Adventures in Expatting: Terror at the Franprix

Take a good look at this picture, my friends, because this is the face of torture.

For the uninitiated, it’s just a stack of plastic bags at the end of the register at the Franprix*, my neighborhood market. For me, it’s pure evil.

As you may or may not know, you bag your own groceries over here in the EU. The level of anxiety this stack of bags causes me every time I shop is kind of ridiculous; on the Parlez Vous Loco Anxiety Scale, it registers right below a trip to the gynecologist, right above getting blood drawn, and it’s equivalent to trying to navigate the sidewalks in Paris. (That’s a whole other post.)

Why, you ask? Because just look at that stack of bags, would you? Look at it. Go on, I’ll wait. Imagine trying to get your hands on one of those static-y, sticky bags, while a very long line of people waits, watches, and curses you in their heads (or out loud) in French.

Here’s how it usually goes over at the Franprix: I anticipate the sticky bags, so I grab one or two while the person in front of me checks out. They’re done and out the door and still I’m trying to separate a bag. My groceries are scanned, then tallied. Still, I haven’t opened the bag. Then it’s time to pay. Since my audio recognition of French numbers is complete shit, I have to eyeball the monitor to see my total, which means I have to take my eye off the bag in order to dig in my wallet to pay, causing me to lose the use of one of my hands and thus, precious bag-separating seconds. As I wait for change, I realize I’m behind the eight ball and I start to sweat; I only have a few seconds left to get the bag open before she hands me the change. Can I do it? Will I be successful?

The answer is no. Never. I’m always bagging my groceries when the person who was four people behind me in line is checking out. Today, the checker even went on break after she checked out the woman in front of me and still I didn’t manage to get my bags open before she returned.

I’m convinced that this is a rite of passage for expats, like level thirty-two in Ms. PacMan. I’ve cleared level 1, getting a French bank account. Maybe this is level 2: bagging groceries to completion within the confines of your transaction time. I shudder to think of Level 3; I’ll never be a certified Faux French woman at this rate.

Maybe it’s time to get a canvas bag.

*I’m originally from the South, as in the southern United States, which means everything is prefaced with “the”: “The Safeway,” “the Walgreen’s,” “the Target.” That’s just how we do it down there.