Predicaments in Paris: How to Succeed in France without Really Trying

Here I am, going on three hours in the chic Bienvenu Bio Magazin, an organic grocery store down the road from my apartment in Bastille. I’m essentially in pajamas and a light jacket, with a colony of red bumps on my wrist, ankles, chin and eyelids and the smell of rubbing alcohol saturating my hands.

After locking myself out of my apartment, I had been in the store, using an employee’s phone to call AirBnB and get in touch with my propriétaire.

My predicament began while ridding my beloved apartment of the dreaded invading bed bugs. The initial collection of red dots spread across my body over a three-week period, becoming itchier and itchier until last Friday when we bug-bombed the place. 

I took several trips down the six flights of stairs to take all the trash bags to the poubelle when that fateful moment happened. Click. My heart dropped into my stomach. No keys, no money, no phone, no metro pass, nothing but my pajamas, slippers and a light jacket.

My first reaction was to panic, but I’ve been in tighter binds, and I quickly came up with a plan.

I needed to go somewhere close with helpful people and an internet connection. I immediately thought of the Bio Magazin store just down the road. Not your typical rushed grocery store, it is staffed with the nicest and best-dressed employees, always ready to help you find what you need with warm and genuine smiles. I hold the maxim, “You’re never fully dressed without a smile,” very highly, and the kids at Bio Magazin do not disappoint.

One time, for example, an employee wrote down the name of a song playing on the store’s speakers after I started dancing. Nice: check. When I’m not dancing through the aisles, I’ll often show up armed with a list of bizarre things, and the employees are always willing to look up even the most obscure item. Able and willing to help: check, check. I’d seen computers in the back, so, Internet connection: check.

Aided by the knowledge that Bio Magazin offered full Internet access, I had a plan, and one that I couldn’t wait to enact, as I had been looking for an excuse to get to know these hip youngsters. Locking myself out of my apartment wasn’t a complete mistake—it was my ‘in’ with the crew, and, more importantly, something to force interactions beyond my comfort level of just “bonjour” and “merci.”

I arrived and made eye contact with a wide-eyed, curly-haired girl that I had seen in each of my previous trips to the store. While my French is far from fluent, my eye contact has proven extraordinarily effective in communication. I may not be able to convey it in words, but I’ve mastered the look that expresses, “I am going to try to speak your language, and I might horribly fail, but will you have please have patience with me?”

Luckily, most people have been extraordinarily patient.

Peut-être tu peux m’aider quand tu es disponible,” I said, with some subtle expressions to signal my urgency. And I’m in luck, as she responds that she would be happy to help after she’s done ringing up a customer’s purchases. 

Another worker walked around the corner and I repeated my plea word-for-word, in classic American fashion: “Peut-être tu puex m’aider!” Now, yet another beautiful worker is invested in my troubles.

I’ve seen this employee around. Tall, blond and blue-eyed, Flo has the kind of eyes that listen to questions with a twinkle and a voice that accompanies responses with a raised intonation, as if answering questions with more questions. He’s charming with a touch of condescension. 

I recount my error, and Flo answers with a long, drawn out, “Ouuuui?”

He keeps mentioning, “Saurriez-this, Saurriez-that, Saurriez, Saurriez, Saurriez” or something like that. I ask, “Qu’est-ce que Saurriez?,” begging him to slow down with my eyes to no avail. 

I have have no idea what he’s saying.

I had this same problem with him last week when I was tried to ask about my different coffee options. I love asking him questions, but his thick southern French accent does not answer them. 

Fortunately, Laura came to my rescue, rejecting whatever advice Flo was attempting to give me as too expensive. Thank you Laura! With the help of my new friend, I call AirBnB, and they give me the number of my propriétaire. 

Each new adventure, hardship, challenge and awkward moment has seemed to turn itself into an opportunity to make new friends or to have an insightful conversation, at the very least. I now have plans with Laura for a drink, and suddenly I feel a little more connected to my neighborhood.

I also know that I can navigate the city without a Metro pass, phone and map, and I feel strong, proud and capable. The tell-tale red dots of bed bugs are fading with each day, and I am ready for yet another adventure.

Mary Margaret Groves PO ’16 is majoring in Studio Art. She enjoys swimming with horses, recording her dreams and taking pictures of things that resemble body parts, especially vaginas.

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