Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's Normal, They're French …

After an annoying public confrontation, have you ever looked back and said "I wish I had had the presence of mind to say x, y or z?" Anyone who knows me is aware just how timid and reserved I can be ...*

This morning I got my own back and said exactly what I thought. To those outside the expat club it may sound petty, but fellow expats will take heart as from time to time we're sick and tired of being spoken to like unnecessary inferiors.

The French credit card is used to purchase any number of items in the retail world. You pop the card into a card reader, tap in your 4-digit code, take the payment slip and just walk away. I handed back my credit card to the bank because I simply couldn't take the shit that French banks dished out to their clients. Besides, the government has bailed out bank after bank because of bad management and I thought it time to get out. So, I have a foreign credit card. It too, has a 4-digit code for withdrawing cash from cash points but when I use it in restaurants or shops, it gets 'swiped' through a reader on the side of the machine and I have to sign a receipt to close the transaction. No big deal - unless you work in my local dry cleaners …

I applied for this particular foreign card about 8 years ago and, to date, it has worked all over the world. Whenever I get a job-lot of dry cleaning done around the corner, I use it to pay for my shirts and trousers. However, after 3 cups of strong coffee this morning, I was in no mood for a French jobs-worth which is, sadly, exactly what I got.

The bill was produced (€ 39.40) and I handed over my credit card, but before its pretty hologram had time to glint in the morning sunshine, the cantankerous old bitch behind the counter 'went off on one' - a convulsion of fearsome apoplexy.

Imagine an American prisoner in the electric chair with his bindings undone and the switch thrown - an uncontrollable, trembling puppet. Up went the defence mechanism (including the arms) and out came a stream of negativity: "Normally, that card won't work here" and “"I'm not sure it's valid" and who can forget, "The machine we have doesn't accept foreign cards".

My brain began to swell and, without even double checking my clutch-to-mouth ratio, I started on her: "Firstly, Madame, I NORMALLY use this card here. Yes, Madame, the card IS valid. Yes, Madame, your machine DOES accept this card. Yes, Madame, I pay for ALL my dry cleaning here AND with THIS card. Yes, Madame, I have been living in this neighbourhood for the past 7 years and have been coming in here once a week - and this card ALWAYS works".

What you have to bear in mind with most French people in an argumentative mood, is that they mutter and consistantly shrug their shoulders - adamantly insisting that YOU are in the wrong - even, at the very end, you prove to them that you are RIGHT.

"Mumble … it'll never work … grumble … never worked before … moan … I doubt that this machine will accept it …" - a never-ending 'verbal stool' of commentary which is profoundly 100% French.

I turned to look out into the street as I could feel a stroke coming on in multiples of 100. The constant stream of whining from behind the counter was in full flow and, without a second's hesitation, I spun round and delivered my coup de gras … (Oxford English Dictionary - a blow by which a person condemned or mortally hurt is put out of his or her misery):

"Madame, that is enough. You have a typical French attitude - negative and not very helpful. Please swipe the card, press the green button and give me the receipt."

She looked at me in a startled manner, swiped the card, pressed the green button and handed me the printed receipt.

I signed the receipt.

I snatched my dry cleaning.

I opened the door.

I slammed the door.

I took in a lungful of air and smiled. Napoleon's grand-daughter had just been torn off a strip. No wonder this country is in the shits and that the city suffers the global opinion that it’s rude and a late-developer when it comes to the service industry.

Arrogant f**king twat ... and in the words of the late great Hughie Green, "and I mean that most sincerely folks ..."

Stu
* see lying toad with a heart of gold and a knob of butter

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