Carte de fidelité

“La carte du magasin?” the cashier asks dully, mustering all the enthusiasm of someone required to ask the same question of every customer, day in and day out. But it must be asked. He — or more often she — cannot process my purchase without an answer: do I have a store loyalty card?

Oddly, this is the only question anyone in a French store ever asks. Not “How are you today?” or “Are you satisfied with your shopping experience?” or even, “Can I help you?” No, we are sadly limited in our exchanges as to whether or not I have a store card. Mostly I say no, even though I do have a collection of such cards. At home, in a drawer where I keep the massive wallet with all my papers. Mostly the drawer is where it stays.

These days I travel light with just a small change purse and a couple of cards. I know I should carry my ID or at least my drivers license, but I can’t be bothered. In 30 years of driving in France, I’ve only been stopped once and that was by les douaniers, the border control, because I had obviously (from the boxes in my back seat) been shopping in Switzerland and not stopped to declare anything. What can I say? Our closest Ikea is in Geneva. They let me go with a warning. I’m not sure they even asked to see my big, pink French drivers license.

Carton rose

There is something about the term ‘carte de fidelité’ or loyalty card I find oddly endearing. I’m not sure why. I have no loyalty to any store, nor any other sentiment other than gratitude that such places exist within a reasonable drive. Ours is a relationship of convenience. And there is little convenient about such cards.

First is the fact that you need a physical card. You can’t just say your name or give a number, with the exception of a few smaller shops, which means carrying around a lot of plastic. This is especially true if, like me, you are not the faithful type. I confess: I shop around. Fast and furious. Based on my mood, to-do list and whatever a particular store has to offer: a better fish counter, fresh produce or selection of beer or wine.

Then there’s the fact that most of the reward programs require you to go online, log in to your account, and interact with them in some way to get your bonus. Only one store near me offers a simple ‘cagnotte’ or jackpot system in which you cumulate a bonus amount every time you shop that you can apply to future purchases whenever you choose. They even gave me a mini-card that attaches to my key ring. It takes little effort and adds up to a few euros off here and there.

Smaller places like hair salons give you a paper card that they must stamp each time you go. After a dozen services, you get a freebie. Usually I forget the card and start a new one several times, then change to a new place before it’s full.

I wish that store owners would understand that it’s service, not a little bonus after hundreds of euros spent, that wins my loyalty. How about a suggestion book, where I can let you know what’s missing on your shelves? A friendly cashier who actually says hello? Or even tapes that partially open container shut so that what’s inside doesn’t spill everywhere?

Happy staff create happy customers, so give your employees a reason to smile and that will earn you all the loyalty you need.

Do you have any store cards?

Pet à porter

Pet à porter

Pet à porterI snapped this shot of a petite pooch at the market on Sunday. It is for me a typical scene of French life.

Little dogs go just about everywhere with their owners in France, and well-behaved pets are welcome in most restaurants and many shops. This miniature Pinscher breed is a popular choice, along with the poodle, the Yorkshire and the Jack Russell. French bulldogs are slowly gaining ground in France now that they’ve become so popular in the U.S.

I suppose this very French version of the ‘doggy bag’ makes a lot of sense in crowded public places. Little dogs like this can easily get stepped on, and crowds must be terrifying for them.

‘Aller au marché’, to go shopping at the open-air market, is a regular Sunday morning pilgrimage for many French people, who often go together as families, taking their time and strolling along the crowded stalls. This is frustrating for type-A people like myself. I just want to zip-in and zip-out with as much fresh produce as I can carry and in as short a time as possible. My husband only goes on pain of starvation and we are both way too impatient in crowds.

I can think of nothing more stressful than bringing our two French bulldogs to the market. Unfortunately they are too big for a shopping bag – although I’m sure they’d be delighted to take away a doggy bag with some of this cheese.

thumb_IMG_5096_1024How about you? Do you like open-air markets, with or without pet or partner?

Epic marketing fails

IMG_4277I saw this display of herbal tea at the supermarket the other day and wondered if somehow I’d missed something. Yo, die?

A lot of herbal tea is consumed in France, commonly referred to as ’tisane’. There are entire aisles devoted to tisane at the supermarket, and some pharmacies also sell herbal brews for what ails you.

