10/18/2006

Le BM

I know, dearies, I haven't been posting much at all, at all, but there are big things to come, I promise. Time is precious now that I've started teaching again, and I want to make my postings just so. So. In lieu of a "real" post, an anecdotal one (which somehow always feels like cheating to me).

It was my birthday, right? and my family is far away in New York, right? so my mom, who is the best mom, told me to go pick something out for myself and put it on her credit card. So I went to "Le BM," as the French call it, pronounced bay-em and short for Le Bon Marché, which seems to me a rather scatalogical way of referring to the best department store in Paris, indeed the world, but alright. I went to Le BM around six pm, because I was giving an English lesson in the neighborhood at seven, thinking I could get in and have a quick look-- pre-shopping, if you will-- and then go back, more informed, when I had more time.

Big mistake. I should have known: if a French department store closes at seven pm, it really closes at six. I have never felt such a wave of cold stares assail me as I walked through each of the designer nooks in the first floor annex. Every salesgirl turned her back and started to play with a pile of sweaters, and I got the message loud and clear: "we're closing, don't make us do any additional work, like wait on you or clean up after you."

Determined to at least try on a pair of shoes, I approached the saleswoman asking for a 36 in a pair of brown boots, and at the last minute, a pair of 1940s-inspired robin's egg blue Mary Jane pumps. The boots, those Castaners with the rubber bottoms, were awkward and looked kind of cheap. I mentally resolved to buy the ones at Comptoir des Cotonniers I had seen over the weekend.

But the pumps, oh my. They looked so kicky, so funky on the display. But when I put them on, I realized the chunky strap, a contrasting shade of beige leather fastened with--I kid you not--Velcro, actually resembled an Ace bandage. I made a face and started taking them off.

"You don't like them?" the saleswoman asked wearily.

"No," I said apologetically, and offered a rationale, as I've noticed women tend to do here: "I think the strap is too thick, it's too bulky."

She sniffed. "It's true that it takes a certain--" she paused-- "style, to carry them off."

I stared at her. Was this woman actually suggesting that I didn't have the style to carry off a two hundred euro Ace bandage? Dita Von Whatever-her-name-is the queen of burlesque could put them on and they would still look fugly.

"Sans doute," I said, coldly, and took my Converse-clad self away from there, feeling at the same time vaguely insulted and derisive. I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt: she had probably had a long day.

(of customers complaining about the strap)

9 comments:

magikthrill said...

very funny story. but, hey, converse shoes kick ass!

julie said...

What a "diable s'habille en prada" moment! I've been dusting off my heels, black skirts, and big boots since we saw that movie, though I'm sure I'll be back to cordoroys and flats soon enough. Or at least skinny jeans and baillerines.

Anonymous said...

When will salesladies learn that "serious" shoppers shop in jeans and converses and not in Dior FMe pumps.

Gar.

le Meg said...

I can't testify to your style, Maitress. You got nothin' to worry about.

Your shoe story rivals my own tale of horror. I once walked into the Sketchers store near Les Halles and asked if they had my admittedly large size (11/42).

With complete deadpan delivery, the 19 year-old salesman suggested:

"Vous pouvez chercher au cirque, Madame."

le Meg said...

Er, I meant to say "CAN" testify. Can testify, can't type.

fashionista said...

I'm sorry, maitresse, but I gotta speak up as a former sales associate (from age 17 to 22-- pretty much my senior year of HS and my college years). I can tell you that we (co-workers and I) used to hate it when customers showed up a half-hour before closing. It was all about, if the section stays organized, we can book early. If we have to *gasp* help someone and that help doesn't end until five minutes before closing then that's it. A longer time closing.

But anyway, I see that this brand of customer service is alive and well in France, too. Though, I would've never told a customer that they didn't have the style to carry off a pair of jeans or a pair of shoes. That's just harsh.

--S

Alice said...

I had my own disaster run-in at le BM -- I had always sorta considered that department store the "meccca" of chic here in Paris, so pristine and perfect when you walk in you can practically eat off the floors. You enter and feel like it deserves respect, practically like a church -- there's a quiet hum but it never seems as loud and bustling as other dpt. stores in the city. But one time a few years back I decided to purchase a sort of different, funky gray suede bag, and after carrying it for only a week, the stitching on the strap started coming undone... So of course, true American that I am, I attempted to return it, at least for an exchange, even if I knew there was no hope for a refund -- and I LIKED the bag, so I actually wanted a new one and hoped this was just a case of bad luck.

Well now, think again -- the saleswoman treated me like DIRT, you just can't imagine. She practically told me it was MY fault that the strap was unraveling, that I must have been "carrying a bowling ball" around in it. I kid you not: that is a direct quote. Not only that, after telling me that she didn't think that they could do much, and me insisting nonetheless, she said they might be able to send it to their "atelier" but it would take a LONG time to repair and get back...

In the meantime, another snooty customer came up and tapped her foot, decided she was fed up waiting, and just started talking, saying someone had to wait on her immediately because her son was waiting to be picked up. So the saleswoman ignored me and went to help her...

Needless to say, I was so STUNNED I walked out of the department in a daze, determined never to return, and when passing in front of the customer service counter, I uncharacteristically decided to make a complaint. Not usually my style, but I thought that woman needed to be put in her place. I was so shaken up, I could hardly explain the story, but the guy behind the counter kindly took notes and said someone would contact me. I didn't expect to hear from anyone, but a few days later I received an apologetic letter from le BM, and also a phone call proposing me to come down and pick up a new bag because "of course" they had more in stock and it could be exchanged...

Now mind you, in the States I figure I would have gotten even more than that -- probably a gift certificate or some other fancy treatment, but this was a BIG step. At least it has allowed me to begrudgingly return there, although I don't shop there often. Unfortunately, I have seen that particular "salesgirl" still in the same department, and I avoid her like the plague! God forbid they let her go for BAD -- OK, really shitty -- customer service!

Sorry to be so long, just wanted to share! It's an irresistible place to shop, you basically want everything, but it certainly isn't welcoming.

gr8face said...

Wow, you need to have a hard shell to shop in Paris.

maitresse said...

I know, fashionista, and I'm sympathetic, having worked a few years at starbucks (we delightedly informed people who wanted a frapp at 1030 pm that 'the machine has gone to sleep').

But the store stays open til seven for a reason, purportedly so that those of us who work til 530 or 6 can still run in and spend money in their store for things we need. I can understand the sales associates not liking it. But it's their job, they're getting paid to be there!

on customer service in france in general: I've had my ups (Longchamp enthusiastically repaired a bag I bought whose zipper broke a week later-- mind, this was a leather bag and not one of the little canvas ones) and my downs (cf my post last year on Princesse Tamtam!). The thing is to never take it personally...

Alice, thank you for sharing! good for you for filing a complaint.