Totally Frenched Out

From the blogger formerly known as Samdebretagne

Thursday, April 30, 2009

This may sound strange, but one of the things I love most about living in Paris is the relationships I've developed with various commercants in my neighborhood. Normally people think "Oh, capital city, it must be so impersonal and you're just a random face among all the others living there". But I've had totally the opposite experience. I've found here what I was looking for all those years in Bretagne - some kind of recognition. And I don't mean recognition in the awards sense - I mean literal, physical recognition. Or acknowledgement if you will. Just some kind of sign that the person working there recognizes me and my fidelité to their store. That's not too much to ask for, is it?

I find that here the grocery store down the street - after just a few months, they'd realized I wasn't a tourist and all of the sudden I was getting friendly "Bonjour's" and "Ca va's?" Whereas in Bretagne, I couldn't even get a "hello" after five years of going to the same grocery store a block down the street. Same thing for my bakery - I went to the boulangerie across the street from our apartment at least three times a week and purchase the same baguette every time. But yet every day, it was like they had no clue who I was or what I wanted. And it pissed me off because really, how many Americans - or even foreigners - could they get in that small town on a regular basis (especially for a boulangerie on the edge of town)?

Another example here is rhumrhums. While the owner of the rhumrhum bar has still refused to acknowledge our weekly presence, at least our regular waiter has. She's taken the time to learn our names and has even bise-d us on occasion. Though she's unfortunately been banished to the basement, so I haven't seen her in a while. But after rhumrhums, I always head to see my crêpe dude. He's just over a block away from the rhumrhum bar and I get a butter & sugar crêpe from him every Friday night. He knows me by name and he always greets me with the biggest smile. And he realizes if I'm not there one week and always asks where I was.

Funnily enough, last month when I was in Bretagne, I stopped by that old bakery again (they make the best sandwiches ever). When I walked in, I saw the same woman who'd been there the entire time. We made eye contact, and I saw a brief glimmer of surprise in her eyes as she remembered who I was. But then it disappeared and I got the same old stony "What can I get for you?" as always. No "Oh, long time no see! Where have you been?"

It's taken me a lot of time to realize that a lot of this is Bretagne-specific. That was all I knew for most of my time in France, so for me, that's how all of France was. But I've slowly realized I was wrong (and thank God). Now, when I go down South, the people down there definitely remember me and welcome me with open-arms. And even in the Loire Valley, the hotels I go to on a regular basis are starting to remember who I am. But it's yet another reason I had such a tumultous relationship with France for so many years. These kinds of connections may not be important for some people, but they are vital for me - it's really important for me to have an emotional connection with my surroundings, and I was just never able to establish that in Bretagne. So I'm really grateful I've had the chance to experience the rest of France - and to get to know the France that so many other people love.

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