I grew up with a single mom who clipped coupons religiously. When the Sunday paper arrived, out came the scissors. Scouring for sales meant we sometimes ended up with strange foodstuffs in the cupboard, items we bought only for the discount. I dutifully absorbed these lessons. To this day, I don’t like shopping, but I love a sale.
Financial prudence has made my marginally-employed existence here possible. Paris is expensive; being a cheapskate serves a bohemian writer well.
Pinching pennies does mean I lack social graces at times, however, as I often turn down invitations if I think it will cost too much (though truth be told my hermit tendencies are as strong as my cheapskate ones).
I’ve been wondering lately if this really is the way. I’m in my mid-30s and I still approach life like a starving student? Should I buck up and spend more? Prioritize differently?
For the moment I’ve decided that in daily matters I’m fine with sticking to my cheapskate routine, but that I’ll make concessions as I go.
I was at Biocoop (the organic store! costs more!) this week picking up some dessert for dinner with a friend in the evening (at home – cheaper!)
My eyes lit up when I saw the word “promotion” on the chocolate mousse. Not only was chocolate mousse exactly what I wanted, but it was on sale. Score!
I readied my coins (the French love exact change), but the higher, standard price appeared when the cashier rang it up.
I dig into my purse for some extra coins, then say as I hand them over, “It’s not a big deal, but I thought that was on sale.”
Instead of being annoyed, the cashier smiles and studies the receipt.
The woman behind me is not smiling, however. She’s throwing daggers with her eyes. “35 cents?” she asks, not even pretending to mask her disdain.
I nod, a little embarrassed.
She reaches her hand out, jiggling some coins impatiently at me.
I shake my head no.
“You’re right,” the cashier is saying. “Let me just figure out how to change it.”
The woman behind me groans in disgust and jiggles her hand at me again. “Just take it. I don’t care.”
My French fails again, as shame starts to creep into me. It’s not just about the dang 35 cents, lady! I don’t want your money!
Here’s the thing: it’s pretty much accepted fact that the French like to complain. (My French dinner companion later that night called it a “national sport”).
I’ve stood in line behind people complaining at many places – the post office, the bank, pharmacies, the tax office. Complaining in motion (on metros, buses, even airplanes!) and on still land. The rule for me then is, wait patiently. But when it’s my turn, I get to deal with my affairs, too. And I wasn’t even complaining! I was just telling the truth!
I’m moved to a separate cash register to sort out the chocolate mousse affair. It is starting to seem like too much hullabaloo for 35 cents, but I’m relieved I’m no longer holding anyone else up. I tell a new cashier (a manager?) that they really don’t have to trouble themselves, it’s fine. She says nonsense. It was their fault. (Another admission of error? A banner day!)
The manager tries ringing up the desserts again and a third price appears. It’s neither the regular, nor the sale price, but some random number now.
“What’s going on?” she asks.
As long as she stays in good spirits, I’m happy to stay and see this thing through. But the woman before me – though I’m no longer blocking her way! – shoots me one last dirty glance as she leaves.
Hey, I’m pointing out products that are priced wantonly in this store! A public service!
The chocolate mousse finally rings up at the right price and the manager reimburses me the 35 cents. I think she’s kind of laughing at me, but it’s a kind laugh. “Enjoy your dessert, Madame.”
While somewhat embarrassed by the incident, I decide to focus on that – the enjoyment. The smiling cashiers, not the woman trying to make me feel small. And the chocolate mousse that tastes delicious, one sinful spoonful after another. Maybe heaven does have a price.