Why I will never be French

While I know I am lacking a few vital components that the native French are born with, usually I think I understand French society. As a general rule I know how to behave in most situations. I can swear at bad drivers and cyclists, using the right gestures to get the message across. I talk to unknown old ladies, people with dogs, the person standing behind me in the queue at the supermarket. I know the correct, polite way to address shop-keepers, the old crone who’s just shoved in out of turn in said supermarket queue, bank managers, soldiers with assault rifles, policemen sitting at café tables—all the usual sort of chance meetings.

I don’t question the extraordinary number of religious holidays we have for a secular republic, the protocol for getting onto buses (shove the competition out of the way), the impossibility of getting anything done by anybody on a Wednesday afternoon, or why the police station keeps office hours, closes for lunch, and doesn’t open weekends.

But just occasionally, a situation arises that leaves me perplexed and doubting my credentials to live in this country. One such bizarre occasion cropped up today. While we were at the market the postman called with a small parcel. Since we weren’t there, and our children are still under the impression that they mustn’t open the door to strangers, he left a little card with instructions to get in touch and arrange a new delivery date.

It was a web address. Inevitably it meant creating an account with the parcels service, complete with code words, trick questions, and the dreaded captcha puzzle. Parts of the form didn’t work, then surprisingly filled in the missing bits unprompted, which seemed more like black magic than neat intuitive technology. I waited several hours to get the confirmation email, and thought that meant we could go ahead and tell the post to deliver the parcel on Monday. I filled in the parcel details (fine), submitted them and got the message that there was one last step before we were finished:

‘Give your parcel a name’

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting that one. I didn’t understand what they wanted. So I took them at their word and gave it a name. The machine registered the name, and proceeded to the next stage of accepting a new delivery date.

We are now waiting for a parcel called Horace.

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