So, I am at the grocery store down the street from our apartment, being sulky. I’m having one of those days when I hate living in France. I’m feeling frustrated by language barriers and sick of being a stranger in a stranger land. As I am standing in line a new register opens and the clerk that I know well waves me over.
“Yes,” he says. “You can come and see me!” He is grinning.
I know this clerk well, a slightly older gentleman, he is always very friendly and always eager to chat in English and encourage me to speak in French. I never get away from this store without him chatting with me. I groan inwardly, and smile outwardly as I make my way over to his lane; I am so not in the mood for this today. As he is ringing things up, he asks if I want a sack for my items and I say “no thank you”. I have my purse and can fit most of the stuff in there. “Okay,” he says. He then pulls a bunch of bananas from under the counter and hands them to me.
“You would like some bananas,” he asks.
I smile weakly. “No, thanks so much,” I say. I like bananas but I’m feeling too pouty to be cheered up.
“You don’t need a sack, you don’t want bananas. This is no good,” he says with a mischievous look on his face.
Again, I smile. I don’t really know what is going on.
He then whips out a bag, puts the bananas in it and begins to pack the rest of my belongings.
“See? See what I have to do? I am powerless against you,” he says with dramatic flair. “I love you, I can’t resist you! You must take my gift!”
This is said loudly. The middle-aged woman in line behind me snickers. I burst out laughing. What other reaction could there possibly be to such absurdity?
The clerk hands me the sack with profound satisfaction. He is so proud of himself.
I couldn’t help but smile the whole way home.
This is not the only time I’ve had something like this happen in France. I’ve been bestowed with free oranges, “for the beautiful young lady; to see her has been a gift to me so I must give a gift to her” and been handed tomatoes with suggestive winks. There is a certain type of French male that seems to adore this type of ridiculous flirting.
At a recent market stop, the farmer engaged me in conversation.
“Ah, you are American,” he says. “I was once in love with an American.”
He smiles at his friends.
“And you are so charming, you must take a gift,” he says this as he puts a courgette in my bag. “Ah, you must be breaking hearts throughout France.”
I smile. “No, I am engaged,” I say.
“Ah, but in France this does not matter,” he says in return with a wicked grin before kissing my hand and sending me on my way.
As an American, I love this type of over-the-top flirtation and it never ceases to make me giggle. It perfectly fulfills my Captain Renault, Pepe LePew stereotype of the French Lothario but without making me feel creeped out. Growing up, the words “French men” (or really just European men) would induce a general female “tsk tsk”. I would listen to them talk about trips to Europe and was ingrained with a sense of: BEWARE, SEXUAL PREDATORS, NO YOUNG AMERICAN GIRL IS SAFE!
“Those European men will just follow you down the street and shout all sorts of things.”
“Oh, and the FRENCH, well, they just never will give up, will they? So persistent.”
“You just have to be so careful with European men.”
And I don’t know, I guess some of this is still true for a young innocent girl going to Europe for the first time (assuming there are any young innocent girls left). But I am in my 30’s, I am engaged; the young men don’t so much make runs at me. Instead, I get the old-timers. I get the men who are reclaiming a bit of their youth for a few minutes by making a girl blush and their friends laugh. They are re-enacting a play and I am more than happy to participate.
At the end of the day, what can I say? I’m a sucker for flowery language, hand-kissing, and dramatic proclamations of love from dirty old men. It makes me laugh, it makes me feel irreverent, and it can cure even the worst of moods.