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the elderly French lady

This evening I took a quick trip to the Carrefour, the local grocery store here in our (temporary) neighborhood in Versailles. While there I bought three things: a chocolate bar (with caramel), a box of Jaffa Cakes, and a small bottle of Chimay Blue. Okay, I’ll admit it… I was feeling rather snackish.

I got into a checkout line with my items and prepared to wait. In Paris, from what I’ve seen at least, long checkout lines are the norm… whenever the lines seem to dwindle down to what to my North American senses seems to be a reasonably sized queue, they start closing lanes (I’ve been at the tail end of two lanes that they’ve closed in this manner). Ahead of me was an elderly French lady, probably in her late 70s or early 80s, and ahead of her, a lady about my age or a little older, with a fussing baby. The elderly lady’s items consisted of vegetables, fruits, more fruits, more vegetables, two types of baguette, and some Omega 3 butter-like spread. I’m not usually self-conscious about what I buy at a grocery store, but compared to what this lady was buying (healthy and good for you stuff) my beer and chocolate seemed like a pretty poor showing.

At any rate, when the elderly lady saw how few items I was buying, she quickly told me to go ahead of her in line. Mind you, this is an elderly lady telling a young(-ish) man to step ahead of her in line… normally it should be the reverse! Of course I refused, but the lady insisted quite strongly I go ahead of her, and it seemed to me that it would make her very happy if I did so, and so I did.

When the lady with the fussing baby ahead of me was finished checking out, before she left, she turned around and thanked the elderly lady (who was now behind me – stay focused here) for letting her step ahead of her in line. That’s right, I was the second person this elderly lady had let in front of her. The elderly lady responded with “it’s no problem… I have kids too.” (for those interested in the French language, the French way to say “it’s no problem” is “il n’y a pas de quoi”.) And before I started checking out, the elderly lady started chatting merrily with the lady behind the cash register, and of course as soon as they both heard my accent (which happens as soon as I open my mouth to say just about anything in French), they started chatting with me too, asking me where I was from and what I was doing in France.

There’s a lesson here that I can’t quite put my finger on, but from what I could see this elderly lady was pleased to be able to let us youngsters (comparatively anyway) speed our way through life, while she herself took the time to do nice things for other people and to enjoy her time wherever she happened to be, even if that place happened to be the checkout line at a crowded grocery store. It’s a lesson that some of us (myself included) could probably stand to learn earlier in our lives, while we still have decades ahead of us to take advantage of the joys it can bring us.

07. Feb, 2011

8 Comments

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  1. Jason
    07. Feb, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

    The greatest gifts in life are found through giving. Even when the gift is nothing more than letting a young man save a few moments in line to get back to his children and family.

    The world isn’t that complicated – just a tad self absorbed these days.

  2. Matthew
    07. Feb, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Would not have happened in the US, just saying.

    • Lisa
      08. Feb, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

      Hi, Matthew,

      I must respectfully disagree. This actually happened to me just last week in Walmart. There were only three lines open, and the lines were longish (by American standards 🙂 and getting longer. There were 8 of us in line, the lady in front of me turned and saw that I was holding only a few small items, and said, “Oh, please, hon, you go ahead.” And much like the lady in Brian’s story, she refused to take no for an answer, and so I obliged. She lifted my spirits. As I paid for my goods, I realized she was no longer behind me. Instead, there stood a tall young man, holding a few small items, with a huge grin on his face, his spirit uplifted as well.

      I often let folks with just a few items go ahead of me when I have a full cart. Want to make someone smile and lift their spirits? Let them go ahead of you in the grocery line. Pay it forward 🙂

  3. Lisa
    08. Feb, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that lovely story! I believe the elderly lady is definitely living “in the moment.”

    On another note, I wonder if they find your Canadian accent as charming as Americans find french accents :).

    Love your musings.

    • Brian
      08. Feb, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

      thank you Lisa! And thanks for the Walmart story… I agree that it doesn’t usually take too much time or effort to do something nice for someone else – we should endeavor to do it more often.

      • Lisa
        08. Feb, 2011 at 11:36 pm #

        Yes, we should. I shall endeavor to apply this philosophy on my daily commute by letting people in more often. 🙂 Bonne action, n’est ce pas?

  4. Melissa
    21. Feb, 2011 at 1:09 am #

    What a great slice of life you’ve shared…maybe the lesson is for you to let someone go ahead of you next time. Or maybe it’s proof that with age really does come wisdom.

    I have to disagree with the person who said this would never happen in the US, though. I’ve seen such things often in my town.

    • Brian
      23. Feb, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

      hi Melissa – I appreciate the comment!

      it certainly did seem to me that the elderly French lady was aware of how quickly our digitally connected, overly-caffeinated younger generation prefers to zip through life… almost like she was playing the role of an observer. She seemed to have the right idea however… I’m not sure if she was letting people by because she was being nice, or because she wasn’t in a rush to get anywhere or do anything in particular, or both, but I’m pretty sure the minutes she spent being nice to others were not minutes wasted.

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