Christmas shopping is a true test of endurance, not to mention patience; achieving retail-jungle success in a foreign language requires humility as well, as I discovered in Paris last December. Also, when making purchases, an understanding of certain phrases can facilitate things; for example, “Would you like this gift-wrapped?” or “Madame, remove your gloves from the counter”. (The dismissive flick of the salesperson’s hand and her scowling look made this an easy one.) The same advice applies when navigating the French postal service: Understand the rules.
Remember these? I thought this would make a great gift for our kids since Nutella is a favorite in our house. What kid wouldn’t love to find a 12 pound container of Nutella under the tree? Now, how to get one home. Aha, La Poste offices are all over town and being in the middle of a very busy shopping area, one must be close by. Upon consulting the (thankfully) English-speaking man at Customer Service, I learned that a post office was just two blocks away, so off I went.
All the while, I’m thinking that surely the French have an “If it fits, it ships” equivalent. Turns out they did, plus a box that would work perfectly, so I headed back to Galleries Lafayette to secure my purchase of one very heavy container of Nutella. Back outside, it started to rain. Undaunted, I lugged my Nutella along with my other purchases, while balancing an umbrella, back to the post office. The Nutella fit snuggly into the box and, because the self-service postage machine was far too intimidating, I headed to the counter to pay the 30 euros in shipping. I know, but it was going to be SO worth it. The polite man and woman behind the counter spoke little English, but we managed to understand each other. All was going smoothly until they realized the container was actually FULL of Nutella, or food, which cannot be mailed to the US, per US rules. Really?? He must have misread my look of incredulity for a lack of understanding French because he managed in English, “Non, eez forbeedun.” Now what?
It had only one way to go…into my already bulging suitcase. Packing it in the wheeled end prevented mangling and breakage of my other gifts. Ironically, most were food; you can fly it home in checked luggage, but never in your carry-on. Ugh. When I placed my suitcase on the scale at the airport check-in, it was 25 kilos/11 lbs. over the limit. This gift was turning into a curse, but then I guess the holiday spirit took over because I was not charged the overweight bag fee. ”Consider it an early Christmas present.”, the woman at the ticket counter said knowingly. I’d like to think my determination to give something so appreciated had paid off. Truthfully, I just got incredibly lucky. Now, I know the rule.
“As long as habit and routine dictate the patterns of living, new dimensions of the soul will not emerge.”–Henry van Dyke