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Friendly and Unfriendly Shopkeepers and Clerks

Friendly and Unfriendly Shopkeepers in Paris

Many visitors to Paris, especially non-French speaking visitors wonder about how they’ll be received in French shops. For several years, I’ve been assuring Americans that if you are polite when you walk into a person’s shop, you will probably receive the same kind of attention you would expect in any major capital city, but I forgot about our neighborhood shoe shop.
Kate and I made the mistake of stopping into the store when only the husband of this husband/wife team was available. Kate made the ‘mistake’ of reaching for a shoe displayed in the ‘vitrine’.
“don’t touch those shoes!” the owner barked. You can find everything on the shelves that you see in the window. He raced over to the window to put the shoe exactly in its place and then headed for the telephone. When Kate forgot his admonishment and reached toward another shoe, he set down the phone receiver and ran back to defend the window display from desecration. Needless to say, we also ran as fast as we could for the front door. Just down the street at Galeries Lafayette, Kate found a pair of Charles Joudain sandals on sale which she snapped up before anyone could tell her to put them back on the shelf. Our Galeries Lafayette sales clerk greeted us in English with the loveliest French accent. When complimented on her sleek coiffure, she said, “I cut my own hair, and all of my friends’ hair as well. I practice on my little poodle.” How much more French can you get? The sad part of this story is the death knell for the independently owned boutiques that make Paris the wonderful city that it is. French friends who have worked in the retail business are every bit as aware of this problem (it’s not just foreigners by any means that get brusque treatment). If shop keepers could afford to hire amiable clerks, maybe they would be happier campers, but the hiring practices in France along with the 35 hour work week make hiring an employee a commitment with plenty of red tape. Most independents opt for longer, crankier hours. C’est la vie, a Paris