Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Let the shopper beware

I'd like to share the most important shopping lesson I learned in France: READ THE FRENCH PRINT. They’re not even the fine kind. At least try to understand the words whenever you see them and save yourself some moolah or embarrassment. As the saying goes, buyer beware.

This is a no-brainer, but in the midst of the excitement of seeing nice things, and mentally converting from euro to Canadian dollars, and agonizing whether to buy or not, the brain can suddenly go on holiday.

Here are my two shopping blunders:

Blunder #1

As Bob and I were strolling around the historic town of Rennes, we passed by a shop that had a rack of colourful bags on the sidewalk. I instantly liked them. They looked exotic to South America.

“8 €!” I exclaimed. Even at 1.3 exchange rate, I thought that was a very good deal. I love cheap and I love exotic, never mind if they were sold in France where I should be thinking Louis Vuitton (not!).

After mulling about this for several minutes I told Bob I wanted to get the 8 €-bag. We turned around and walked back.

I saw a similar bag hanging inside the store, unhooked it, and brought it to the cash register.

“17 €,” the cashier curtly told me.

“Oh, sorry,” I replied and returned the merchandise. “I’m getting the one outside.”

Hubby and I went to the rack where it said 8 €. He yanked a bag from where it was securely tied. I went back to the cashier.

“17 €,” she said again. I spoke out this time.

“It says there 8 €. Isn’t this 8 €?” I said. The tag indeed said 17 € but the sign said 8 €.

She said something in French that I didn’t understand. Realizing we were not communicating, she left the counter and quickly walked to the rack. She pulled out a tiny purse that said 8 €. That was the 8 € one. The rest were what it said on the tag. Oh I get it, but no, I won't get that.

“Sorry, I thought everything was 8 €.” Hubby and I read the sign again. À partir de 8 €. So that’s what it meant! Starting from 8 €. We left the store a bit embarrassed, but at least I kept my 17 €.

If I wanted to buy something that looked as exotic as that, I’d buy it in Ecuador or Peru. Or from the flea market.

Blunder # 2.

In Saint-Malo, another shopper’s paradise, hubby and I entered a clothes store. “10 €!” I exclaimed upon seeing a rack of dresses with the big 10 € sign. I thought the dress was somewhat youngish, or what 20-somethings might wear. But for 10 €? I'd wear it.

Kaya ko ‘tong dalhin (literally, I can carry this, meaning, I can wear this without humiliating myself),” I bragged to hubby. He agreed. He liked it for me.

I grabbed a dress and at least two other sale items, and tried them on in the fitting room. Knowing this would take a while, Bob went elsewhere.

The 10 € dress fit me. It looked kinda different from what I’d normally wear, but I convinced myself it was a good buy. When I went to pay for my new dress, the till showed 22 €.

Wha—? I reacted quietly. I couldn’t say anything because there were people waiting in line. Besides, I couldn’t speak French and the lady may not know English. I paid for the dress and left.

“22 €! It’s not 10 €!” I complained to Bob as soon as I saw him. We checked the sign again and tried to decipher it.  "Oh, I think it means 'less 10 €'". The tag price was 32 €. That figures.

“Should I return it?” I kept asking. “Magpapaka-bagets bagets na sana ‘ko for 10 €… Soli ko na lang kaya? (I was willing to look youngish for 10 €. What if I just returned it?)”. I kept looking back to the store. Finally hubby said let it go, nakakahiya (it's embarrassing), just swallow it.

I felt so bad about paying 22 € for something I wouldn’t buy for $22 CAD. I wasn't even 22 years old. But I just swallowed it like Bob said. “Don’t tell the others,” I told him. Good hubby that he was, he didn’t tell anyone--until he blogged about it here and told the world, haha.

I kept the dress hidden from our group because I was embarrassed to show a bagets dress I bought simply because I thought it cost 10 €. I wore it only after our group had parted ways in Italy and I had almost nothing clean to wear in Rome.

Maganda sa ‘yo! (It's nice on you)” Bob said when he saw me wearing it. I felt much better because I know he tells me like it is when it comes to outfit.

I think I became a smarter shopper in France. But by then it was time to read Italian.


Next, To Sorrento
Previous, Saint-Malo

Monday, July 19, 2010


(This is hubby's third and last write up in this series on France.)

Our day trip to Saint Malo was pleasant and unhurried. The bus ride was quite interesting because we had a bunch of noisy teenagers tormenting the passengers with their repertoire of French and English songs half-sung and half-screeched. One could be easily annoyed but I chose not to sweat it because after all, I'm on holiday. No need to get stressed out. My companions didn't seem to mind them either; they were all fast asleep. They missed the scenery but they also missed the caterwauling. Well, most of it, anyway.

Saint Malo is the most visited place in Brittany according to france-for-visitors.com. We were lucky then not to have experienced the oppressive influx of summer tourists. It wasn't so bad when we were there mid-May. The heat wasn't so oppressive either.

Getting off the bus and seeing the walls of Saint Malo reminded us right away of Intramuros, a 16th century fortified city which was the birthplace of Manila. Saint Malo however, is older; it's literally medieval, having been founded in the Middle Ages. Since then, through the centuries it had been a monastic settlement, a pirate headquarters and even a self-declared republic. In a plaza atop the ramparts stands a monument to its famous resident, Jacques Cartier who colonized Canada. No wonder that name sounded familiar.

The fort city is surrounded by beaches, which adds to its attractiveness to tourists. The young 'uns did explore the beaches a bit, later in the day, while wifey and I exhausted ourselves window-shopping. I guess I would describe modern Saint Malo as a huge shopping centre cum food court. The theme is very nautical: striped sailor-inspired apparel, marina-inspired souvenirs, home decor, ad nauseum.

The highlight for me was lunch, which we had at Timothy's on their sidewalk patio. The cakes in the window display were ginormous—that's what caught the girls' eyes.

We scanned the menu, the mussels sounded like a great idea, so we sat ourselves down for a hearty meal. Nikki ordered for us, in flowing French of course—so nice to watch and listen to her ease with the language. Wish I could speak French. Or Italian. Or something other than English and Tagalog. Anyway, the mussels were delicious, cooked in different ways, not overwhelmingly sea-salty. As usual, we freely sampled and shared each others' dishes and took pictures of everything. Where are all these pictures gonna go???

It was off to more window-shopping and general wandering about for the rest of the afternoon. My wife actually bought something, and true to form, she went for the bargain dress, which was very young looking and I thought it would look good on her. Not bad for 10 Euro, we thought. So I left her browsing at this particular store, and watched the throngs of tourists leisurely flowing by.

It began drizzling almost at the same time the bells started tolling 2:00pm. Finally, wifey emerged from the store clutching her plastic bag, with a funny expression on her face. The dress, it turned out was not 10 Euro, but something less 10 Euro. She was too embarrassed to back out from the cashier, so she was forced to buy it. So I chided her, "That's what you get for being such a tightwad!" She's used to my needling so we both laughed it off. "Don't tell the others, okay?" My lips are sealed.

The trip back to Rennes was uneventful and we made it back to our hotel tired and weary from the day's foray. It was our last night in Rennes so the rest of the evening was spent packing and watching more French TV. For dinner, I bought snacks from the cornerstone for wifey and me, and the jovial owner offered me everything in his shop including, of all things, cocaine. "You want cocaine? I have cocaine." Just like that. Uh, no thanks. I guess Rennes does have a reputation for being a party town.

(Thanks to Warren and Mich for some of the photos above.)

Next, Let the buyer beware
Previous, Le Mont Saint-Michel, 2