Service clients

When I first arrived in France and enrolled at a French school, the teacher went around the room and asked us all, who came from various places around the world, what we missed about our home countries. We often did exercises like that because it was a way to get us to speak French about a subject we were passionate about. (Which is why another good way to learn a foreign language is to talk about politics, although I found in France, talking about food works, too) All of the Americans said we missed the same thing: Customer service, which the teacher told us was the most common response from us.

It’s not that the French don’t have customer service. In fact, they have incredible customer service. When the right person helps you, you could not ask for someone more interested, concerned, or effective at assisting you to get what you want or need.

I recently had to get an official document and spent a few weeks filling out forms, waiting in lines, and going back-and-forth to the office, making sure that I was doing everything correctement so things wouldn’t be overly delayed, or that I have to start at zéro and redo everything because I used a fine ballpoint pen rather than a medium-point. To make a rather long story short, after spending a final Friday going from one bureau to another, and waiting in the appropriate line for each (only to be told to go back to the end of another line), the clerk finally tapped a few keys on his clavier, instantly printed out the form, and handed it to me. I don’t recall how much time I put into getting that document, but I was ready to jump over that gray Formica counter and give the guy a big bisou.

It reminded me when I had to get a government form back in the United States. a while back and spent a few weeks compiling a French-style dossier of all the documents the website said that I needed, everything neatly organized to their exacting standards. When it was all set, I nervously handed over the folder of paperwork, trembling over what document he was going to tell me that I had forgotten, or filled out wrong, or stapled together rather than used a paperclip, and would have to go home and start all over again.

Instead, the guy waved away the folder and told me the form would arrive by the end of the week by mail, and told me if I didn’t get it, to call him and he’d look into it, handing me his business card with his direct line. I wasn’t sure what country I was in. When I told Romain the story, he asked if the guy was giving me his card so I could ask him out. I guess word had crossed the Atlantic that I put out for paperwork.

There a couple of things you can do in France to ensure that you’re getting the best customer service. And no, none of them involved doing anything unseemly. Yes, you can do all the things the books and websites (including mine), tell you to do, like say Bonjour, madame when you enter a shop, say Merci, monsieur, on the way out (which doesn’t help you much for your visit, since you’re leaving – but consider it like the airplane bathrooms, where they ask you to prepare the area “as a courtesy to the next passenger”), be polite, do things like the “locals” and put your bread on the table, don’t demand ice, pretend you understand, or when all else fails, throw yourself at someone else’s mercy.

Another is to be exigeant or discerning. I once translated that to Romain as “discriminating,” which he told me was not the case because he didn’t see how it was discrimination, which is, admittedly, confusing. But showing that you are discerning (or, what could be construed as “being difficult” elsewhere…), in France, it demonstrates that you are a person who is worthy of the fine customer service they are going to offer you.

Another way to get superior service is to be a client fidèle, and go to the same butcher, baker, and sausage-maker over and over, so they get to know you. You don’t have to put out, although it helps to be a little flirty in some instances. On second thought, lest you think I’m easy, what I mean is that you need to be seductive. At my age, it doesn’t work as well as it used to. (In fact, I don’t remember when it ever worked.) Still, in my mind, I’m having affairs in my mind with the sausage guy, the two women that sell cheese at my market, the fellow that presides over the spit-roasted chickens at my local butcher shop, the vendeuse at my bakery who doesn’t mind rifling through the basket to find me a bien cuite baguette, and even the people at the airport in Paris, because I keep thinking if I smile, and bring them cookies, I’ll get an upgrade.

The cookies never worked in San Francisco, so I don’t bother bringing treats anymore, but I still do an awful lot of groveling, which hasn’t worked at De Gaulle Airport. Getting on a plane, one flight attendant was indeed delighted at my presence, but still directed me to turn right when I got on the plane, rather than welcoming me to take a left, where everyone was sipping Champagne, ready to be tucked in for the night.

