Saturday, October 4, 2008

Day of Rest . . . and Other Misunderstandings

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I sometimes have "encounters" with people I run into in daily life. So it goes without saying that I have to be particularly careful to keep my emotions (especially unfounded ones) in check when a colossal linguistic or cultural (or both: culti-linguistic? lingo-cultural?) misunderstanding lurks around every corner.

Last Saturday, J received a little chastisement when he asked in perfectly polite, well-accented French whether the newsstand would be open the following day - Sunday. Granted, the likely answer was no, since most shops are closed here on Sundays, and even on weekday evenings past 6:30PM. But since it was a newsstand, and those things called newspapers tend to be churned out even on Sunday, it seemed worth asking.

Unfortunately, the saleswoman was not amused, wagged her finger at J, and retorted, "Monsieur, you should know that Sunday is a day of rest."

I then made the mistake of asking her if she had the Michelin guide for Belgium. She proceeded to yell at her husband, who was upstairs, to ask. The husband, who seemed quite good-natured, then came downstairs and began to disassemble the bookshelves blocking the window display - it turned out he had only one copy left.

As J and I were regretting having set foot into this Agence Presse in the first place, the woman - who I now began to realize could potentially benefit from a psychiatric intervention - stared at me and asked pointedly, "What do you want it for? To consult it?" At least, that's what I thought she asked in French. This seemed a rather strange question, so I just nodded my head. To which she replied explosively: "And you are asking my husband to dismantle the store? Just so you can consult the guide?"

I explained as politely as I could that I wanted to buy the guide in order to consult it and that I would never ask her inexplicably sweet husband to dismantle the store for no reason. I also wanted to tell her - but decided against it - that in some religions, Saturday is the day of rest.

No comments: