In my final days of secondary school, my career guidance teacher took me aside. She was aware that I hadn’t studied as hard as I might have and she gave me one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received. She told me that it’s amazing how much you can learn the night before an exam. This is a truth that not enough teachers tell us. They need exams to be scary, hard and, above all, important, in order to validate their existence.
Teachers tell us all kinds of lies. They try to convince us that our lives will be better if we know the features of a glaciated valley. That our futures will be bright if only we can untangle quadratic equations. That our lives would improve if we could all tell a Bronze Age settlement from an Iron Age one.
Teachers like all kinds of other nonsense too. Like uniforms. And sitting up straight. And being called “Sir”, “Father” or “Miss”. They tell you this is necessary. Or else “how would you get the buggers to listen?” What they’re too afraid to reveal is that they’re not saying anything very important in the first place, so it’s quite alright if the buggers don’t listen. The answers are all on Wikipedia anyway.
When I’m a man of power and influence, I plan on touring the secondary schools of Ireland, trying to convince teachers and pupils alike to care just a little bit less.
Anyway, I studied French briefly in secondary school. Spanish was my main foreign language, and I could never say I spoke French, but I did fine. I remember one of the first chapters of the book. It was called “Ou est la gare?” and claimed to teach you how to find your way around a town in French. Like most things in secondary school, it was a sham.
It claimed that the French for a supermarket was “supermarche”. In the map in the book, the supermarche was conveniently located between the post office and the town hall, opposite the school, which was between a swimming pool and a church. All nice and convenient.
In Strasbourg, there are plenty of hypermarches. Out in the suburbs. Out of reach.
I live near the city centre. I bemoaned the lack of a convenience store to my boss. She corrected me, telling me that there were lots of corner shops in Strasbourg, but that my area was “too posh for Turks” so there wouldn’t be any. Hmmm.
I have found little shops dotted about, but they are not what I want. You walk in past crates of dirty fruit and veg (dirty is meant to mean fresh). And then there are shelves of dried food. In dusty boxes. There will be a little fridge, not necessarily plugged in, mainly stocked with a type of sausage you’ve never seen before and bottles of Coke with special World Cup 2002 commemorative labels. And the till is guarded by an elderly person, who licks their fingers before counting out your change and again before giving you a plastic bag.
I am the worst kind of tourist in the world. I basically want there to be a Centra, Londis, Spar or SuperValu on every street corner.
I was by no means starving. For the first week, I had all the beans, meat and eggs that I had sent my brother and his wife to buy on my first day of work here. I located various bakeries, petrol stations and the like as time went by. Then, last Friday, as I rode the tram home from work, I spied a shiny sign.
It said Carrefour City. Oh joy of joys!
A choir of heavenly angels sang in my mind. I leapt out of the tram (it had stopped) and hurried towards the sign.
I walked in, stood in the centre of the supermarket floor and gulped back the tears. It was wonderful. It was brightly-lit, with shiny tiled floors that sparkled under the comfortingly artificial light.
I looked around. Everywhere I looked, I saw a new happiness. Everything was packaged in nice clean plastic. Nothing was behind a counter, so I wouldn’t have to try to figure out how many decagrams of meat I needed and then roar it across the counter in broken French while a grumpy sales assistant and an impatient shopper queueing behind me would tut at me in unison. There’d be none of that. Everything was laid out, just waiting for me to pick it up in its pre-packaged, ready-portioned glory. There were E-numbers, additives and preservatives galore. I got somewhat overexcited and bought far too much to carry home on the tram, but I didn’t care. I’d found my shop.
It’s at a tram stop called Schluthfeld. Because I’m a twelve-year-old boy, I giggle every time we pull up at that stop. “Tee hee hee! Slut Field!” But I only laugh for a minute, because the next stop is called Etoile Polygone. This stop frustrates me. An educated guess tells me that that means “Polygonal Star”. Surely every star is also a polygon?
But I don’t get that frustrated. Because I have a supermarket. Of my very own.