Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The less said, the better

A year ago, I went along to a major store in Valence [the Fnac] to obtain information on a digital camera, and then I actually bought it through the Internet, at a price far below that of the store. I've just behaved in the same way for the purchase of a camcorder. I'm sure that many consumers must be using this same approach. It's a funny situation. It's reassuring to go along to the store, where you can meet up with real human beings and receive their expert evaluations of various products. But, once they've helped you to choose the product you need, you don't actually purchase it from the store. Instead, you return home and order it, at a much lower price, through the Internet. So, I conclude that the store only sells equipment to customers who haven't yet discovered the phenomenon of Internet shopping. In other words, these customers are in fact financing the expert assistance that people like me are receiving from the store. I often wonder how long this kind of situation can last. Maybe, one of these days, the store will decide to refuse to talk to would-be customers who in fact make purchases through the Internet. But how would they enforce such a rule?

Meanwhile, I'm amazed by the improved quality of Internet shopping. I only ordered the Sony camcorder and a Macintosh video software product a few days ago, and they were both delivered this morning.

Inevitably, when the morning silence is broken by two delivery trucks visiting Gamone, I have to reassure my neighbor Madeleine on the phone that no major upheaval is occurring at my place. She hears the vehicles moving up and down the steep road behind her house, and she's justified in imagining that it might be a gang of international bandits who are stealing my kitchen table and chairs, or maybe even my donkey and billy goat. Here in the Bourne valley between Choranche and Châtelus, the people in each house are reasonably well aware of any movements of vehicles [and animals, too] in the vicinity of neighboring houses, and the telephone is often used on such occasions to verify that all is in order.

Madeleine and I are capable of gossiping on the phone for half an hour. Well, jumping from one thing to another, and knowing that my neighbor is a fervent churchgoer, I took this opportunity of asking Madeleine what she thought of the pope's decision to authorize the Latin mass. Her reply was delightfully unexpected: "When I was a girl, I used to sing in the choir at Pont-en-Royans, and all the words of our chants were in Latin. Those are beautiful memories. After Vatican II, we were all shocked to hear the priest talking in everyday language. At first, it sounded silly, and it made us laugh, because we weren't used to hearing ordinary French in the church. But, since then, I've forgotten all my teenage Latin." In other words, it's an upside-down [Antipodean] situation. For Madeleine [and, no doubt, for countless other Catholics of her generation], the move from French back to Latin could never be as upsetting as the initial move from mysterious celestial Latin to everyday French.

Madeleine's explanations remind me of one of my favorite [true] anecdotes, which dates from the time that Christine and I were students in Paris. We had a group of French student friends who were musicians, and one of the girls told us this story: "We first met up with this American guy when he was playing the saxophone in front of a café in the Latin Quarter. He didn't speak a word of French, but we managed to communicate with him, and we ended up inviting him back to our place to play music together. We called him Big Joe. He became a member of our group, and we got on wonderfully well together. I think we communicated mainly through our music, because Big Joe still didn't understand a word of French, and none of us were very fluent in English. Sometimes we would ask him a question, and Big Joe would simply laugh and shrug his shoulders. So, we didn't really know whether he had understood us, or what he was replying. But that didn't really matter, because we were all convinced that Big Joe was a fabulous guy, a great friend. We didn't need words. Then the summer vacation arrived, and Big Joe went back to America for a couple of months. When he returned to Paris in September, Big Joe informed us that he had spent all his time in the States doing intensive French courses at the Alliance Française in Chicago. Sure, there was no doubt about it: we were all amazed to find that Big Joe was now speaking a primitive but acceptable kind of French. But the greatest shock of all, now that Big Joe could speak to us, concerned the things he started to tell us. It was pitiful. We discovered that he was a total asshole, not at all on the same wavelength as the people in our group. Everything he had to say—and Big Joe liked talking a lot—was pure uninteresting bullshit. At times, he would even get around to talking of politics as if he were a fascist bastard. Within a few weeks, we all started to dislike Big Joe intensely, and we ended up throwing him out of our group."

That brings me back to what I was saying, at the beginning of this post, about going along to a store in Valence for expert assistance and then making my purchases through the Internet. Maybe, like Big Joe, I should simply keep my mouth shut.

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