Today I went to pick up our turkey from the local butcher shop. I think I'm known there as "that strange American woman who always wants big birds". When I came in, the cashier started flipping through the book looking for my name. The third butcher behind the counter called out "Don't bother - it's the number 14 bird!" He disappeared into the back room and came back cheerfully bearing my bird. He held it for me as I paid the cashier and I noticed the two of them surreptitiously slip a paper covered bottle into the bag as I pocketed my credit card. I beamed. "Thank you so much! Bonnes fêtes!" The third butcher asked if I was on foot and I admitted that my husband was waiting outside in the car. Could he carry the bird out to the car for me? It was very heavy. No, thank you, I can manage. But it's very heavy! No, really, it's lighter than my son by a kilo! Laughs all around and I walked out of the shop with a big Christmas smile on my face.
If you live in France as an expat you get used to the relentless miserable moaning about service in Paris from the expat community. And it's true, that in many places (the cable company, for a good example) I have come across the most phenomenally bad service I have ever seen in my life. But we tend to forget the small shops, which give you service like you'll never see elsewhere in your life. It's like stepping into a Dickens novel, with cheerful, friendly faces and helpful suggestions. And a nice bottle of wine to go with my tender Christmas turkey. It's a million miles away from a trip to Jewel to grab a frozen beast and sling it into your cart and trudge down to the dozen cashiers lined in a row, all asking if you have a fidelity card.
An Australian friend of mine once told me how he and his wife became teary as they went to the market for the last time before moving back to Australia. "You see, friends and colleagues we can keep in touch with by email and with Christmas cards. But these people at the market had become a part of our lives and we know we'll never see them again or enjoy the special relationship we've had for these past four years." He was a wise man.
Boucherie de Tocqueville
80, rue de Tocqueville