The guy in the lazy boulangerie thinks I speak French, maybe not fluently but to a standard where he jabbers to me and makes jokes and (one assumes) is of the belief that I’m taking in everything he’s saying. For all I know he could be really profound or funny or existential. I understood the other morning when he threatened to charge me €1,000 for a café allongé after the shop had invested in a new coffee machine, that was kind of funny. Otherwise I just say the same things: “ca va?”; “ca va”; “un café allongé et une baguette tradition s’il vous plait?”; “pas sucre, merci”; “je sais, chaque jour, quelque choses”; “bonne journée / au revoir” etc…
The other day he was waffling away to me and I was nodding as per usual, oblivious to what he was actually talking about and ridden with that low-grade panic I feel whenever I’m in his shop. He stopped, looked at me quizzically and said: “Ahh, franglais not so good today uh?”
“Mon francais est tres mauvais,” I reply, trying to let him down gently that we may not be able to become friends just yet unless he’s got a set of Pictionary at home. Not today but every day my French is bad. I need to shame myself into improving or I’m going to start going backwards.
Progress has been made on the job front though, and I am now a part-time plongeur. During my trial my boss, a youngish Israeli guy, told me what a grizzly, disgusting job it was and asked me if I really wanted to take it.
“I’ve had guys come to me who’ve never washed a dish in their life but they wanna wash plates in Paris because they think it’s romantic.” He tells me authoritatively that “it’s not romantic!”
Apparently a lot of plongeurs go home and hit the bottle hard because it’s so tough, though given that I’m only part-time he figures I’ll cope. I also don’t drink, but I can’t be bothered to get into that one right now. I’m thinking to myself that he must be exaggerating as I slice through my pinky with a pan-handle.
“It’s got nothing to do with Orwell,” he says looking me in the eye as I drip blood all over the kitchen, “it’s more like Bukowski if I’m honest with you.”
He’s still not convinced I’m a stayer so he asks me again why I want the job. The turnover is fierce and he’s hoping someone will stick it out for more than a week. I tell him that I need some money to help subsidise the pittance I make writing and nobody else in Paris will give me a job. He looks pleased.
“Have you got any plasters?” I ask.
It’s true, aside from washing dishes on the Rive Gauche I don’t have much in common with Orwell. We’ve both read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin though I’m not in the midst of writing a dystopian novel and need to liberally steal huge chunks of ideas. The fact is I’m no middle class tourist fucking around and I’m probably twice Orwell’s age when he was here. It certainly didn’t feel romantic last night when it took me an hour to clean the floors but I’m not complaining. The staff I’ve encountered so far are friendly and nice, so that’s half the battle won. Hell, if I stick it out for more than a couple of months I might even get more than minimum wage so that’s something to aspire to I suppose. If you want to read about the travails of a full-time plongeur though then I’d recommend Down and Out in Paris and London, it’s a ripping good yarn.Follow @jeres