Apparently this one is a special blend for kids. I’m not sure anyone with the slightest understanding of English will buy it, though. Unless perhaps as a ghoulish joke for Hallowe’en?

La fin

IMG_3724With summer’s breath still warm on our necks, the first fumes of wood smoke tickle my nose. As the leaves on the trees begin to change, I realize with regret that it’s time to put away my sandals until next year.

Fall has always felt like a fresh start to me, with its back-to-school rush and the energy of cooler days. Other than November, that dreaded dark month, autumn is the season I love best. Only three months until Christmas! Time to get on that to-do list!

But this year we have had such a glorious summer, it is hard to see it pack its bags. The first true hot summer weather in years, du début jusqu’à la fin. It got nice early in the spring and stayed that way throughout July and August. We were able to enjoy long evenings on the deck, drink and eat outside all the time. I complained, of course, that it was too hot. After all, who feels like working when the pool beckons?

But it’s time to let go. This past weekend I packed up all my summer clothes and sorted through the fall and winter ones before making the semi-annual switch. This is something I do twice a year, partly because I don’t have enough closet space to keep everything in circulation but also because it’s good to sort through what you haven’t worn lately and make a cull. Sometimes it’s an excuse to go shopping. “Out with the old, in with the new!” The charity shops enjoy it, too.

I am not a huge fan of endings. I find most things start out better than they end. When deeply enthralled with a book, I often skip ahead and read the ending so that I can relax and enjoy it without the suspense. Sometimes I get two-thirds through a film and can’t be bothered to watch the rest. But I love the bittersweet time of transitions – endings and beginnings. Summer’s end means the beginning of fall, and a new year just around the corner.

I guess that change is in the air. My yoga teacher announced that today would be our last class. She is a very good instructor and an inspired soul who puts a lot of herself into teaching, but she’s having too hard a time making a living at it. She told us today that the fall season is deeply associated with change, that it is a time for letting go. I guess that means it’s time for me to accept that all good things must come to an end.

C’est la fin de l’été.

IMG_2569How do you feel about endings and beginnings? Do you embrace change or go out kicking and screaming?

Sauf exception

Sauf exceptionThe first time I heard the expression ‘sauf exception’ I was sure it was a mistake. Except for exceptions? It sounded like the invention of a bureaucrat somewhere in an ivory tower, a grammatically clunky attempt to make sure there is always a way out of any situation.

Here in the land of the galls (et oui!), it is a useful phrase indeed. There are a lot of rules in France. But never fear – there are always exceptions.

You get used to hearing people say things like:

“En principe, c’est interdit, mais…” (In principle, it’s not allowed, but…”)

“Théoriquement, je n’ai pas le droit…” (“Theoretically, I’m not supposed to…”)

One exception to the exceptions – l’exception qui confirme la règle – is grammar. French is full of rules. Mostly they are unavoidable. There is the small matter of gender, verb groups and little ditties like the COD (complément d’objet direct) vs. the COI (complément d’objet indirect) that affect structure and endings.

I fought against them at first. “But surely you don’t mean that every time I say something, I have to remember whether it’s masculine or feminine?” Et oui….sauf exception. Language is one of the areas of French life with the most rules but relatively few exceptions. You just have to learn them. Suck it up and move on. And, as anyone who has ever tried to learn the language of Shakespeare can tell you, we English-speakers are in no position to complain.

When it comes to the rest, however, you learn to adapt. When we first moved to Lyon, the closest school was just two blocks away. I was thrilled until I discovered that we were in a different arrondissement, and therefore in another périmètre scolaire, whose school was much further away – and in a dingier neighbourhood. Then I learned I could request une dérogation. Both parents had to work, mother was pregnant, bla bla bla…an exception was made.

This lesson served me well. It taught me never to assume that a situation couldn’t be adapted, negotiated or remedied. And that in France, just like the whole world over, rules are meant to be broken. Sauf exception.

It seems that France has now decided to allow exceptions to the rules on Sunday and late-night openings for stores located in tourist areas. See the article in the NY Post on French opening hours. What do you think?