To stay in everybody’s good graces, I’ve gotten fidelity cards from several grocery stores in Paris (above), which I use, but I’m still unclear as to why they give them out since I’ve never seemed to have gotten anything from them. (Also unclear: Why “Happy!” is written in English, rather than French.) They don’t give you a discount at the register, or “cash back,” or anything like that. But the cashiers keep asking me if I have one at the check-out and I want to stay on their good side, so I’ve become a card-carrying member of them all, because I never know when I might want to buy something, and need a little service clients when I do.

 

 

 


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66 comments

  • May 9, 2017 2:16pm

    My supermarket’s fidelity card (Géant) used to be a great deal. I would rack up tons of points just buying what we needed. Then I could either cash them in for “gifts” or money back. I could even use them for gift certificates, which I generally did, and donated the gift cards to the school loto as prizes. But they changed it and we don’t get anything now.
    I have gone to one vendor at the market (and Carcassonne’s market is big but not gigantic) every Saturday for 13 years. I’ve had big conversations with the woman who runs the stand with her husband. I’ve gone to her house (she sells from home on Friday afternoons). I ran into her in the lobby of my kid’s school and we chatted. Yet every Saturday she wishes me “bon séjour!” I know I have an accent, but when will she realize I am not a tourist? Reply

  • Mike
    May 9, 2017 3:06pm

    The new Monoprix cards (that they insisted you trade in the old ones for at the end of 2016) actually do something! Every visit, they alert me that I have 1/2/3€ accumulated, and want to know if I’d like to apply the credit to today’s purchases. I don’t know the formula for the cash-back, but I always have some amount of credit each to accept/defer on each visit. Reply

    • May 9, 2017 3:13pm
      David Lebovitz

      My local magasin bio (natural food store) has a fidelity card but it was so complicated to activate it on their website that I didn’t pursue it. (I was thinking; Can’t this just be activated when you give it to me?) However I did see that one benefit they’re now offering is that they will water your houseplants for you if you go on vacation, if you bring them in…which has a certain value : ) Reply

      • Kristen
        May 9, 2017 6:03pm

        Yes exactly. Why can’t the card just be active when they give it to me? I ran into this over the weekend when I went to see a movie at a Pathé cinema. I handed my fidelity card over to the cashier when I bought some Twix bites for my daughter. She scanned my card into her register and then announced that since I hadn’t activated my card, I couldn’t get the credit and no, it couldn’t be done then and there. Now I have to remember to activate my card on their web site before I want to see another movie. Reply

    • Leslie Tobin Bacon
      May 9, 2017 4:45pm

      also, having a Monoprix card you get special deals in store not available if you don’t have the card. There is usually a kiosk of the items… in the pharmacy for instance. The same thing is true with Geant and Carrefour — money back after accumulated points, and special deals. I live in the south of France and the best thing I have is 5% off at my favourite nursery!! I shop a lot in the Antibes and Cannes markets… and often the flower people stick a few extra flowers in my bunch, the vegetable lady throws in a bunch of parsley, etc. Maybe they are just nicer on the sunny coast…. Reply

  • May 9, 2017 3:11pm

    The french are way more polite than any other country I have lived in. There is always a bonjour, merci, bonne journée, no matter what. And I agree wholeheartedly that it helps to get to know your baker, cheese seller, fishmonger. Reply

  • Stuart Borken
    May 9, 2017 4:01pm

    When my wife and I visited Paris we used the common courtesy words and appropriate expectations of the French culture when shopping or dining. We were recognized as Americans and ALWAYS treated with courtesy and respect for our efforts. It was one of your books, David, that told us how to behave appropriately. Reply

  • May 9, 2017 4:13pm

    I swear I smell croissants and pain au chocolat when I read your blog. Reply

  • suedoise
    May 9, 2017 4:14pm

    The thing with expressions as the “Bonjour madame/monsieur” and the “Bonne journée” to your fellow riders as you step out of the elevator let alone that sweet “Au plaisir” (“you´re welcome”) is that they all identify you as part of France meaning the very opposite of being alone in a foreign country. Reply

  • Holly Burgin
    May 9, 2017 4:25pm

    Hi David – I feel your pain, as I live in Mexico and the bureaucracy there seems to rival France. I call it the “Magic of Mexico,” as I try to keep in mind all the positive reasons I moved here.

    One day this short video came to me, and it never fails to put a smile on my face as I brace to attempt a new bureaucratic challenge. Enjoy!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXWZ3uAEKsw Reply

    • Andrea Rademan
      May 9, 2017 7:11pm

      My friends in Italy, loved this. Thanks! Reply

    • Helen Russo
      May 9, 2017 7:54pm

      That is hysterical. Thanks for sharing. :D Reply

    • Kathryn
      May 14, 2017 6:02pm

      That was a great video.. Reply

  • Chris
    May 9, 2017 4:28pm

    Once I was on an Air France flight from JFK to Paris and was (I guess) running a little late. When I got to check-in a woman working at the airline quickly clipped the check-in line rope behind me and said, “You are the last passenger to arrive.” In my happy-go-lucky way (since I was on my way to Paris) I said, “Oh, do I get a prize?”

    As she pulled her shawl tighter she replied (in a very brisk French accent), “You are lucky to be on this flight.” Reply

    • anna
      May 9, 2017 5:42pm

      I arrived at CDG the day after a four-day strike by airport workers. None of the ticket-validating machines worked. I seemed to get into the wrong baggage check in line each time. Was moved three times before I finally got to the counter. My flight was leaving in 40 minutes! I was so scared. And, I’d not yet checked in my dog, who was going in Air France’s special compartment for animals. Evidently I was supposed to pay the 100euro before checking in and before depositing my luggage. The French guy at Air France was so kind when he saw that I’d not yet paid for my dog. He said something like “Tant pis,” and slapped a “paid” sticker on her crate, saving me 200 euro, which back then was about $250! The French can be very lovely! Reply

      • Cyndy
        May 9, 2017 6:00pm

        Having flown Air France twice with a large dog, I love this story!

        We have always had pleasant customer service with Air France. We did, however, once have the misfortune of arriving at CDG to change planes just as an AF strike was about to start. Watched the gate sign go dark… Reply

    • May 9, 2017 10:48pm
      David Lebovitz

      Years ago there was a United Airlines office in Paris (remember those?) I went in to see about exchanging an airline ticket and the woman at the desk tapped a few things into her computer and said, “€500?! That’s ridiculous. That’s way too much…” She then proceeded to change my ticket, and didn’t charge me anything. Reply

  • phyllis
    May 9, 2017 4:29pm

    That’s hilarious. When I was a France quite some time ago I had always noticed that people take their time with each customer no matter how long a line behind them. You could never get the clerk to rush to get to the next customer. I guess that’s sort of customer service. The French are much better at actually acknowledging your presence when entering a shop. And now with the election … you’re lucky to be there. Reply

    • Donna
      May 9, 2017 5:01pm

      Non…non…non Phyllis! You’ve got it all wrong! It is the CUSTOMER who, upon finally arriving at ordering status…embarks on prolonged discours about anything/everything, questions the merits of the day’s offerings, cooking procedures, ordering every item in the display window…and assures him/herself of their merited ’15 minutes’ of attention if not fame!! Reply

  • Alys
    May 9, 2017 4:46pm

    A great carte fidelité for Paris is the Esprit Brasserie one. Pick it up after enjoying a well served meal at one of their brasseries. Start at Terminus Nord and work your way to La Coupole. You will earn a free coffee and quickly a bottle of decent wine. The crepe Suzette at Julien are to die for! Reply

  • Cyndy
    May 9, 2017 4:50pm

    There was a bakery near our apartment building in the 11th where we bought our daily baguette (we prefer the pas bien cuit!). We got to know the owner, who would sit us down with a coffee to wait till the most recent batch came out of le four.

    Now that we are in a small bastide in La Dordogne, it hasn’t taken long to get to know the shop owners. But we haven’t yet reached the level of familiarity as we did with of the owner of Le Fournil Richard in the 11th… yet! Reply

  • Peter Soltz
    May 9, 2017 4:50pm

    After a bout of indigestion on a Seine river cruise, I went to a pharmacy in Honfleur. I asked for Rolaids or Tums (in English).Not being understood, I did much hand gesturing about a bad stomach, and then she realizing I wanted Maalox.Then more gesturing about which flavor. After paying the price, as I was walking out the door, she asked (in English) “would you like a bag with that?” Reply

    • Hillary
      May 9, 2017 10:25pm

      This reminds me of a similar experience when traveling in Japan – I scrutinized all the over-the-counter offerings and chose one where the box had a picture of a stomach on it. I took it to the pharmacy counter to purchase and the man working there, assuming correctly that I didn’t read Japanese, came out from behind the counter and mimed having stomach pains to make sure I was getting the correct medicine! Reply

  • Laurie
    May 9, 2017 4:51pm

    “I guess word had crossed the Atlantic that I put out for paperwork.”
    That’s the best thing I’ve read this month! Reply

    • Terry Hickman
      May 9, 2017 8:19pm

      LOL Yes! I was going to comment, that’s the single funniest line David has provided us with since I started reading his blog (in like, 2007?) Reply

  • Beverly Siek
    May 9, 2017 5:14pm

    Here in the US, grocery stores all seem to have their own “courtesy card” or “loyalty card”. They collect information this way from their customers as to what is selling and what demographic is buying it. What you get in exchange as the customer, is access to the sale prices from their fliers, and if you don’t have a card, no reduction in price. This feels a little manipulative, but I guess we are supposed to see it as win-win. Reply

    • Helen Russo
      May 9, 2017 8:00pm

      One market chain here (Nob Hill / Raley’s) does that however I actually receive coupons for things I buy. And money off fresh fruit and vegetables! As well, you earn points and receive a redeemable coupon for them every quarter. I don’t shop there a lot, but I do like that system. Reply

      • BananaBirkLarsen
        May 10, 2017 8:19am

        The Smiths grocery chain I shop at in New Mexico has an app that lets you load special online coupons onto your card. When you swipe it at checkout, all the discounts are automatically applied. They also offer a free item every Friday. I’ve gotten everything from free cat treats to angelfood cakes with that card, and some really great coupons. Reply

    • May 10, 2017 9:11pm

      i’m with Beverly – it is kind of French to seem cynical (and discerning) n’est-ce pas? so hmmmmm how do you say “data mining” in French? Reply

  • Lula Quinsey
    May 9, 2017 5:41pm

    Your advice echoes the great wisdom of Polly Platt (another expat in Paris) in her book French or Foe. She taught us to say “Excusez-moi de vous déranger, madame, mais j’ai un problème…” even to the person working in service à la clientèle whose paid job it is to solve your problem. Especially to that person. And it works! The French are territorial about their jobs, and tend not to like either incursions nor demands to extend themselves. So they get bored in their static little realms. PP’s advised line invites them to problem-solve. It’s kind of amazing to see it in action. I’m in Aix now, and even in the more laid-back south, I am happy to have this line in my repertoire. Reply

