French town of Roussillon in Provence.
French town of Roussillon in Provence. Contributed

Little warmth in French cheese wonderland

I LOVE France. I go there every year.

I've never experienced the rudeness the French are famous for. How disappointing. I thought I'd find waiters snubbing me in bistros, clerks snapping at me at ticket offices, and retailers berating me in shops.

But not so. Although once I experienced a distinctive French attitude, an unshakable stubbornness. Will that do?

It was at a large commercial cheese warehouse (no need to know why I was there, enough to say I get around in France) which was actually one giant cold room.

Being surrounded by wheels of roquefort, camembert and brie as big as old-fashioned dust-bin lids was akin to being in paradise for this cheese lover. But the pervasive chill of the cold room took away any pleasure.

Fortunately, management provided thick warm jackets for customers who love to look and linger. Unfortunately, they were all being worn by others at the time.

When I spied one spare hanging on the back of the cashier's chair (she herself snug inside a heavy coat reaching to her knees) and asked to borrow it she replied with a firm: "Non. All the coats are being used."

"But what about that one on your chair?" I dared to point out. "And there's another one on that chair next to you."

"Non, it is not permitted. These are for staff," she said with annoying finality.

"But no staff are using them." I could be just as annoying.

"Non," she said.

"Please, can't you see the icicles dripping off my nose?" I continued.


"I'll give it back as soon as the staff member returns." One more try.


"Look you can see my nose and lips have turned blue and I want to buy lots of cheese and spend a great deal of money if you will just let me borrow a jacket until someone else needs it." I can be persuasive if I have to.


I shivered and shook around shelves for as long as I could while two thick jackets hung unemployed on the backs of her chairs. But it was no good. I had to leave that glorious cheese paradise without a purchase for fear of frostbite.

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The contrast of its red-ochre hills against the backdrop of the green pines and the piercing blue of the Provence sky draws visitors from all over the world.

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