À la recherche du temps perdu

by jemma margaret

With all due respect to M. Proust, I’d like to offer a few short words on remembering in Paris.

In particular, who remembers me?

At a conference on Wednesday, I did an awkward two cheek kiss in that myself and the other person felt sure we knew each other (since it’s a very small seminar group), but if asked probably neither of us knew the others names or what they were doing there.

I certainly recognize the young ladies who sell Poîlane bread and the young men who weigh Mariage Frères tea. My cheese lady had a substitute this week (and oh lord she was having a difficult time of it with all sorts of complicated requests for non-existent fromage), but when she is there we make the smallest of small talk, which I hope means that I seem vaguely familiar to her. I fear the librarians at the Institut Henri Poincaré might recognize me as the girl who uses the toilet much more than French mathematicians and physicists. The Sunday vegetable market people sometimes give me a free bunch of herbs–is this because we’re friends? Sadly, though, my only sure stranger recognition is due to an embarrassing language mishap.

Shopping at the Marché Bastille with my sister, I asked for “un cent grammes d’olives.” The shopkeeper stared at me blankly. I was pointing at the olives that I wanted, but this didn’t seem to help. Finally, the lady behind me in line clarified.

“Cent grammes d’olives.”

I thanked her, and the shopkeeper laughed about how that didn’t make sense. He asked in English where I was from. And tallied up my order. Madeleine stood by politely not snickering at my poor communication skills. I imagine that saying “un cent” in French is equivalent to saying “one ten” in English. Awkward.

This week, careful not to make the same mistake twice, I asked for “deux cents grammes des raisins secs.”

“Un cent grammes d’olives?” the shopkeeper asked.

Yes, I remember, I told him, but this time indeed I wanted two hundred grams. In a mixture of French and English he explained that it was good for me to practice and eventually maybe I’d be able to communicate in French.

Until then, I may need to reschedule my olive purchases for Sundays.