Written by Swati
January 23, 2023
With just a little over two weeks of living in France under my belt, I like to think I’m adjusting quite nicely to the new landscape. Waterways are plentiful, I’m encountering much fewer unfriendly French people than expected, and I’m picking up the language quite quickly, if I do say so myself. But, as we all know, with any new change comes its learning curves. Enter Cora. Supermarket extraordinaire, reminiscent of a super Target meets a Walmart, maybe throw in a Kroger for good measure. If there was one thing I wish I’d heard about Cora before I got to GTE, it’s how absolutely overwhelmed I would be as soon as I stepped foot in the store. I like to think of myself as a decently resourceful person. Prior to my first official visit and tour of the store, I made a grocery list and checked out their online selection to prepare me. Little did I know, nothing could prepare me for that experience.
After more than 2 hours in the store that first go-around, I was frazzled, confused, and couldn’t understand any of the answers I was getting to the poorly phrased French questions I was asking. The exchanges would go a little something like, “Perdon, j’ai une question, où est fromage.. Uh le mozzarella (Where is the mozzarella cheese)” or “Perdon, j’ai besoin du lait (milk)” to which I would get rapid fast answers in French and I’d respond with a weak “merci” and a crinkle of the eyebrows, before deciding to wander the store in hopes of stumbling upon what I was looking for on my own.
I quickly realized I couldn’t go on like this and began tracking down other students as resources. There’s something noticeable about the GT students in the store. It’s hard to pin down what it is exactly, maybe a combination of general confusion and lack of awareness. Maybe also the fact that we huddle together and walk a bit more clumsily, running into the everyday French person on their daily grocery shop and standing confusedly in the middle of the aisles. I’d find familiar faces and ask where to find the oil with a frantic look in my eyes and would be met with an answer and an equally frantic question asking about rice. The first few trips to Cora were less than exciting, especially considering the time crunch. GTE has a shuttle to take us straight back to our dorms at 7:30pm on Monday evenings, but with a class ending at 6:15 and a 20 minute walk there, it’s my weekly dose of distress.
I will tell you that I hold near and dear to my heart the one and only success, in which I asked a sales associate timidly, “Perdon, où est le ruban adhesive (tape)?” And expected to not understand what she’d say back to me. She gave me a once-over, saw the confusion in my eyes and responded slowly in French, “Le petit ou le grande?” “Le petit,” I responded, adding a small gesture with my hands. After all, I wouldn’t need a roll of duct tape to tape some receipts and ticket stubs into my journal. She nodded with a gentle smile and responded with the first French words I had made sense of in days. The tape was in the paper aisle! Two aisles over! I could hear the heavens calling out to me, I’d make it in this country after all. Alas, the walk of victory back to my friends after that experience was short lived as I later realized I had mistakenly picked up sweet and sour sauce after being too overwhelmed to read the labels in the pasta sauce aisle. Spinach and cheese ravioli coated in aigre douce was a sour ending to a sweet experience. More on that failure later. First, let us revel in the glory of success.