Tuesday, 12 June 2007

The French Have a Word for It

Our friends across the Channel once characterised us as 'a nation of shopkeepers'. It was meant to be a criticism but, after experiencing a few French shops during my recent stay in Bergerac, I'd take it as more of a compliment.

Try wandering into any shop at five minutes to two. Take your wallet from your pocket to indicate, as clearly as you can, that you are here with the intention of buying something. Do what you have to in order to imply that you have the ready cash about your person, and intimate that you have made your choice of purchase.

None of this will be of any use. With the clock ticking away in the background, you can only watch, powerless, as the owner busies himself with the important task in hand of making sure he shuts up his shop at precisely 2pm.

Your protestations (in any language) will be in vain. He will mutter dark, French words at you whose meaning you can only guess at, while he glowers, disapprovingly. No other inference is possible but that he wants you out of his shop, and pronto. No matter that you might be planning to spend 300 Euros on an espresso machine (as a gift to your friend, who has been such a fine host to you by allowing you to mow his lawn). You will not be allowed to buy it.

Instead, you will leave the shop to the sounds of the Town Hall clock striking two, with nothing more substantial to show for your troubles than a flea in your ear, where it scurries around to the ringing of the shopkeeper's convivial final words to you: "Depart!"

The French, then, will never be a nation of shopkeepers, because they seem, fundamentally, disinterested in the notion of making money from their enterprise. The shop, to the French shopkeeper then, appears to be little more than a place they go to practice some strange, continental hobby of some sorts. Some might find such an approach rather charming. Not Bill Blunt, I can assure you!

5 comments:

LT said...

Being a former shop keeper (or one who was subject to UK opening hours whilst managing a High Street Store) I can only concur with Le Francais way of retailing....... what a delight to have your shop for giving you a living but not a fortune and it most definately not dictating your life so you end up not having one!! Here retailers work weekends/ bank Hols/lates etc. Sorry Bill but I have to disagree with you, The continental retailing ethos is a delight and is something we have lost the plot with over here...... do I have to remind you about 1/2 day closing on a Wednesday and Saturday afternoons ???? How cool !
erm Bill ........can you just help me down off my box now :-)

Bill Blunt said...

I am nothing but a man who likes the cut and thrust of a good debate, LT. There is no need for apology where crossing swords with Bill is concerned. You are entitled to your opinion, and you are right that there is a certain 'je ne sais quoi' about the relaxed, French approach to selling things. The nearest we Brits ever came to it was the Co-Op, where you often had to fight to buy things.

Daddy Papersurfer said...

My goodness Mr Blunt how you have suffered. Still, damned lucky to be allowed to mow the lawn.

the domestic minx said...

That certain je ne sais quoi does lose it's charm when one is waving wads of cash before impassive French faces amurmur with dark and surly sentiments...
Then again, when one is on the Continent...

Bill Blunt said...

daddy papersurfer: I shall ensure you are invited to be part of the next gardening party - perhaps we could combine it with our trip to Vienna (of which, I imagine, no news?)

Domestic Minx: I can think of no better person to be beside as I wave wads of cash in front of surly Frenchmen. We would make a great team of ambassadors.