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Ignorance is bliss – more language lessons

Posted: 21st Nov 2016

Our language lessons and practice continue, and the improvements come in fits and starts. Buying baguettes and food at stores and produce markets, and metro tickets from the newsagent has gotten easier. We’ve been able to offer directions when asked (we get asked a lot in our neighbourhood). But new situations are always cause for mild terror, and involve a fair amount of psychological preparation. Today I went to the Post Office to retrieve a package; the note saying they couldn’t deliver it had been taped on our building door last Wednesday 16th November. On the note I could see that they had originally tried to deliver it on the 5th, and then maybe again on the 10th, although that wasn’t entirely clear.

As background, we have had problems since we moved in getting mail and packages. We are in a small apartment block; the postal delivery service should have a way to enter the building lobby to put our mail into our postboxes located there. For the last 6 weeks since they ‘fixed’ our front door, somehow the fix made it impossible for the postal delivery people to get in. This follows the first few weeks after we arrived when we learned that the Post Office couldn’t find our address as shown on the maps, so we were instructed to give out a new address that the Post Office and shipping companies could find. Needless to say many letters and packages went astray, including our box of items shipped from the UK which took over a week once it first arrived to actually get delivered to us, after numerous ‘missed deliveries’, phone calls to two countries, and so forth. Because the building is owned and managed by the University, there have been numerous complaints made at various levels, and we only know that they are ‘working on solving’ the problem. Recently we started getting weekly notices from the Post Office posted to our glass door telling us to what address in another arrondissement we need to go to claim our undeliverable mail. These notices are printed up then annotated with underlines and exclamation marks in angry red ink. A couple people have made it over there – I haven’t yet.

Somehow my package slipped through the net casting our mail to farther sorting stations, and I was instructed to come to our neighbourhood Post Office to collect it. So today I ventured the three blocks to pick up my package, passport tucked safely in hand in case they needed identification. No line – what good fortune I thought! The woman took my paper with the package information on it, and started casting about in various places behind the counter for the package. She disappeared down a corridor, and shortly came back with a small box. She looked at the box, read my name aloud – I thought from the box – said “Bon” (good), and then looked back and forth from the slip and the box again, took the box, the slip and turned around and walked away down another corridor. No other word. Aack! What now?

I imagined the potential  dreaded paperwork I might have to fill out, or maybe a fee for customs duty, or, who knew what possible bureaucratic exercise awaited, possibly instructed to me in a way I couldn’t understand? After a few minutes she returned carrying a different package, speaking loudly as she approached so everyone in the line for the adjacent services counters could hear. But now FINALLY the one benefit of NOT fully understanding French became apparent: I am *pretty sure* she was berating me for taking so long to come collect the package that had initially been at my door so long ago (16 days – I heard that)! And of course there was no way I could explain in my slowly improving but not nearly clear enough French that I didn’t get their delivery card until they got around to dropping it off 11 days after they first stopped by. And what was the point really? So since I couldn’t even begin to worry about what I didn’t understand I just kept a pleasant face, said Oui and merci, and took my package from her disdainful outstretched hand, and left. I passed by the queue of people all watching the interaction (why not when you are bored, waiting?), and just calmly left with no feeling of ill will or even slight embarrassment. It was really exhilarating, in a silly, small and obviously slightly petty way. I’m pretty sure it was a win-win all around: she got to publicly take me to task for being tardy and obviously insulting the efficiency of their organisation, and I got my package without really caring what she had to say. Ignorance is really, truly sometimes bliss.

PS: The package was a baseball cap from some of my longest-time friends who had gotten together this summer when I couldn’t join them, so they got me a cap from the park too, so it would seem like I had been there with them. And that is why they say old friends are like gold.

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