Life is what happens while you’re busy waiting in a queue

I’m waiting anxiously in the queue at La Poste, passport and Western Union Money Tracking number in hand, to claim the emergency rescue fund sent to me by The Parents.

The queue is approximately 2.3 miles long, and I’ve already wasted half an hour today by walking here earlier, forgetting that everything in France closes for ages at lunch time. They take their lunch break very seriously here. Weaving my way through some roadworks on the way here, I saw the workers sleeping in the driver’s seats of their weapons of mass destruction, newspapers over their heads to block out the sunlight. I don’t blame them. If I had to perform manual labour in these temperatures, I’d be dead after about 20 minutes.

The queue is moving so slowly that I’m fairly certain time has started going backwards. There are no signs anywhere to indicate that I’m in the right place, and I fear that I’ll be met with a confused stare when I finally reach the counter, several weeks from now. Excuse me, I say politely to the woman in front of me, I have to claim a payment from the Western Union. This is the right place, isn’t it?

I don’t know why French people put on this great pretence of not understanding anything I say in their language. I try so hard. I repeat my sentence slowly, and she responds with the typical fast-paced babble that strikes fear into my heart. I catch a few words and try to guess what the general gist of the sentence might have been. I fail. We look blankly at each other for a moment. Um, I say nervously, trying again, My parents have sent me some money. Through the Western Union. Is that here? She replies with more babble, shrugging and looking confused.

And now, of course, the other people in the queue are intrigued by the sunburnt girl who speaks French with a silly accent. You want to send money? asks one lady. No, no – she has to pay a bill! interjects another. They are all crowding around curiously as if I am some sort of science experiment. I half expect them to start taking photos of me. No, I say helplessly, I *have* no money. I am looking for a Western Union agent. I saw on the internet that there was one here. My parents have sent me some money and I need to collect it. Am I in the right place? Understanding dawns on the face of the woman nearest the front of the queue. Yes, she says, nodding in the exaggerated way that people do when talking to someone who hasn’t got a clue what they’re saying, I think it’s here.

Thank you, I say gratefully. They all turn around again and my brain quietly implodes.

Only 4 days later, I reach the counter and repeat my earlier question. Three times. Ah, says the woman behind the counter, you need my colleague. Him. She points at the man beside her, whose desk, not marked any differently from all the others apart from the word “pros”, appears to have a completely separate queue. Here, says the woman, reaching me a form, fill this in while you’re waiting. Gloomily, I take the form and join the other queue. It is not quite 2.3 miles long, but the counter is once again a small speck on the horizon. I glance at my form – which is for people wishing to send money with the Western Union, and therefore completely useless to me – and resume my wait.

Only a day or so later, I reach the counter. I’m only halfway through my familiar speech when the man taps the “pros” sign and goes off into one of those babbles that I can’t understand. It seems to end with this desk is only for professionals! I consider telling him that I’m a professional YouTube video reviewer, but I don’t know how to say that. That woman told me to come here! I exclaim indignantly, pointing. I’m looking for a Western Union agent. He subdues a little, despite still obviously wanting me to go away. To send or receive? he asks. To receive, I reply. He thrusts the correct form into my hands and tells me to go away and fill it in, and come back when I’m ready.

Glowering, I do as I’m told and rejoin the queue. For the third time.

It’s all worth it, of course, to be no longer penniless and starving with hunger. In a rather paranoid move, I stand secretively in the corner of the post office and divide my money into 4 batches – one for each buttonable pocket of my three-quarter lengths. I’m still not ruling out invisible thieves. And this way, even if one does manage to unbutton a pocket and steal my money without me noticing, at least he won’t get it all. You don’t need to teach me the same lesson twice.

Apart from sunburn.

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7 thoughts on “Life is what happens while you’re busy waiting in a queue

  1. I haven’t read the original mugging/pickpocket story, but I see I need to go back and do that. Meanwhile, you have made something out of it – an extremely funny and educational tale!

    Notes to self:

    1) Never try to get anything done at lunchtime in France
    2) Take a proficient French speaker with you on any and all official business.
    3) Wear cut-offs with at least four pockets

    Actually, I do that last one already.

    Even when I carry a handbag – rare – I never keep both purses (wallets for the Americans, I think?) in the thing. And yes, I do have two purses. See, I’ve had my handbag (um … purse) stolen while out shopping, and you don’t have to teach me that lesson twice either. These days I split my money up between bum bag (uh … fanny pack?), and various pockets – I even split my travelling money three ways when I went on holiday recently. Some with me in my flight bag, some on my person, and some in a suitcase.

    Paranoid? Moi? Ah, but I usually have enough money to get home with.

  2. Jay, welcome! I was a little confused as I read your comments, since I have a friend called Jay and it didn’t seem like something he would write. I now see that you are a different one. ;)

    Thank you for your entertaining comments, and for taking the appropriate serious lessons from my posts. You’re the best kind of reader there is!

  3. Yay! Flush with cash once again. You should be used to bloody queuing in the post office coming from Ireland! I have two purses as well – one wallet with cards and notes, and another for cash – occasionally I put notes in there too so when I find them I get a little suprise. Sad.

  4. Grannymar – only if you ask in French!
    EM – nah, not sad… there’s nothing nicer than unexpectedly finding a twenty when you weren’t expecting it. I actually think that setting up such a situation in advance must have quite positive effects on a person’s feelings of general well-being. Clever!

  5. It’s always the colleague who has the answer. I’ve found the best way to deal with the French when they’re being difficult is just to tell them what’s what. Once I got out of the chest x-ray requirement because I told the doctor’s receptionist (rather forcefully) that I had misunderstood her on the phone and has consequently not gon to the radiologist first. And then I stared her down. It was one of my proudest moments ever.

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