest of the customer’s items very slowly.
This is not unusual. Every check out line is the same, animated banter and deep philosophy both being contemplated. Long lines of patient customers snake back into the wine cellar, winding out through the chocolate section.
The truth is, when you’re not moving at the speed of light, you see more, hear more, notice more. And alas, probably eat more. No wonder that I have eaten more chocolate and drunk more wine than usual since I’ve been in Paris.
And the chocolate labels can be interesting, too, but that’s another story …