Leaving the comfortable wombworld of UK tour operators for a job with a real-life French employer is a shock to the system. No more food and accommodation, paid-for health insurance, free lift pass. But given that the living quarters were positively sub-student, the food was frankly filthy (dubious sausages with bits of blue plastic in them, anyone?) and the insurance never covered me anyway, what was there to lose?
Landing a job isn’t as easy as it looks though – at least not if you’re a funny foreigner with a shaky grasp of the language, no immediately recognisable qualifications and referees whose command of French is even worse than your own.
First port of call for the only marginally employable is Marché U, purveyors of not-so-fine foods and ultra-cheap own-brand lager. Open all year round (a rarity), it operates with a hard core of permanent staff, supplemented by an extensive pool of seasonal cashiers, shelf-stackers, wasters and ski bums. Practically everyone in resort has worked in the shop at some point, whether it’s as a student part-timer, first time seasonnaire or just new arrival.
During the interseason, Marché U serves as the primary social hub for the resort’s very small year-round resident population. Never mind all this French café culture rubbish – the supermarket is where it’s all at. People who come in first thing for a baguette and a gossip will be back at lunchtime for a bag of grated Emmental (I know – I have no idea why either, but it was one of the shop’s fastest-moving products) and to pass on said gossip to anyone they didn’t happen to bump into during the morning. Old ladies clutter up the aisles for three quarters of an hour at a time, exchanging scandal, discussing the weather and getting run over by frustrated epiciers with pallet trucks. But not actually buying anything very much, I noticed.
Come the summer season in mid June, most of these people more or less disappear, presumably because driving all the way to LeClerc at Echirolles is preferable to elbowing your way through a scrum of Italian tourists lacking either volume control or any idea of the concept of personal space.
The job of checkout chick is one widely despised and popularly assumed to be suited to useless undereducated monkeys with no other options. It certainly isn’t rocket science, but if you’re not on the ball you’ll end up looking like the village idiot, particularly if you’re trying to do the job in a language which you speak comme une vache Espagnole. The tills fail to behave as they should, there’s a run on small change just when you really don’t need it, thunderstorms knock out the card machines at your busiest time of the evening (all right, that one’s a bit mountain-specific, but it certainly doesn’t help), the special offer prices don’t go through as they should, causing old ladies to go all beady-eyed at you ….. I could go on. And through all these minor disasters, the queue is piling up past the fruit and veg section and apparently putting in a bit of last-minute training for the soon-to-be-introduced Olympic sport of synchronised tutting and eye-rolling. It takes nerves of steel, I can tell you.
So next time you’re in the checkout queue, think twice. Consider that it probably isn’t the cashier who programmed the till system, encouraged the old bat in front of you to pay with all the change she’s been hoarding down the back of the sofa, or failed to order enough grated Emmental. It would be nice if you’d stop yattering on your mobile phone and pay attention as well – I bet you wouldn’t be that rude to anyone else. And really don’t point out to your child that if she doesn’t work hard in school she too might end up like the cashier – with a degree, a qualification in journalism and a second language, you mean?
Just to help you all along with this, here are a few handy hints and tips:
Opening hours: no, you can’t have bread/milk/condoms ten minutes before we’re open. There’s no float in the till and I haven’t cleaned the floor or unlocked the trolleys. If I mess about with your 69 cents worth of baguette I will end up opening late and annoying all those people who turn up at the right time. Now, bugger off.
Opening hours (ii): do NOT leg it into the shop at one minute past seven and then spend half an hour doing three weeks worth of shopping and dithering over what sort of pasta to buy. Some of us have homes to go to. You may think Marché U is the most fascinating place to spend your free time, but take it from me, it really isn’t.
The right change: this is always welcome. Don’t worry about holding up the queue while you rootle in the depths of your purse for 83 centimes. I don’t care how long that rude man at the back has to wait before he gets his case of cheapo beers. I do, however, care about not having to look like a berk because I have no change.
The right change (ii): do not turn up just after opening with a 200€ note and buy one baguette and some hairspray. Where the bloody hell do you think I’m going to get change for that first thing in the morning?
The right change (iii): if I ask you for 16 cents, that’s because I want 16 cents from you. If you don’t have it, then say so. Do not offer me some random handful of shrapnel which bears no resemblance whatsoever to the amount you owe me and then look narked when I refuse it. I mean, why? Why would you think I’d be interested in 6.83€ when you owe me 5.47€?
The right change (iv): do not offer me the 16 cents after I have already cashed up your shopping and the till has told me how much money I need to give you back. If you insist on doing this I will have to work out your change myself. If I wanted an intellectually challenging occupation, I would not be working in a supermarket.
Hygiene: do not keep your money rolled up into grubby little balls in the depths of a pocket somewhere in your groinal regions. This is childish and immature (not to mention rather disgusting). Adults have wallets.
Men: your shopping will not leap into the bag just because you stand there and stare gormlessly at it. If you lack the basic skills required to pack a bag, you are going to have to bring your wife with you.
Alcoholics: get help. Failing that, at least buy some breath mints.
Italians: STOP SHOUTING AT EACH OTHER!!!
Parents: if your child is making that high-pitched ear-splitting squealing noise, either shut it up or get rid of it. Now.
Random dogs: do come in and run around the shop so that the epiciers have to catch you – it has entertainment value. But don’t hang around outside and snot on the windows. Have you ever tried cleaning a glass door which opens automatically if you wave an arm at it? Of course not, you’re a dog.
Lots of you (you know who you are): Have a bath. And think about washing your clothes while you’re at it. Really, there is no excuse for the way some of you smell.
(PS: Extra points to anyone who noticed that the original spelling of today’s post headline meant that I’d said ‘give me a whelk!’)