09 November 2010


Now there's quite a bit of logic behind the postal code system . . . it's starts with the département in which you live (it's almost like the concept of 'counties' in the States) and "the last three digits identify a more precise location, 000 being in general reserved for the préfecture. However, in Paris, Lyon, and Marseille the last two digits indicate the arrondissement" (thank you, wikipedia). 

And, like so many things, there is a particular way of saying the postal code . . . phone numbers for example aren't given in single-digits . . . they are always said in tens-digits (in the States, for the number 555-329-8538 we would say: five-five-five, three-two-nine, eight-five-three-eight with a few people ending it with eighty-five, thirty-eight) . . .but in France they'd say: cinquante-cinq.cinquante-trois.vingt-neuf.quatre-vingt-cinq.trente-huit).  But the postal code is different.  It's tens-digits, hundreds.

Well, my afternoon plans got changed at the last minute, so I took advantage of the free time to run a few errands. When I first moved to France this always guaranteed a screw-up at some point. But now that I've been here a while and I've learned a thing or two, the faux pas are fewer and farther between . . . which makes for a pretty boring read.  What's this got to do with postal codes??  I'm getting to it!

Normally when checking out at the caisse, the clerk askes a few routine question like, do you have a reward card? No? Well then would you like to sign up for one? NO?? Are you sure?? You get points. Okay, whatever (alright, so really half of that is in facial expressions and not actually outloud).  But today I was asked a question that no one asked me yet since living here: my code postale?

I was a bit thrown off, but was feeling very confident that I could respond, correctly . . . because I know my postal code . . . and my French numbers!  But wait . . . what order does it go??  Hundred, then ten . . . or ten, then hundred??  Feeling the pressure of the moment, I quick said "neuf cent treize . . ." (nine hundred thirteen) I paused . . . how on earth do I say the double zero??  The two women at the caisse stared at me as if I was foaming at the mouth.  "Uuuuhhhhhh . . . " I stalled . . . "Quatre-vingt . . ." (eighty) I stammered . . . "ONZE??" (eleven) they volunteered.  "OUI!  QUATRE-VINGT-ONZE!" (ninety-one) I said, in a triumphant manner, as if I had just won the national spelling bee.  They continued to stare at me . . . "Oh, oui!  Pardonne!!  Trrrr----" I trailed off as I tried very hard to say three hundred and not thirteen hundred which was the only think I could think of in that moment.  "Trrrrrrrois-cent??" I sheepishly offered.

Happy to finally have my postal code after all that, the chashier-in-training put my two euros nineteen in her drawer.  Feeling like an idiot, I mentioned "Je ne suis pas française" (I'm not French).

The two said nothing in response . . . their expressions did all the talking: they were not only well aware of that fact, but I am an idiot.

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