I used to feel a sense of pride in my ability to work out which was the shortest line at the supermarket checkout. It wasn’t just the length of the queue, I would also scan the size of the trolley or basket, work out how many items there were to be weighed (slowing down the process) and then finally, assess the experience and speed of the cashier. God forbid I would let anyone in front of me. This was a battle of time. I was in a hurry and nothing was going to get in my way.
When I moved to South West France, I still had the same mindset, even though I had moved here for a slower pace of life. I thought everyone would be as crazy as me in the supermarket, but it turns out they weren’t in a rush. I found that when I had a few items in my basket, the person in front of me would often turn around and said ‘allez-y madame’. Looking slightly startled, but very grateful, I would be bumped up in the queue, not quite believing what had just happened. Did they realise they would end up spending more time in the queue? Yes, they did, but apparently it didn’t matter. They would happily chat to the cashier, or someone else in the line, or just stare into space serenely without a care in the world.
My de-urbanisation, or should I say re-humanisation, took a major leap one day, whilst shopping in the market in Marciac, a pretty bastide town in the Gers, and home to the world famous jazz festival. I’d found a vegetable stand with Tarbais beans for sale – a large haricot bean used in the famous cassoulet dishes. When I picked up the beans, the stallholder told me I should put them in the freezer first to kill off any fungus, and then they could go in a jar. I explained that I wanted to make a cassoulet, so could he advise which vegetables to buy. The husband and wife team seemed delighted that I was going to try this dish, and began carefully explaining the dos and don’ts – N.B. salt must be added at the very end, to ensure the beans soften. The stallholder took a piece of paper, and started to carefully write down the recipe. I glanced nervously behind me, as a queue of people started to assemble, expecting someone to barge to the front and demand to be served, or at least stomp off or make some unpleasant remark. Instead the people in the queue started adding their own tips for how to make the perfect cassoulet. It was incredible – everyone was happy to stand around and help the hapless foreigner.
I came away grateful and also slightly amazed. I realised that it was me that needed to change. These people had their priorities right – really, what’s the rush, there’s plenty of time.