  • carol w.
    May 9, 2017 5:48pm

    I used to have a fidelity card at Esselunga in Florence, Italy, and over the years (in the ’90s), among the prizes awarded me for my fideltà was a great mini oven (we used to call them toaster ovens in the ’60s), which died only last year, and a wonderful Braun Combimax kitchen robot, which is still going strong. Nowadays I shop at the Coop, so I have a Coop Card, which offers less interesting awards, but can be used as cash back, or to add cash to your Coop sim card — yes, I have one of those on my cell phone. I also have a fidelity card for my gas station, which occasionally offers a discount, and for the organic supermarket, NaturaSi, which offers cash back at the end of the year. Most of the cards here offer some discounts or cash back, but they are nothing like the offers my father had from banks in Queens, N. Y., for opening an account in the 50s: a brand new TV, an oven, and more. Reply

  • kay
    May 9, 2017 6:05pm

    David, I may have just ‘double signed up for your posts’ thought perhaps you were updating your subscribers. Kay Reply

  • Louise
    May 9, 2017 6:06pm

    David , how did you know ,we are in the process of applying for our 10 year carte de séjour , your description of dossiers , queues, forests of papers and frustration is so spot on . We can only hope the mental trauma one goes through will pay off . I just love the fidelity cards , I actually had to buy a card holder as they seem to multiply effortlessly.
    On y va ! Best wishes and thanks for your always uplifting writing .
    Louise Reply

    • May 10, 2017 3:24pm

      hi Louise! if I may comment here… I really dislike this business of being “faithful” to any shop and so, I usually reply when offered the card: no thank you I’m not faithful… :-) but I’m French so I have excuses :-)) If you want to try it the French phrase goes: non merci, je ne suis pas fidèle. It usually makes people in the row laugh out lout. Reply

    • bonnie groves poppe
      May 11, 2017 1:27pm

      I got my ten year card a couple of years ago, in Beziers, without actually trying. I thought I was applying for perhaps a five year card, and after being asked a lot more questions than in the past, I asked why. She told me she was applying for my ten year card! Fortunately I remembered Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite and a few other helpful nuggets, and the card came thru fine.
      bonnie now in provence Reply

      • D. Battabong
        May 11, 2017 7:10pm

        For info, there isn’t any 5 year card, only a precarious 1 year, renewable yearly, OR the almost-citizenship 10 year. Reply

  • Gigi
    May 9, 2017 7:08pm

    I lived in Paris 6 years in the 16th. ( Which is why this story makes sense – lol). I work for an airline and every time, and do mean every single time, I would come back from a trip, hop off the Air France bus, and walk 2 block to my local patisserie, I would park my airline suitcase, and in uniform, sit and have a raspberry tart and “un cafe”. There were only 2 women who worked there, both incredibly off putting and harsh. But oh, my, the tart was encroyable. So one warm afternoon, about 4 years into my time in Paris, in a jolly mood, I summoned up my courage, and in my awful French, told Madame ” I believe you have the best raspberry tart in Paris!”. What did she say? She stared at me, unsmiling, and said in ENGLISH ( which I never realized up to this moment she spoke!) ” You’ve been here before???”.
    Once I recovered from the shock that someone wouldn’t recognize a customer who walked 1/2 a block almost daily to buy bread, pastries, coffee AND sat in the same seat in an airline uniform with a suitcase and ordered the exact thing for 4 years… I never went back. EVER. I walked the extra block ( big deal ) and went to the larger, friendlier joint. To me, it summed up my existence living in the 16. Miss those tarts tho! Reply

    • Kay
      May 10, 2017 6:20pm

      I think they must have been from Zurich where I had the same experience for two+ years! The shop was directly below my apartment. Reply

  • May 9, 2017 7:11pm

    This is perfect today, as I went to the monoprix this afternoon and they are having an 85 year anniversary sale, but I do not have a card. The clerk said something to me, but I am partially deaf in one ear and couldn’t hear her, so I asked her to repeat, but she then realized I was American and basically told me nevermind. I then realized she was asking me if I have a card. Which I realized on the way out would have given me a discount! One more reason I need to keep improving my French! Reply

  • Victoria
    May 9, 2017 7:50pm

    My SIL who was a senior vp attorney at a big insurance firm once told me that groveling is a very good thing to know how to do. I thought that if she had to do it that I needed to learn and it really is the best way to go. Reply

