During a four month stay in Paris in 2010, one the things I accomplished was getting une carte fidélité from Carrefour.
Since doing so involved saying “oui” to the question from the checkout clerk in a fairly long mid-day checkout line: “do you have a card? would you like a card?” and resulted in a paper application being handed to me so that I could fill it out – with all those always patient Parisians waiting in line behind me, the whole episode constituted quite an adventure.
And I remember a blog post that I wrote documenting this occurrence in excruciating, and, I hoped, hilarious detail.
But I can’t find it so there is no annoying link to something I have said on this blog previously.
Anyway, since then I have that card.
And when I am in Paris I always present it at checkout.
The clerks always say “merci” and scan it, and I feel that doing so may obfuscate slightly the obvious fact that I am an American.
That obfuscation is seriously impacted by the fact that my Visa chip card (which has a PIN) works just like an old fashioned mag stripe card: I have to sign; I don’t enter a PIN like everybody else, so everybody in line that cares about such things knows that I “am not from around here”.
But, I feel, a little obfuscation is better than none.
Other than flashing the thing in obfuscation when I check out I have never seen any manifestation of anything that it might do for me.
There obviously is, I knew, a web site, which, if I were to go to it and register with it might reveal some deeper purpose to the thing, but that – until this trip – has always seemed to be more irritation than I wanted to sign up for.
But there has been a change: a few weeks ago, intermittently, checkout has produced not only receipts but also a running tote slip of a “Fidélité Credit” that, each time it has appeared has been larger by several centimes.
When I first started paying attention to this the amount apparently due to me was in excess of three euros; “that’s real money” I heard someone say; it was me.
But even that stimulus didn’t move me to action: I get slips like that at Safeway in the US which I never pay any attention to because they invariably are great deals on things that I never buy; even though money is clearly on offer in some manner from Carrefour, I have chosen to treat those slips the same way I do the Safeway ones.
That worked well until one day I realized the clerk was telling me to do something about my credit.
Since whatever she was saying was way beyond my ability to hear French I just gave a Gallic (I hope) wave and said “Je ne sais pas” which I hoped would identify me as being above such things.
I don’t know if it did but the clerk and I parted friends with a mutual “bonne journée” and a smile.
The plot has thickened more recently.
A few days ago I was checking out and the “you have a credit” issue arose again between me and the clerk.
This time however there was another person there; she was a take charge sort of woman and immediately ascertained that she needed to explain things to me in English, the upshot of which was “you have a credit and need to enter your four digit Carrefour PIN”.
I explained that I didn’t know the PIN.
“Come with me to the office” said she.
“I really don’t care about the credit said I”.
(I was imagining something similar to the hoorah that had gotten me the card in the first place, back in 2010; I had visions of lines of Parisians showing their fangs in annoyance as I came up short on whatever the office was going to want from me; the line I was in was at the back of the store adjacent to a back door in and out; it is a single line serviced by one to four clerks - there are usually more clerks in the early morning when there aren’t many shoppers; the service desk is at the front of the store where there are multiple lines each serviced by a single clerk; the sociological complexity of the front area always causes me to have a psychotic reaction, dating back over years and nightmare occurrences in that area of the store. I have an extreme preference for that back line.)
After a couple of times around that same confrontational bush the nice lady shrugged and went elsewhere.
I made haste back to my apartment.
But now I was curious: could I figure out how to register with the web site and would that reveal to me the magic code?
It was surprisingly easy; and I got a five digit code in the process.
The next day when I was again at Carrefour checking out – in the backdoor line - I asked if I entered the code on the credit card reader’s keypad.
The display on the credit card reader said some thing about “la code” which I thought probably meant to key in my new secret code.
I did; it didn’t work; I didn’t expect it to work because it was five digits.
Now I was in the middle of wanting to win this battle with my Carrefour credit and my unknown PIN.
So I went to the service desk.
There a very nice man took me to the middle of one of the fully populated checkout lines that are there in co-residency with the service desk, and stopped the clerk from her checkout activity – a low growl arose from the assembled multitude – and said some things to her; and she said to me that it was important that I know that code and to know it I would need to come back and ask for help at the service desk when it was occupied; she noted that it was currently not occupied; I chose not to point out that that was because the occupant of the service desk was standing next to her, and I left saying to myself that I would return early some morning before most Parisians hit the streets and would see if the service desk was occupied.
Which I did the next morning.
The woman at the service desk was keying credit slips, just like the ones I was now on a quest trying to figure out how to redeem, into the Carrefour system from her Lenovo keyboard and display.
She ignored me which was OK because starting from the time I turned forty I have become increasingly accustomed to being invisible.
I knew better than to clear my throat or say “pardon, madame” or anything.
I knew that the rules of engagement with French service apparatuses require silence until one is recognized by the apparatus.
So I stood there mute.
Finally the woman finished and without looking at me she came through the space that I would have sworn I had effectively blocked from an event such as that and disappeared into the inner part of the store never to return.
I think she knew how to re-arrange atomic structures.
This morning I went back and tried again.
There was a woman who appeared to be occupying what I would have assumed to be the service desk commander position talking to a man immediately at her side.
It was a serious and intense discussion.
I had visions of it being terminated with the woman taking matter defying egress through the space I was occupying just as had her colleague the day before.
But she finally finished and acknowledged me.
After the necessary request to speak in English and some keying I had a brand new four digit Carrefour PIN.
I was elated.
I went back to shopping and went to check out; this was going to be great; I knew my FOUR DIGIT PIN.
The clerk didn’t mention anything except what I owed.
I had hoped her to say something about a reward or a PIN or a code or something.
She said none of those but waited for me to pay.
I asked something about entering the code and I thought she said “oui”.
So I stared at the display on the credit card machine waiting for it to ask me to enter my code which it had done that other time previously.
I finally put the chip card in, signed and showed her the reward tote sheet that now had appeared with the multiple receipts.
She said something about Carte Bleu; I signed where requested; I didn’t get to redeem the Carrefour credit; I am back where I had started but I now have a PIN.
I am waiting to pounce next time anybody asks me to enter my code.
I hope I can remember it.
I really want that money.
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