The breakfast room is full of weekenders this morning. It’s fun trying to work out where they are from and notice the different breakfast habits. A young Dutch boy hunkers down over his cereal bowl, eating first a spoon of cereal, then one of milk. His father wants some mayonnaise to eat with his hard-boiled egg and tries politely to ask the man replenishing the stocks. I’ve tried getting him to respond even to a polite ‘good morning’ without success. Eventually the Dutch guy just repeats ‘mayonnaise’ very slowly. Mr Grumpy understands and just snorts a firm, ‘Non’. Clearly the Dutch guy is not used to this approach to customer service and shrugs his shoulders in disbelief.
Breakfast manners show people at their most real, it’s rare to have breakfast with people you don’t know. So elderly husband of magenta hair reaches across me to get at the orange juice and almost knocks me over. I give him the beady eye and say, ‘be my guest’, but both are lost on him, he just keeps on going.
There are five mixed race couples at breakfast, an unusual sight in France. They’re all French and none of them stare at me and my stick, unlike the white couples. I guess they know how it feels to be stared at. It’s a relief to be with people of mixed race, more like home. France is still very racist and publicly white, most of the presenters and reporters on tv are white men of a certain class, very few regional accents.
I walk up to the shops to buy a snack for this evening. The bakery is full and lots of Sunday cakes on display, people generally buy little treats if they are going out to lunch. The cakes look too perfect to eat, individual jewelled works of art. Three young women serve behind the counter and they are efficient and pleasantly joyful. An elderly man at the front of the queue joshes with them, one of the young women threatens him with a smack if he doesn’t behave. The French word ‘fessee’ comes from the word for backside and is somehow more detailed and intimate. The man laughs and says ‘Yes please, can I have two? ‘ The whole shop falls about laughing. It’s funny and inclusive without being the least bit sexist. The man in the queue in front of me gets his change and says, ‘what no smack?’ The young woman laughs and says that when he first came to the bakery, years ago, she mistook him for a priest, he was so serious. ‘I forgive you, my daughter’ he says solemnly. More laughter.