It’s a beautiful Sunday morning and I’m walking to the park for a run. A bank of stony faces greet me as I walk up the road. The miserable faces of The French on a Sunday morning. Grey slate faces plodding along the road to get their sodding baguettes. Nothing can cheer them up. I smile at a few as I pass but nothing can stir them from their misery. Not even wine, sex and feasting, which they apparently do so well. I pass one – mid thirties, well dressed – who looks so utterly sad, it’s hard to imagine that a smile has ever crossed his face. It’s true, he could have suffered from some bad news, but I’ve seen him before and he always looks this: The face of despair.
They are all walking to the bakery to get their beloved baguettes. The same baguettes that once off the bakery shelf will be stale and rock solid unless you eat them within the hour. Leave them until the evening and they become weapons. I teach an Italian twice a week. When I ask him about French food, he just laughs. He hates it and I’m beginning to agree with him. There’s something wrong with getting a plate of fried sheep’s intestines for dinner – it’s a Lyon speciality. A bowl of ragu, like my student’s mother makes for him each evening, is fine for me. I’ll leave the offal for the rats.
I do like living here, but it’s irritating sometimes. I walked into a supermarket to buy some ham and bread for my walk last Monday. I got given the day off, so I decided to go for a walk into the hills. I felt good, I’d had my Christmas break and was ready to conquer France before it conquered me. But alas I was struck down at the first hurdle. I should have known better.
As I walk through the checkout to pay for my goods, a bell rings and I’m immediately confronted by the potatohead of a security guard demanding to look in my bag. I say go ahead and he finds a bottle of Buxton Mineral Water and he thinks he’s won. Until I point out the great big fuck off Union Jack splashed across the front with the words Made In Derbyshire, England underneath! He inspects it with his piggy-squinty eyes before passing my bag back through the security scanner, which again causes the bell to ring. He removes everything and the 7 board marker pens concern him. I say I’m a teacher but I know he doesn’t believe me. He wants to nail me as he can’t understand why my bag keeps on beeping. I shrug my shoulders and say it always does that, but he keeps rummaging through my bag so he can tell his family there is a reason behind his existence. In the end he finds nothing and lets me go. And this is the problem. Every time I walk into a supermarket I feel like I’m a criminal. The above incident is not the first time this has happened. A few months ago, I got pulled up by one of these idiots when he found a brand new bottle of Evian in my bag. I couldn’t find the French to explain that where I work I get free bottles of water and had not stolen it from their damn supermarket. But the point is, I shouldn’t have had to explain. Aren’t you innocent until proven guilty. Not here. Here everybody is presumed a thief when you walk into a supermarket: the infirm, the elderly, the blind, the insane, everybody. There are 11 security guards at Carrefour – it’s true I’ve counted them. It makes shopping a fraught business. About as relaxing as bowel surgery, I guess. And now they know who I am, I can’t shop in peace without some bonehead eyeing me up as I search for tinned petit-pois. I wouldn’t mind, if they were women, but they are all crew cut, pock-faced meatheads who redefine the title Jobsworths. These guys have a degree in Jobsworthiness; no, a fucking Ph.D, a professorship. In another time, these men would work on farms slopping out the shit in cowsheds while buggering each other in their days off. Now they work as supermarket security guards. I lie awake at night, thinking of ways I would torture them if I had the power. I’m not going crazy, it’s just I can’t understand why I should feel like a convicted criminal when all I want is a few slices of beef and bag of coffee. But, c’est la vie…