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