Paris Bits: Vignettes and Pensées, Day 8

The next in the series of vignettes and pensées written by my husband, David Wolf, on an extended stay in Paris one early summer. This one concerns a favorite French custom: queue-bashing. If you’ve ever visited a post office or a bank in France, this has probably happened to you. What always surprises us is the way no one seems to be bothered by it. And, in fact, if you don’t allow someone to cut in line, you’re the one who is out of line, as this vignette shows.

 

An Attempt to Foil the Queue Basher at La Poste

 

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Some post offices have a little play area for kids while Mom or Dad waits in line. That’s because a line at the post office can be interminably long—and often made even longer by France’s notorious queue-bashers.

 

We are in the post office, last in a line of six or so, waiting to buy stamps for postcards and letters back to the states. This is always a dreaded errand, for the French are notorious for cutting in line. And those in line are notorious for remaining unruffled. The English call it “queue-bashing” and are rightly irritated by the French custom, which explains, perhaps, why the French do it.

As we stand in the roped-off line, an old woman with a cane enters the post office, pausing just inside the door to take in the situation. She comes up behind us as we adopt our usual defense, standing two abreast between the ropes, shifting back and forth as she moves about, looking for a way to get around us. Eventually she gives up and seems to accept that we won’t let her jump before us in the line. Her muttering is indecipherable.

The line advances, but Wini and I hesitate; not intentionally, we’re just amusing ourselves by translating an advertisement. All of a sudden the woman is poking Wini in the back with her cane. “Allez-y!” she says, “Allez-y, Madame.” We can only laugh and offer a “pardon,” but the woman sees no humor in the situation.

We decide to buy more than enough stamps for the rest of the trip.

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More Paris Bits:

• Day 7: Français ou Americain. Or, How to Insult a Frenchman
• Day 6: Thoughts on the Six-Week French Vacation
• Day 5: Writers on Vacation in Paris
• Day 4: The Eiffel Tower in the Millenium
• Day 3: All in a Day in Paris
• Day 2: The Art Teacher
• Day 1: Lunch on the Rue de la Roquette

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