Sunday, April 06, 2008

Unhappy French People

I have finally spotted the rude French people of popular mythology. A tribe of them was at the supermarket yesterday, huffing and scowling with true vigor! They were almost entirely women: I’ve noted before that no one on earth can frown like a French woman. Well these women were clearly quite upset about having to endure a trip to the Supermarché and their glares could have stopped the incoming tides. How dare these other people shop at the same time as they were shopping! As I stood in line with my bananas and milk, I had the distinct feeling that if I made one wrong move, they’d set upon me like a pack of lionesses bringing down a gazelle. I pretended to be calm, sure that they could sense my fear. As we left the supermarché, I thanked Eris for not unleashing the armies of chaos.

I worked at a rural Virginia supermarket for some time and one thing I discovered is that nearly everyone hates shopping at them. Maybe 2% of our regular clientele was ever happy to be there, while the vast majority of them looked as if they were attending the funeral of a particularly unsavory relative. I’ve never understood why so many people endure these crowded, unhappy trips to forage for jugs of milk, given that they seem to detest them so. Maybe this behavior makes sense in some lonely American outpost, but not in France where they have their beloved marchés two days a week. With a minimum of effort, they could boycott the hated supermarket altogether, and perhaps many of them do. I’m constantly surprised though by how many people both despise and submit to the mandates of capital. They learn to want things that they never asked for. Of course, they do this for only one reason: it’s cheaper.

Having worked in a supermarket, I’ve come to accept them. During most trips there, I am taking note of what is going on “backstage”, looking at how they organize their produce, how much meat they sell, and so forth. I would assume that the discomfort most people feel in supermarkets is akin to what I experience in shopping malls. It’s more than a low-level annoyance; more like a subtle existential despair, a fear that these places without character and endless strip malls without humanity might be all that’s in store for the rest of my life- no discomfort and no surprises.

I suppose it’s even worse with the Supermarché: one can accept the depersonalization of buying a pair of Nikes, but it’s hardly the same with something as intimate as the food that we take into our bodies. To have that provided by nameless strangers in fields miles away seems somehow perverse; comparing it to the food provided by the boulanger or fermier at the marché is a bit like comparing lovemaking with a spouse to an uncomfortable fuck with a prostitute. Nobody in their right mind would go to the supermarket if they could help it.

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