  • Jim & Sue
    May 9, 2017 7:51pm

    Having attempted last summer to navigate through the French tax system to pay our property taxes, I can sympathize completely. The forms are complex, worded awkwardly, and a simple error is cause for much hand wringing and wincing. We finally found a clerk who told us that since she couldn’t find us in the computer that we obviously had no taxes payable. C’est tres simple. We left and went for a wonderful lunch in St Jean de Minervois where we drank wine and ate cassoulet – the best part of the day. Reply

  • May 9, 2017 10:32pm

    Recently shopping at a Printemps on vacation in the midi while traveling, they asked me if I had a card. I don’t carry them all and said so, so the lady asked me for my name, then recited to me: my home address and phone number to confirm! Great! I got the discounts without the card. But only some strores are sorted out to do this now. Reply

  • lynn
    May 9, 2017 11:09pm

    love, love the mexico city paper trail link! in paris, my husband has to prove he is competent only every 5 years, but i have to prove that i am still married to a competent person every year! go figure! Reply

  • Gavrielle
    May 9, 2017 11:58pm

    Brilliant! And you are so right about “when the right person helps you”. I went to Galeries Lafayette to buy a poster tube, then realised I didn’t know the word for it. Instead of being impatient, the assistant immediately sleuthed it down from my “une chose pour les affiches” and was very friendly while doing so. What a relief! Reply

  • naomi d.
    May 10, 2017 1:32am

    At least in my town, New Orleans, I have few worries over paperwork (damn health insurance – I’ll write no more). National banks are recognized here since the federal flood in ’05. Everyone is darlin’ or honey or baby.The restaurant we can only afford once a year or so? They know our names, catch up with our doings as we do with theirs each time. If one of us goes to the grocery store without the other, the cashiers and the stock people and the deli people worry that the one not present may be sick. Hugs should be expected. Enough now, off to kayak on the bayou with a neighbor, then perhaps sit on another neighbor’s porch and enjoy a glass of wine. Reply

  • leslie green
    May 10, 2017 2:24am

    I had the best customer service at a post office in Paris last September. I was sending some things that I purchased and did not need to shlep along on the rest of my trip. The woman working was so kind and helpful. Nothing like the last time I was at my local post office here in the US. Reply

    • Anne
      May 12, 2017 6:18pm

      I lived in Paris for a year and the pleasant service at the post office was one of the things that I missed the most when I came home to Chicago. Reply

    • Anne
      May 12, 2017 6:23pm

      When I lived in Paris, I found that politeness and a little effort went a long way. If people sense that you can’t be bothered, they also won’t be bothered. I remember one funny dinner in the Marais with my dad, who was visiting and spoke almost no French; the whole menu was written up on a chalkboard, and he was attempting to read some of it out loud, until our extremely kind waitress took pity on him and translated it for him. He so didn’t want to be that American who insists on speaking English, and I think she picked up on that vibe and helped him.

      I live in the States now but I still always say hello when I enter a store and goodbye/thank you on my way out, and I always feel weird if I can’t catch the eye of my server or a host at a restaurant to thank them again on my way out. Reply

  • Riga
    May 10, 2017 7:47am

    What works – worldwide – for me is charm. It is all about making the other person feel great, sexy, desirable, smart, funny, unique, interesting. By the time we become adults, we have been put down so many times we end up collecting ugly characteristics: coldness and bitterness. If you ever want something from someone or may be just want to have a conflict-free day, try charming people. It works.

    In addition to charming people try making love to people in your head. Caressing them with friendly words, looking warmly into their eyes, mimicking subtly their gestures, smiling broadly. As if they were the greatest lover ever, whatever the age or sex. If you do it expertly and with genuine enthusiasm, without vulgarism, people will open up to you like a flower in the sun.

    I have charmed blond women with hair-extensions and fake tan, bitter old men close to death, young men full of hatred for the world, cats with attitude, reserved lesbians, stuck-up gays, self-loving dandies, egotistical chefs, pre-menstrual women about to explode the world, difficult children, under-paid bureaucrats, dead-tired customer-service staff.

    Here is also another useful rule: the lower down the person, the nicer you have to be to them. Big bosses are used to being worshiped and have subsequently grown too big for their shoes. You have to bring them down a notch in order to get things done. It is, however, often the little person in a establishment who does the work. Be nice to the receptionist and you will get through the door, and then shout at the big boss. Everyone takes it out on the receptionist and if you do too you will not be be shown in and subsequently you will not get far with your problem or issue.

    Charm works and sex works. Every time.

    As a side-effect to charm, smiling makes you look younger. Beam like a sun ray, spread the golden glow around you and you will look at least 10 years younger. Reply

    • terry
      May 10, 2017 2:20pm

      I’m finding parts of this comment offensive. Reply

      • Anonymous
        May 10, 2017 3:34pm

        In 100 % agreement with you. Machiavellian/Narcissist red flags in full sail. Reply

        • Bebe
          May 11, 2017 3:43pm

          (Putting us on?) Reply

  • Riga
    May 10, 2017 8:35am

    On another note, people should not be using store loyalty cards.

    Why?

    Target knew when a teen was pregnant before the teen had told her parents:
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2102859/How-Target-knows-shoppers-pregnant–figured-teen-father-did.html

    When you buy pet food, but haven’t registered your pet, you will end up paying a fine:
    http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/editorials/pondering-pet-privacy-big-brother-shouldnt-peer-into-your-groceries/

    Store loyalty cards are Big Brother.
    More here and why you shouldn’t use Uber, Skype, Google, Facebook, Twitter (at least not personal accounts, business accounts are ok), etc: https://stallman.org/ Reply

  • Stuart
    May 10, 2017 1:38pm

    I know what you mean about carte fidelite. Some make sense (Leroy Merlin for example where we have spent a small fortune whilst we renovate and update our home), but others are a mystery. Bricomarche always ask for the card, but as yet, I have received nothing in return. And our Bio store took our card away “because they don’t scan” but always check my name when I buy anything. I’m yet to get anything from them, we don’t even get junk mail! The supermarkets are better, but it all comes down to what you buy. You have to look out for their carte fidelite offers, which are generally on things we buy anyway so it sort pf works ok.

    As to paperwork, we have found getting things done in France is a dream. We always turn up with a huge dossier (birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports etc etc) and have found everything very straightforward. I remember when we got our British trailer (remorque) matriculated in France, we spent hours printing off photos and technical specifications, none of which they asked for at the bureau, and duly received our carte gris two weeks later, without any fan fare or fuss! Reply

  • May 10, 2017 3:29pm

    Maybe I could add that the French are more blunt in their personal relationships than most Americans. No need to pretend you’re happy here. If you feel someone is not treating you right, just air it, be mad! Apart from that I agree fully about the maniac administrative rules and behavior. I do hope, pray, wish, that it will soon change with the new French President elected. Reply

  • Catherine-Marie
    May 10, 2017 9:43pm

    I was a PhD student in Paris for four years. I’m French Canadian but even though there was no language barrier boy oh boy did I suffer. If a Quebecois admin staff tells you they can’t help you, you can be confident that they can’t​. If a French admin staff tells you the same thing, you never know whether it’s true or whether they just can’t be bothered. Very often I found that other students (usually male and French) managed to get much better service than I did from the same secretary. So frustrating. I was once in a nightmare situation where my visa was at risk (typical French nightmare: I needed to get document A to get document B, which in turn was necessary to get document C, but in order to get document A I needed​ proof of C) and only copious tears in the admin office got me out of trouble. It’s a learning curve. Use your best high pitch French voice, carry originals plus loads of copies of everything, a stapler, paper clips, fine and medium point pencils in blue and black just in case. Reply

  • Riga II
    May 11, 2017 11:53am

    I am not politically correct – and proud of it. I know the art of living. You may find my opinions offensive, but it will not get far in life.

