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  • Jude Polotan

Le mot du jour: la Patience

Alors... I just looked up patience in Google translate to make sure I was correct that it's a feminine noun and I found two things there that struck me as funny. First, la patience translates not only to "patience" and "forbearance," but also to "aloe." Aloe? As in, let me rub la patience onto my sunburn? This is why language fascinates me so much!


Secondly and more apropos, Google's wording of the definition is exactly the subject matter of today's blog post:


"the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset"

For those of you know me, even only a little, this is not exactly my strong point. And yet in the past few days, I've been trying because little seems to go the way I expect and rarely as quickly as I expect. The reason I love travel is to experience different cultures, of course, and while three days is hardly enough to generalize, it seems to me thus far that the French are far more patient than Americans, or at least New Yorkers--definitely more than this New Yorker.


Perhaps the first display of this patience was at the Monoprix yesterday morning (see previous blog post), when a line of five or six people seemed to not mind at all the delay in my grocery checkout. But then there was also the department store cashier who struck up a conversation with me when I trotted out my faltering French with her. Since the conversation was all in French, it was a bit slow, but she went on to say how she appreciated that I did my best to speak with her in her own language as most Americans expect her to be fluent in English and won't even bother to say bonjour or merci. It was a nice few minutes for me, managing this basic conversation all in French, but how frustrating must it be for all those waiting in line behind me? There had only been two in line after me when I approached the cashier, but as the young woman and I wished one another au revoir and bonne journee, I noticed the line had become considerably longer. Yet not one person gave me the evil eye, there were no loud sighs or nasty words muttered--no one seemed to care! At a cafe, the same thing: other patrons waited without complaint to have their orders taken while the waiter chatted with me for several minutes.


And then there was my experience this afternoon at La Poste. Interestingly, the post office here opens at 1 pm and stays open till 8 pm, the opposite of post office hours in the States, which tend to be early morning till early afternoon. Anyway, I'll be here three months and I plan on sending lots of postcards and letters in that time because, hey, there's nothing like snail mail from a foreign country to say I love you! I figured I'd just buy a whole load of stamps now rather than have to go to the post office all the time, and I knew exactly how to ask for what I needed:

J'ai besoin des timbres pour les cartes postales et pour les lettres a envoyer aux Etats-Unis. Je voudrais quarante timbres des cartes postales et vingt timbres pour les lettres.

I need stamps for postcards and for letters to send to the United States. I would like 40 postcard stamps and 20 letter stamps.



There was only one person on line in front of me, but it turned out I had a lot of time to practice my sentences in my head, because whatever the couple at the postal clerk's desk (no windows here) were trying to do required fifteen minutes of discussion, possibly more since they were already there when I'd walked in. When we'd been waiting some time, I caught the eye of the woman in front of me and looked at her as if to say, is this ridiculous or what?, but I stopped myself since she didn't seem in the least perturbed. Instead, I asked her in French if I was waiting in the right place to buy stamps since there was some question about that in my mind and she assured me I was, but suggested I try the machines instead. I'd already thought of that, but when I'd studied the myriad of services these machines could do, the most basic of things--buying stamps--was not an option. And yet she seemed to think it was possible, so I went back to look again since there was no one behind me anyway.


Wouldn't you know it, but after confirming to myself that I definitely could not buy stamps there, a man had come in and assumed my place in the line. At least the woman in front of me had finally been called up. Her transaction--sending a small package--took about ten minutes. The man in front of me had to pick up a package, and that took ten minutes, too.


Finally, my turn! I'd had so much rehearsal and I confidently executed my request. The postal clerk, a black man almost as tall sitting in his chair as I am standing up looked at me lackadaisically and asked me (all of this was done in French, I'm proud to say)--he asked me if I really wanted soixante (60) stamps? I explained again that I wanted 40 postcard stamps and 20 stamps for letters and he informed me the postage was the same for both. C'est plus facile! Then the man counted out the stamps one by one with the speed of a sloth, and after beaucoup minutes, he did the calculation: 1.3 euros x 60 = 78 euros! I flinched, but only on the inside; I didn't want anyone to see how flabbergasted I was. As it was, I felt like the post office environment had put me into some sort of stupor, but the last thing I was going to do was admit that I didn't really want 60 stamps. And goodness knows how long it would have taken had I changed my mind and asked for just 25 or 30, so I put my euro notes away and handed over my credit card.


My simple transaction took nine minutes--yes, I timed it--but as I left la poste, the two people still on line appeared to be models of patience. Two minutes or 20, the time seemed of little concern to them. Now that I think about it, though, their patience is my perspective. From their perspective, maybe it's not patience, maybe it's just normal.


(My other errand while I was out this afternoon was to pop into the department store to buy an umbrella since there's rain (and cooler weather!) in the forecast later this week. The least expensive option was a tiny Isotoner for 37 euros. A "normal" umbrella went for 128 euros. So I will just have to get wet--because that can buy me about 30 stamps!)

 

About Jude

Jude was born with wanderlust and a love of language running through her veins. No wonder then, that she grew up to be a fiction writer with a passion for traveling the world and experiencing other cultures. While in Paris, she'll be working her way into a brand new novel (her fourth), taking a break now and then for runs along the Seine, attempts at French conversation at cafés, and strolls on the Left Bank, channeling the ghosts of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and all their creative genius pals.

You can search out more of her writing on www.medium.com

 

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