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The Dress. The Sweater. The Argument In French.

The sweater and my argument in French

The French are sometimes unfairly accused of being stubborn, unfriendly, or difficult to deal with. And they love to debate. I can see this if you enter a store and do not say, “Bonjour”. You might not get any response and could even be treated with rudeness. Customs should be followed, no matter what country you are in. I get this and try not only to speak French all the time but also act politely and proper so that I don’t come across like that “obnoxious” tourist. During all my travels to France, I have never had a bad encounter with a native French person. That is, until a few years ago in Paris. I was put to the test and had a lovely argument in French.

The store, Caroll in Paris

The store, Caroll in Paris

I discovered a great ladies clothing store in France called Caroll. It’s a chain that carries fashionable casual and dressy French clothing at reasonable prices. During one of my visits, I found a beautiful white dress and a short sleeve blue sweater to go with it. In the change room, I spent much time trying on different sizes. I’ve noticed that the silhouettes in French clothing tend to be more form-fitting or at the very least, slim. Certainly not baggy. So, I had a dilemma about what size dress and sweater to buy.

After much debate, I finally decided, made my purchase, and headed back to my apartment.

My white dress and the blue sweater I tried to exchange

My white dress and the blue sweater I tried to exchange

That evening I tried on my new outfit and had that feeling of regret. Too tight? Yes. This meant I’d have to go back to the store to exchange the sweater for a larger size. This is done in North America all the time, so surely I could easily do this in Paris without any problem. After all, Paris is an international city where millions of visitors shop every day. RIght?

My Argument In French

Blue sweater which set off an argument in French

Blue sweater which set off an argument in French

So, the next day I returned to Caroll, located on the rue de Rivoli area, clutching my Caroll shopping bag with the sweater wrapped in tissue paper. As I approached the cash desk and said my obligatory, “Bonjour” to the saleswoman, I pulled out the sweater and my receipt and this is my recollection of what transpired. Imagine the entire conversation in French (note: I’m not saying I said things perfectly, but I did try):

JAN: I would like to return this sweater.

SALESWOMAN: What is the problem with it.

JAN: It’s too small. I would like a bigger size.

[Saleswoman examines the sweater like a detective inspecting a crime scene]

SALESWOMAN: You’ve worn this. It’s wrinkled.

JAN: No I haven’t worn it. The tag is still attached

SALESWOMAN: It’s wrinkled.

JAN: I bought it wrinkled and it got even more wrinkled in the bag.

[Saleswoman sneers and gives an obvious “humph”. If she could have, I’m sure she would have snorted].

SALESWOMAN: I’m not sure we can take this back.

JAN: [With a more serious voice and look on my face]. I do not require a refund. I just want a larger size.


[Jan starts speaking before the Saleswoman can continue]

JAN: I did not wear the sweater. I just want a larger size.

SALESWOMAN: Very well. Go get the correct size….. [without looking up at me, she waves her hand into the direction of the sweaters]

JAN: Merci

[Mission accomplished. The sweater is exchanged.]

JAN: Bonne journée [Have a nice day!]

Perhaps this is not for the faint of heart, especially if you don’t speak French; however, If you are scared to argue in French, don’t be. I’m sure my French wasn’t perfect, but I was determined not to get bullied into keeping the sweater that was too small for me. How does one have an argument in French? It’s more than the using the right words. It’s all about your attitude and persistence. Just don’t back down!

JAN: 1


P.S. I still shop at Caroll and love the store. They have great clothes.

Blue sweater which set off an argument in French

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  • Reply
    Shelley Mckeating
    September 20, 2018 at 9:46 am

    I would definitely have to improve my French for that exchange! I’m also going to get the book you mentioned, as we’re considering getting an apartment in Europe, most likely Spain. I’m curious, have you imagined if retiring in France, which would be your favourite place?

    • Reply
      September 20, 2018 at 1:50 pm

      I doubt I would retire in France (just lots of reasons), but if I had to choose a place it might be Provence….but the summer heat would kill me. Another option is Normandy, where I was in the summer. I loved it there!

  • Reply
    Keith Van Sickle
    September 20, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Bravo! Arguing with a Parisian saleslady in French, that’s not easy. If this were the Olympic gymnastics competition, you’d get very high marks for “degree of difficulty.”

    • Reply
      September 20, 2018 at 1:51 pm


  • Reply
    Lisbeth Paisley-Smith
    September 20, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    I loved this Jan! I found your ‘argument’ very civil, the polite Canadian you are, who as well is aware of her rights and wishes! I would be less equipped to argue since my French is more limited to ‘Pourrais j’avoir l’addition s’il vous plait, Monsieur?’ I did try in every single situation to use some French and received smiles, patience, even ‘Charmante’ and ‘Il est tres jolie’ (excuse spelling agreement). Even the woman in the post office could not help emitting a half smile when I asked for five international stamps in my own time. When I went in a shop I even said, ‘Bonjour, s’il vous plait’ and every single person treated us very well.
    BTW in 2015 our first dinner was at Rotisserie Beaujolais, now Rotisserie D’Argent, because it is one of David Lebovitz ‘s faves – I had read his review. We returned in 2018 for our last dinner and loved the chicken and mashed potatoes just as heartily. Great location!
    You argue, Jan!!! ☺️

    • Reply
      September 20, 2018 at 1:52 pm

      Thank you Lisbeth! I can see French people loving you!

  • Reply
    Paula Markus
    September 20, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Hi Jan,
    Always enjoy reading about your adventures in France!
    Many years ago I was stopped leaving the Galeries Lafayette department store in Paris because when I walked through the security gate to leave the store, an alarm went off.
    I didn’t know why the alarm went off, but of course, I had nothing from the store in my bag or on my person. I was only carrying a small purse, which they searched and totally emptied, but of course, I hadn’t stolen anything from the store, which I kept insisting, in French. I was rudely taken to the security department in the basement, where I was body searched, and of course, they didn’t find anything. The whole experience was humiliating and degrading. There was no kindness in their approach to me – they just assumed that I was guilty of shoplifting. Finally, some security expert came out and figured out that there was some kind of metal bit in the inner lining of my Canadian purse that had set off the alarm, and they let me and my partner go. No apology for the way I was treated, for the hour that we were detained and questioned in the store – nothing. That experience gave me a rude awakening into the culture of how the customer is always wrong in France. In Canada, I would not have been treated like that.
    Take care, I always love reading your blog!

    • Reply
      September 20, 2018 at 1:55 pm

      Oh my gawd, that’s awful! You’re right, the customer is always wrong….but to be body searched?!?! Horrible!

  • Reply
    Mary Clark
    September 23, 2018 at 10:42 am

    HI Jan – I have been following you for quite sometime and I enjoy your blog. I am thinking about renting a house in France for a month – possible the south of France in the fall of 2018. do you have any recommendations on how I would go about doing that? Just use airbnb or is there a better website for long term rentals? Thanks so much for your advise.

    • Reply
      September 23, 2018 at 2:24 pm

      Certainly Airbnb is very popular. You might also consider HomeAway and VRBO (owned by the same company). A very popular website I’ve used for over 20 years is Gites de France (https://en.gites-de-france.com) but they tend to be a bit more rural. You might also consider Odalys. I rented a place in Gordes, Provence and was very happy with it. It was part of a complex with a shared pool. The only downside was that is wasn’t close to Gordes (ie. within walking distance). It was about 3 km away.

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