After a comfortable 13 hour flight to Paris, a three and a half hour TGV ride down to Avignon, and 50 minutes on a local bus, I eventually arrived in Arles where I am attending a conference this week.
After checking into my hotel I took a walk up the street to a supermarket to buy a few provisions.
When I got to the checkout I placed my basket on the checkout counter and waited for the cashier to finish serving the customer in front of me.
The cashier handed some change to the customer, closed her till, and then turned to look at the goods in my basket.
“Monsieur!” she exclaimed.
“Oui?” I said, wondering what the problem was.
“Monsieur!” she said again, pointing to the basket.
“Oui?” I said again. I looked at what I had in the basket – two bottles of water, a bag of grapes, a packet of nuts and some yoghurt. What had I bought that was causing her so much consternation?
Then she stepped back from the counter and put her hands on her hips and said again – this time in a very exasperated tone: “Monsieur!”
She seemed to be quite annoyed, and there was a queue building up behind me, so I said “Quel est le problème?” (“What is the problem?”).
Suddenly she relaxed. She must have realised from my poor French accent that I was not a local.
“Monsieur,” she said – much more quietly now – “It is not my job to lift the items from your basket.”
I had just had my first lesson in French checkout etiquette.