    In my extensive experience, people secretly love it when someone pays attention to you. People are narcissistic and I use this knowledge daily to get things done in a pleasant manner.

    There are two ways of operating in this world: by using charm and sex or by being an uptight, politically correct, self-admiring moralist. The first will take you much further in life and, in the process, will make a few people momentarily happy. What comes to the second, the moralists usually have big holes in their moral lives once you start digging deeper.

     Reply

    • Anonymous II
      May 11, 2017 4:11pm

      Yeah, but this is a food blog. Reply

  • bonnie groves poppe
    May 11, 2017 1:32pm

    My Weldom Bricolage card in France gives me cash back coupons. Really good. Reply

  • Bebe
    May 11, 2017 3:40pm

    David, here the “fidelity cards” sometimes bring a lower level of pricing on some items (Safeway/Vons markets). They also apparently keep track of your purchases. What they do with that is anyone’s guess.

    As for being pleasant, Americans are told that Europeans think we smile too much, but I’ve found that a sincere smile (not a cutesy Shirley Temple one) works just about everywhere. If it doesn’t, it’s the other guy’s problem. Being reasonable and agreeable can also be effective. One of those one day “strikes” at Orly caused my flight back to the U.S. to be cancelled. Would I like to bus to Brussels to catch another flight?Pleasantly told them, no. Would I be able to fly tomorrow?. Yes (my hostess was still waiting outside to be sure I got off OK). The next morning I was greeted warmly, but left waiting while all but three of us were loaded onto the plane. Two grumpy salesmen types and me. Another warm greeting and I was handed my boarding documents. A first class seat. (I’d been on a deeply discounted ticket.) The grumpy salesmen went to Coach.

    Where do smiles not work? In olden thymes, anyway, Dehillerin. But that’s part of their schtick.

    I’ve always hated the Ugly American business and tried to change a few minds along the way … Reply

  • Cyndy
    May 11, 2017 4:50pm

    Now that we live in France half the year, we have applied for every sort of fidelity card for grocery stores. Sadly (as I ran into a great clothing sale today), our Monoprix card from 2010 no longer works. Time to reapply.

    Intermarche gives you a long form to fill out, and you can only turn in the form before they close for lunch–no late afternoon laggers allowed! After a month, the card has not arrived… Whereas the Casino checkout lady grabbed a card, activated it at the cash register, and we were on our way. Plus it’s good at Spar.

    I always enjoy your “life in France” type blogs, David. Reply

  • Margaret Gault
    May 12, 2017 5:38pm

    This was a great blog but it was the all-time great comments. I underline Lula’s reference to Polly Platt’s advice: “Excusez-moi de vous deranger…”These are magic words in France and the kindness and attention they produce is almost scary!. Highly recommended. Reply

    • Cyndy
      May 12, 2017 6:11pm

      We have read that book and use that expression as well. In addition, if I don’t have a problem, I often begin a conversation with “Je suis desolee; je ne parle pas bien le francais…” It always brings a kind smile and offer of help. Reply

  • lifecycle
    May 15, 2017 10:04pm

    It is true. The stores want you to register so that they can then sell your information (and your buying habits/preferences) to anybody who will pay them. That is it! They get much more selling your information then they will ever give back to you. If you work in ‘big data’ analysis then it is common to buy data from the supermarkets to analyse trends. Reply

  • deluccact
    May 20, 2017 1:44pm

    Glad to see it happens everywhere. I have the loyalty Maxwell card in Abacos Bahamas, and I have never understood it. You need a local address to get one, and when you check out, the cashier always asks if you have it, but once scanned, nothing. BTW, I’m trying crumpets today Reply

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