In Which I Am Mistaken for a Corporate Spy

Or possibly a terrorist. Or at least a serious concern to confront. This is one of those occasions in which very weak nearly non-existent language skills can seriously limit one’s ability to truly understand what is going on.

This began with a desire to prepare my nearly 13-year-old son for a HUGE transition to a home in France. I wanted to show him that there will be some familiar things in this foreign country, and I wanted him to find unfamiliar things a little more familiar. I planned to do this through photography. We, of course, took photos of his new city and his new home, but we also headed to the local supermarche to take photos of things there, mostly familiar, but also new. For instance:

He will find breakfast cereals he is familiar with and enjoys.

There will be hot teas in brands he recognizes, and new ones to try.

Obviously there will be no shortage of Coke.

Milk might seem familiar, but it is packaged very UNfamiliar-ly. Like, not refrigerated, for the most part.

And then we found ourselves in the exotic foods aisle of the supermarket. Little did we know…

The Mexican exotic foods section is almost entirely dominated by Old El Paso. And the exotic American foods section seems to be combined with the exotic British foods section. But either way, THEY HAVE DR PEPPER! Is that not cool?!

…that this is where the store security guard and the suited store manager would take a stand. They converged on me and my husband, Madame Securite walking up on one side and Monsieur Manager on the other, trapping us between them. Madame Securite pointed at my camera and began a flood of fast French. The Monsieur obviously concurred with all this, using his own fast French. I am sure I looked like the proverbial deer in the headlights. I began to try to explain, (entirely in English, having suddenly forgotten what little French I know) that we were taking photos to prepare our son to move here. This was met with stares as blank as mine had been, then more French.

Even as I began to envision an unexpected tour of le commissariat, our rescuer stepped in. Our angel from God, if you will, considering that I didn’t notice him at all before he spoke up. He said, in flawless English, “I think I can help you.” Then he turned and said something in French to our concerned market staff. They wanted to know why we were taking photos throughout the store, and I told our translator with the BEAUTIFUL English why we were doing this. After a conversation with the store staff, and a chuckle or two at our expense, no doubt, (Ah, just some Americans! The things they do!) we were told that this was ok, but in future we should always ask before taking photos. I wondered to myself how to ask such a thing in French. Would holding up the camera with a “sil vous plait?” be sufficient? No matter what, there were not enough thank you’s in the world to properly show my gratitude to the man with the amazing English skills. He has inspired me! I want to be so bilingual! I, too, want to help random people in the supermarket. It was awesome!

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