Strangers Here

Down the smaller street in front of her apartment and then across a large one at the end was the small neighborhood grocery store, 8 A Huit, that the American often shopped in for last minute items that she had forgotten at the market or larger grocery store in her once a week shopping. When the American had first moved to Paris this store had been owned by an older couple who kept the store immaculate, the shelves fully stocked, always had fresh vegetables in little bins outside and were quick to put away newly ordered foods and other items as soon as they arrived. Then one Autumn after being away all summer, the American entered the store to find that it had been sold to a younger couple. The previous owners hadn’t even said good-bye, rather like the couple who had done the same thing with the corner boulangerie. She expected that things would change with new ownership and, of course, she was right. In the grocery store there would be gaps on the shelves as items were bought and not quickly replaced. More candy was in evidence but her favorite wine was often not restocked. The next year there was yet another couple owning the store and again this year was someone new. The American went in for her usual bottle of wine and there was a new guy behind the counter. She wasn’t sure if he was the owner or just an employee but as she headed back to the area where the wine was kept he followed her and apologized for the big container of things blocking access to the wine and saying he would move it if she needed him to. He noticed her accent and asked if she were English. When he heard that she was from America he told her that he was from Algeria, not really an expat in the same way as the American but he seemed to think so. As she was checking out he told her, “I adore America!” It turned out that he had never been there but that didn’t stop his enthusiasm for the country. He wanted to see New York City. He even knew where Texas was located. She left the store thinking what a friendly guy he was but the store was a mess with supplies and canned goods stacked all over the place with big containers of newly ordered items blocking the aisles waiting to be put away. She wondered how long this new owner would last.
She enjoyed her encounter with him much more than the one earlier that day at the bus stop. She was sitting there drinking a Diet Coke on a warm winter day waiting for the bus to arrive when the odor of beer wafted her way. It came from the direction of a man sitting nearby who held up his can of beer and said something like, “Look at us, both having something to drink!” He wanted to carry on a lengthy conversation with the American so she pulled out the conversation stopper saying she didn’t speak French. He looked a little disappointed. The American was glad when her bus arrived.

9 thoughts to “Strangers Here”

  1. Lovely slice of ex-pat life. It’s often a bit disconcerting, isn’t it?

    I too would have been just as glad to step on that bus.

    Cheers and hope the new shop owner gets more organised!

  2. I seem to remember both an elderly and a younger Algerian at the Huit a Huit…or maybe they were Indian. The older guy was usually reading or doing puzzles or some such thing behind the counter; and the younger was very helpful. We left many Euros there but the convenience was worth the hefty prices.

  3. Just wondering why the Algerian wasn’t “really an expat in the same way as the American”? Neither was in their home country or culture, right? Neither spoke French as their first language?

  4. Hi Linda – where are you from in Texas? I was born in Odessa but I still have relatives all over there. My brothers always tell me once a Texasan always a Texasan. Do you still feel like one? I left when I was eight years old so I can’t really say that I really feel like a Texasan. My accent will come back if I talk to one of my relatives though.

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