The weather had turned cold and so had my feet. Our things had arrived at the port in Marseille, but as we didn’t have a permanent home yet, there was nowhere for things to be delivered. As a result, we were making do with the things we brought with us on the plane.
We arrived in August, so my supplies included a light jacket or two (for brisk summer evenings), short-sleeved shirts and various summer-type shoes. But this was October—frosty-window-scraping season.
Lest you have forgotten, I am 6-foot-tall, Amazon goddess with feet sized to match. Shopping at my local department store wasn’t exactly an option…unless I wanted to look like I was wearing my children’s clothing. So, I got online and shopped in the UK where I was able to procure a pair of perfectly impeccable knee-high boots to cover my exposed toes. Delivery would take a week. So, I battened down the hatches, put on an extra pair of socks and waited for D-livery day.
French streets are less about order and more like a way to wind around existing landmarks while potentially passing through practical places. As a result, even if your street is only a little bit off the beaten path, delivery drivers (those champions of freight distribution) armed with the latest GPS technology will still need directions. It’s very common place to get a phone call asking for advice on how to navigate your village in order to get to you.
I knew this call was coming. I was prepared. After consulting Google translate and a few French-proficient friends, I had written out what I thought was a simple explanation of how to get to my house from several directions…just in case.
When the phone rang from an “Unknown caller” my heart started to pound and my palms to sweat.
Just breathe. You got this. Just tell him where you are and it will be fine.
The conversation started off normally with him explaining he was with such and such delivery company, and he would be arriving momentarily. Next came the moment I had been waiting for: “How do I get to your house?”
As I stumbled through my explanation, the conversation took an unexpected turn…
“Wait,” he demanded. “You’re not French. Where are you from?”
“I’m American,” I replied.
He reacted by launching into a quick string of words I didn’t understand. However, through the gobbledegook, I managed to get the gist of his energetic monologue…come have coffee with me and I’ll give you your package.
I was a little shocked and told him, no thank you.
He was not to be put off so easily and asked again.
Again I said, no. Honestly, I couldn’t say much more.
He continued his impractical petition. In the end, I just hung up and called a friend.
I explained the situation to her and asked if she could intervene on my behalf with this half-witted Romeo holding my boots for ransom. She agreed, took his phone number, and hung up.
I paced the floor, hoping that this boot delivery debacle could somehow be settled.
It wasn’t long until she called back, but the news was not what I expected.
She told me that the guy just wanted to meet an American, and that he thinks it’s not a big deal and that he won’t give me my package unless I do it. She suggested we call her husband and have him negotiate the release of my ransomed goods.
He agreed and, posing as my disgruntled husband, demanded Romeo meet him at the village square and hand over the cargo. Romeo agreed but never showed.
At this point, we were a little skeptical about this existence of the purloined packaged. Perhaps we had been the victim of some elaborate expat scam. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had tried to pull a fast one on a poor sap unfamiliar with the local culture and language.
We needed backup, so we contacted the security department of the company he worked for. They did some digging and discovered the delivery company was legitimate, and that the package, although real, had been sent back as undeliverable.
I felt incredulous, shocked, stunned. Did that really just happen. And what about my shoes?
However, as there was nothing I could do about it, I put on another pair of socks. A few days later I sat, trying to come up with Plan C.
Delivery might be a problem. I mean, what if the same guy has to deliver the package on round two. Will we be back to square one?
While thus pontificating, the doorbell rang.
I cautiously opened the door. I wasn’t expecting anyone.
Standing there was a young man holding a brown box that looked like it could contain a pair of size 44, knee-high boots.
I eyed him skeptically–one eyebrow lifted as if to say, “Are you the guy?”
If he was, he did an excellent job of playing dumb. Not an anxious glance or embarrassed blush.
Whatever, I was just happy to have my shoes!
The real expat life.
Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel