The Accidental Shoplifter & Happy Medium in French
Wednesday, November 30, 2016
THE BITTEREST WINE: a novel about a family's conflicting roles in WWII Provence and famous writers of the Resistance who influenced them. Order the book.
TODAY'S WORD: le juste milieu
: happy medium
ECOUTEZ - Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce today's French word: Download Juste-milieu
La vertu est le juste milieu entre deux vices. -Aristote
Virtue is the happy medium between two extremes. -Aristotle
Improve your spoken French. Try Pronounce it Perfectly in French or Exercises in French Phonetics
A DAY IN A FRENCH LIFE
"A Possible Tea Heist"
by Kristi Espinasse
Yesterday, at the grocery store check-out, the stone-faced cashier glanced at my shopping cart after it cleared the two-poled security passage. "Voulez-vous me donner cette boîte de thé?" she said.
Would I like to hand over that box of tea??? In the time it took for my brain to translate the cashier's words, all customers in the Radius of Doubt turned to witness a possible tea heist!
To my amazement, there, in the corner of my steel shopping cart, was the little box. It read "Nuit Paisible." I had bought it (or meant to...) for my husband, who is having trouble sleeping at night.
Meantime--far from a tranquil night--this was some sort of daytime cauchemar! Did the cashier think I left the tea there on purpose--to scrape two euros off my purchase? Quelle honte!
"Oui...oui bien sûr!" I managed, my face sinking into the collar of my coat, where it was now warmed by a wave of humiliation. Handing over the forgotten item, I quickly reached for the articles coming off the belt, tossing them into my sticky caddy. But no matter how fast I bagged my groceries, the awkward moment dragged on! I was convinced everyone in line was judging me, and for more than that forgotten tea!
A few minutes earlier, you see, I had failed to let the man behind me--holding only a baguette--take cuts. Normally I would have let him pass, him--and the woman with hairspray and carrots, and the stray shopper who showed up with just a toothbrush. I ask you, dear reader, at what point--under what circumstances--do you ignore the one-item shopper standing behind you at the checkout?
One time I let a revolving door of one-two-and-three-item shoppers pass in front of me, Allez-y, allez-y! It was an unlucky coincidence. That was years ago and, since, I have adopted another approach....
I have become the one-item shopper!
While that may be an exaggeration, here is the truth: I have ditched the big shopping cart (easier when you reach the empty nest...), opting now for the complimentary basket or the mini cart. This puts me in league with the Few-Items Shopper (though I don't dare exercise any of the checkout line benefits), releasing me from overthinking things (should I let her pass, too? And him? And them?).
But on this fateful day, as you have seen, I had the big cart (the kids are home for the weekend. Mom's cooking!). After weathering the humiliation of handing it over the forgotten tea, I speed-loaded my groceries and shoved my debit card into the machine--hoping to quickly get out of this situation. Only to steep in it a little longer....
PAYMENT REFUSEE. Debit card declined!! the screen was shouting. If anyone had been doubting whether or not I meant to steal the tea, they now had reason to believe!
Up till now I had avoided eye-contact with Baguette Man. I was sure he was busy scrutinizing me for being so stingy in line. Rifling through my purse for my credit card, my face now red from a second wave of humiliation, I looked up and caught a glimpse of him.
Baguette Man had an entire aura of peace around him. Far from being resentful that I had made him wait so long to pay for his 98 cent loaf, he seemed truly sympathetic.
The card machine finally spit out a receipt and I was now on my way out to the parking lot, head held low, my mind working over possible things I could say to Baguette Man (were he chasing me out of the store, which he wasn't). "Let me explain... I'm usually a considerate person... I always let everyone pass! Don't judge me by an isolated act." But the conversation was really between me--and two extremes of personality: All or Nothing. Part of the answer to the day's lesson may be found in Aristotle's words:
"Virtue is the happy medium between two extremes." La vertu est le juste milieu entre deux vices.
Next time in the checkout line it won't be all or nothing. I'll let Baguette Man pass! Then I'll smile warmly to Hairspray and Carrot Lady, who can wait with Mr Toothbrush. We all need to practice the golden virtues. Patience being one of them.
* * *
I learned so much about French cheese etiquette from your comments in Monday's post. Thank you! And many thanks to my French friend, Agnès, who offered this helpful insight:
"I confirm that it is not considered appropriate to have a 2nd helping of cheese... according to French bourgeois étiquette.
But most people don't know or don't care about it!"
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety