Looking around the streets of Paris these days, you may notice the sparkling lights and window displays at the Galeries Lafayette that tell you the holiday season is upon us again. However, advertisements and holiday markets in Paris tend to pop up just a couple of weeks before the 25th, whereas in the states Christmas jingles can be heard long before Thanksgiving.
I am generally relieved by this fact, finding myself pleasantly alone in specialty shops at Gare de l’Est doing my Christmas shopping, but was disappointed when I tried to visit the Christmas markets near Saint-Germain and found them not yet open on December 3rd. Obviously the Champs Elysees, Montmartre and the Tour Eiffel are bustling with Christmas commercialization, but holiday spending in my working class neighborhood in the 10th arrondissement seems pleasantly limited to stopping in at Nicolas to buy bottles of champagne to celebrate.
My gifts now bought and wrapped, cards written, I am almost ready to send everything, but the next step makes me cringe. I must go to La Poste.
Seven years ago in Toulouse was the last time I sent Christmas gifts home to the US from France. I waited in line for half an hour with a single box. When I finally got to the front of the line, I asked to buy packing tape to close up the box. The woman looked at me like I was insane:
“C’est à vous de faire ça avant de venir, Mademoiselle! Ce n’est pas à nous de faire ça.”
Apparently the post office in Toulouse did not sell packing tape.
After a metro ride with my box, receiving suspicious stares that told me it looked like a bomb, I bought some tape from a home furnishing store, taped up the box and returned to the post office, waiting in line for another half an hour before finally shipping the box.
Preparing myself for the worst, I made sure I looked nice before heading to the post office. I knew that if anything could help me get decent service in France, it was being well dressed.
Once there, I got in line and waited. This time I had several boxes to ship, so the pressure was on. I heard people all around sighing with impatience and yelling at one another. The air was thick with irritation. I held my breath. Looking around, I noticed that La Poste had special boxes to ship wine, but after doing a bit of research I found out that the USPS will not accept alcoholic beverages. If they are going bankrupt, they may want to rethink that decision.
When it was finally my turn, I got a middle aged postal worker who turned out to be very helpful. He took me aside, weighed each item separately, and went to get me the pre-paid boxes I needed. It was that easy.
After going home and filling the boxes, I noticed that one was too small, but I had already written on it. Back at the post office however, I magically got the same man again. He exchanged the box anyway, no questions asked. I even got a smile.
Now my Christmas shopping is done, gifts sent, and I can sit back and relax. If there is one thing I learned from this experience, it’s that looking your best improves your chances of getting better service in France, especially if the employee happens to be of the opposite sex.
© 2011 Pasa’s Paris