People are People

When you spend a day out and interact with enough people, some are bound to be pleasant and others unpleasant. There are those special days when everyone seems to be especially nice. Otherwise, if I have a negative encounter and then a positive, I consider it to be all in a normal day.

I recently stopped by FNAC, a bookstore chain that also sells electronics and other items, to look for picture frames. I approached two employees who told me the photo area was closed due to construction. When I asked them if they knew of anywhere in the neighborhood that might have cadres, they said no without giving it any thought or suggesting another FNAC location. They then looked over and past me even though there were no customers waiting for their attention. Conversation over, case dismissed. They clearly didn’t give a flying fig. It’s the second time I’ve gone to a FNAC and encountered a set of two or three employees who were utterly unhelpful and went back to chatting among themselves. It’s unfortunate, as in general I love bookstores and they are a pleasure when an employee knows what’s in stock and exactly where to find it. And if they don’t… isn’t that why they have access to a database?

That same afternoon, I chose an internet café at random to laminate two documents, fully expecting the same kind of non-service. I imagine that many people who work at that sort of shop aren’t necessarily passionate about their job.

After I showed what I had brought and asked for the price, highway robbery at almost three euros for a half-page, the employee plugged in the laminating machine and explained to me that it had to heat up. I wasn’t rushed, but in any case it really didn’t take that long. He passed one of my sheets through the machine and told me that he would send it through a second time to reinforce it. He asked me if I wanted to cut off the extra plastic border before he inserted it again; the laminated edge would be stronger if I trimmed it before instead of after. Careful, it’s kind of hot, he said, handing it over to me. As the scissor cut close to my hand, he asked me to be cautious because he was afraid I would snip myself.

As we waited for the sheet to roll through, I mentioned several chains that sell picture frames and asked him if he knew of any locations in the area. He thought about it and told me there was one in the Chatelet neighborhood.

He pressed the toasty laminations on the table and said he would let them cool for a few seconds so that they would stay flat. He said that the lamination is guaranteed to last ten years. You just made up that number, didn’t you? I asked. No, he said, he had read it on the paperwork with the machine.

Some scraps of plastic lay on the table from my refining snips earlier. I’ll clean that up, he said, you have to get going to Chatelet. Tired, I said, “Je ne sais pas si j’ai la force” (I don’t know if I have the energy). “Vous avez la force,” he responded. Besides, it’s a good day to go, as it’s raining, he went on to say.

He was a salesman when he didn’t need to be and explained when he didn’t have to. After all, what were we doing? Pressing plastic over a piece of paper. But the details, the details, in fact every act and every gesture holds details.

It was a reminder: Any job—and really, any action one does in day-to-day life—can be done with care and attention. Secondly, encouragement can be received in the unlikeliest of places. Especially for an English-speaker, being told that I have the “force” was quite wonderful and unexpected. Although he meant force in the French sense, I of course thought of the stronger meaning in English.

Later, I sat on a staircase outside in the same neighborhood, and a young man discreetly told me I might want to change the way I was sitting because my culotte was showing and it was très jolie, but well. In the balance sheet of the day’s encounters, I suppose I would count that as neutral.


8 thoughts on “People are People

  1. I smiled as I was reading your stories because the description was great and I could picture myself in your shoes. I tend to be friendly with strangers, mostly because I’m often a a traveler and I kind of rely on strangers to give me directions, advice, help out and possibly not rob me. I like to return the favour when I’m a local, I often help out just for the sake of it.

    Overall, most people are friendly, if not at first, later on once they realize you are friendly too. Plus I find being decent takes less energy than not giving a flying fig (stealing the expression from you!)

    Que la force soit avec toi!

    • You’re right that part of it comes from an ability to put oneself in another person’s shoes.

      I also find it feels good to share my knowledge of a place. I don’t seek out lost visitors, but if they approach me it’s nice to have the answer.

      Ha ha thanks! I feel the force.

    • A lot of it is how you say something, isn’t it? Another person commenting on my scissor use might have seemed patronizing, but in his case it was welcomed because he was, as you said, genuinely nice.

  2. Glad you had a nice guy to balance the non-friendlies. Sounds like the skirt guy was chatting you up. I have to say I expect North American style service and am sometimes utterly disappointed when I don’t get it. But that said, some US cashiers need some manners training, too

    • I don’t know, the skirt guy didn’t try to make conversation beyond that. Who knows what goes through people’s heads sometimes.

      Good service makes everything better.

  3. It sounds like you have a really good attitude, and it’s so true that the good sometimes cancels out the bad and the best you can hope for is the neutral. But it’s still great, as you said, when you find kindness and quality in an unexpected place. I really liked your description of the internet cafe and the laminating experience!

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