California: 1, Paris: 1

I will write up France vs. US posts as they occur naturally in nature. Here's one now.


In Paris, your time at the checkout is between you and the person at the checkout. There might be a line twenty people deep, but that checkout person certainly does not care. One time at the awful Monoprix by the UC Center, a lady decided that, oui, she would indeed like to get a carte de fidélité, a process that took about a ten minutes while the other 15 of us stood there getting dumber and uglier. The checkout lady went off to get the form, they filled it out together, they slowly, slowly resumed the process of checking out. By the time they were done, I was 30.

In general, supermarkets are designed like that in Paris: they're like little labyrinths of inconvenience, overstaffed with people who get in your way but understaffed by people who actually let you buy things and leave.

In California, your checkout person is, you know, sane. At Safeway the other day, the lady in front of me had been unable to locate four blueberry yogurts. While the Safeway helper guy went in search of yogurt, the checkout person had me walk past the lady and promptly checked me through. By the time I was done, the yogurts were there.

This may not seem like a big deal to you. But after dealing with four months of contempt and indifference, having a nice checkout person is pretty rad.



This is a term my homie K introduced to me a few years back. A gentleman of southern-Californian extraction, K informed me that 'mad-doggin'' is when a man puffs out his chest and stares in an intimidating fashion at another man while passing him in the street. You have no doubt seen mad-doggin' in action; it arises naturally among Americans, who have somehow managed to never develop a basic set of rules for walking-down-the-street etiquette. There is always a very existential moment of anguish in walking past someone on the sidewalk, as you both struggle to pretend that you don't notice that they're there.

The thing is, Parisians are great about street etiquette, because their whole social persona revolves around being completely indifferent to one another. It's the same reason they go for such extravagant PDAs, openly making out on sidewalks and so on: the assumption is that you are to ignore everyone around you. While this means that they're also constantly blundering in to people, the advantage is that there is absolutely no social tension in walking past someone on a sidewalk; they are certainly going to pretend you aren't there, so you can follow suit. As far as I could tell, mad-doggin' is foreign to French soil.


Dolce Vita said...

That is so bizarre. I'm sure I've seen this before but really had to concentrate on your description.

I learned the reverse street etiquette in rural France where I was obligated to say "bonjour, mesdames" when passing people on the street (and my host family did the same). I was informed that everyone would know I was a rude foreigner if I didn't. I am still inclined to do this when passing random people on the sidewalk here. (Probably because I so rarely see other people actually walking on the sidewalks; apparently, they're just for show. So, since I'm violating local custom anyway, I really shock them by talking.)

kungfuramone said...

I'm starting to gather that one of the great advantages of my Francophile friends is that they all had/have connections in the provinces, where people seem much, much nicer than they are in Paris. Too bad my research doesn't have me set up in Rennes or Tolouse or Bordeaux...

clumsygirl said...

I have less sidewalk walking issues than hallway walking issues.

I have had to pick up specific hallway walking techniques in order to pass successfully (and in a timely manner) through the halls of the high school.

I found that if I did not stare above the heads of all the kids, pretending that I can't see them... there is no way I can get through the press of 1800 teenage bodies to make it to my next classroom, especially if I'm carrying coffee and/or a box of homework to return.

It looks a lot like air hockey, except with girls who are tottering precariously on their brand new and oh-so-fashionable high heels and odoriferous boys randomly punching each other.

thetravellor said...

I have a pet peeve about the proper etiquette for groups walking on the sidewalk. It doesn't matter where I am, I always run into groups of 3 or 4 people walking side by side down the sidewalk and then I have to stop or move out of the way, when I am walking solo. It really makes me insane because I'm walking by myself, but the selfish group of people doesn't make room. Seriously, I've had this issue everywhere and as a non-car owner I have a lot of sidewalk experience.