Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday at the bookstore

I opened the bookstore this morning, and managed to hit wrong buttons on the cash register, whereupon it got stuck. I did not lose my cool, however. I made change from my purse and sorted it out after the customer left. Later, the boss said it was bound to happen. This is how you learn. (That, and he forgot to leave the cellphone behind so I couldn't call and ask him what to do.)

The theme of the day was languages. My friend the historian dropped by with an espresso so he was a witness to all this. First, a dapper old gentleman came in sheperding an excited wee boy, followed by a young woman. I took them to be mother, son and grandpa. Grandpa amonished his grandchild to slow down... in Greek. From the bits of conversation I overheard, I understood that his English was almost non-existent and I imagined he was visiting from Greece, but his daughter and her son were born and raised here: he spoke Greek to them, they answered in English. They brought their books to the cash desk and this is what transpired: Grandpa asked his daughter questions in Greek and I answered back in Greek. She gave me a huge smile, he didn't bat an eyelid. They all said goodbye and left.

Next, a Frenchwoman d'un certain age, came for some information on French books: Did we have any, especially as the Librairie Champlain had closed down. Non, Madame, said I, we don't have French books unfortunately. Her English, though very heavily accented, was fluent, but I feel like a fraud if I don't switch to French. She didn't bat an eyelid, either.

My friend observed all this, and was amused that the Greek gentleman hadn't batted an eyelid, but regarding the French lady, he said: This is Canada. We're supposed to be bilingual. Nothing unusual there.

[Yeah, try being bilingual in Ontario. I tested it at All the Fine Foods the other day; took my Prince of Darkness coffee beans to the cash and, because you have to tell them which beans you've filled your bag with, I said "Le prince des ténèbres." He gave me a startled look. I waited. "Uh, I think that's French, but I don't really speak it," he said. I explained. He made no further comment. Probably thought I was strange, like the judge who said to me, But, Madame Copeland, why do you insist on doing this in French? I know your English is perfect, I read your article on Barbados in Leisureways magazine. To which I answered, in French, Because it is my federal right and this is a solemn occasion. But I digress.............]

Since things happen in threes, at least in my life, the third language was Spanish. This was a challenge because the customer's English was very sparse, she being a new arrival in this country. I'm sure she was highly amused by my efforts. I did my best, but 4 out of 5 words that came out of my mouth were Italian. Still and all, we understood each other, and that's the important thing: Communication!


  1. I am impressed, I have enough difficulty with one language. And you are speaking 3-4 different languages in one day. Way to go! And you mentioned that mysterious Prince of Darkness coffee again, it sounds so good.

  2. I love your book shop stories ... very amusing :o)

  3. Great post - certainly made for an interesting day. Sydney is vey multicultural too.

  4. movie material my dear! xxoo

  5. ♥♥♥♥♥

    i so love this story!


    va bene!

  6. Colette,
    this is such a bookstore story. Being someone who worked in bookstores for 14 years, these sort of expereinces happened daily. The staff would call who they knew who spoke a different language! It was happy for all involved.

    Thanks for the story.


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