There's an épicerie anglo-saxonne in our town. I go there whenever I need some Anglo-Saxon groceries. Which is rather often.
As I walked into the shop this afternoon, the shopkeeper gave me a knowing smile of recognition. The kind of knowing smile I imagine a porn shop employee giving his regulars whenever they pop in for their weekly or perhaps daily set of porn DVDs. The kind of smile in which only one half of the mouth curves upwards. A leery smile that says, "I know exactly what you're after."
Only he didn't say that.
"All right?" the shopkeeper said, more as a greeting than a question. Slipping easily into the vernacular and thus suggesting he had spent time in Anglo-Saxon climes. Though his pronunciation of those two words alone betrayed his francophone roots, I was pleased to note.
I nodded tersely and nervously, acknowledging his comment while refusing to take the linguistic bait. I hate being predictable. And I hated that he knew exactly why I was there.
He probably knows all his customers' secret nutritional desires: That's the British housewife who always stocks up on Cadbury's chocolates and Oxo cubes. He's the guy who buys his bottles of bitter on Fridays. That's the American back for more smooth peanut butter and a big bar of Reese's. That's the lone Scotsman who comes in for his Irn Bru. That's the pensioner who says PG Tips are the best teabags in the world and waits outside before opening time.
I'm the expat who has a thing about Kellogg's Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes. Even though the name has now been abbreviated to Crunchy Nut. And I head straight over to the stack. Hoping he isn't out of them. Especially since the kids have taken a liking to the stuff. I mean, why can't they like those artificially sweet, multicoloured cereals that all world's other kids like?
The shopkeeper is a stubby man with a big belly. He always wears a faded T-shirt with some vague Anglo-Saxon inscription on it. With his black hair and round face he reminds me of a mole. He's friendly enough, but his over-eagerness to please, to bond with his customers, only brings out my innermost British standoffishness. And guilt. Even though I have absolutely nothing to feel guilty about. I'm just here for my Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes.
I walked directly over to the shelf on which they sit. On the back wall, past the till. I only ever come in for Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes. But I always leave with more. Today I added Newcastle Brown Ale. And prawn cocktail crisps. Luckily the size of my rucksack prevented me from straying further off message. Some days I add Marmite. And lemon curd. And orange marmalade. And marshmallows. And Rollos. And Polos.
I took my basket to the checkout, trying to avoid the shopkeeper's eye. "Is that all?" he enquired a tad too conspiratorially for my liking.
What Anglo-Saxon products, I wondered, did he have stashed under his counter that would both need concealment from innocent eyes and which I might possibly want? Yorkshire pudding-flavoured condoms, perchance? Or the British edition of Jugs magazine?
My mind awhirr with the tawdriness of our exchange - or at least his end of the conversation - I packed my bag, paid hurriedly and almost fell out of the door, relieved to find myself out of his glare and back in the heart of France.
At least until the kids eat up my Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes.