Market Protocol

Today, as usual, the market was full of foreign tourists gawking at the lovely food and product displays. As the vendeuse was cutting the stems and wrapping up the flowers (she gave me some foliage for free), I saw out of the corner of my eye a tall, impatient American man, identifable by his khaki pants and button-down shirt, but also by his attitude. While the florist was taking care of me, he had gotten more and more annoyed. The florist was aware of his annoyance but not of its cause and looked puzzled. Finally he just laid down his money, pointed at the lilies of the valley in his hand and said, “Pour les fleurs,” and flounced off.Enfin, he would have if he’d had flounces. The florist made big eyes at me and said, “What’s wrong with him?” and then shrugged her shoulders.

What was wrong? He didn’t know the rules of the marché. I didn’t either when I first came to France. So, for your viewing pleasure, here are a few!

At the height of the market, it will be crowded and you will have to wait your turn at popular, high-quality stands. If you are a customer, make a signal if the vendor doesn’t realize you’re not just a tourist staring. Then wait your turn. There may not seem to be a line, but there is. The French don’t love orderly queues. But the vendor notices who’s first, second and so on. If they make a mistake, it’s not usually out of malice toward tourists but because too many people are waiting. Sometimes there’s a long wait, that’s just how it is. When it’s your turn next, make a little signal with your hand. Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper. And remember to begin with Bonjour! and finish with Merci! Au revoir!

While you are waiting for your turn, don’t expect the merchant to pay you the least bit of attention. This is the problem my American man, at the beginning of this post, must have had. The vendeuse was completely ignoring him to focus on me– this is the polite, correct way for a vendor to behave in France. The American was expecting her to acknowledge him and in some way say “Don’t worry, you’re next,” or “I’ll be right with you.” But to the vendeuse, that would be rude to me.

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One Response to “Market Protocol”

  1. Comment by jett | 06/01/13 at 10:03 pm

    This is not just you, but why are tourists always desribed as “gawking”? I suppose a sophisticated type of person would just be looking, but if you are, god forbid. wearing certain clothes, you are a gawker. Thanks. I feel beter.

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