Cashiers are reasonably efficient in Brazil but transactions are always a bit slow because most people use cartão, i.e. a debit or credit card, and payment confirmation takes a while.
Few people like to waste valuable time in idleness, including me. I usually look at what people buy, learn new words I pick up on product packaging or review the latest pictures on my camera.
The woman in front of me picks up a chocolate bar from the impulse-buy shelf by the register. Her tween daughter does the same. The mother sighs and put it back. The daughter hangs on to the Kit Kat bar a couple of seconds longer but she put it back as well.
The card of the customer in front of us didn’t get through. He’s trying another payment method, which means I’m going to be stuck there with my Coke and bread for another five minutes.
The woman apparently reached to the same conclusion because she grabs something else and starts reading the packaging.
Wait. This looks familiar.
It’s a madeleine! And not just any madeleine, a St Michel madeleine! There’s an entire box of them, individually wrapped, on special for 99 centavos. How did I miss that?
The daughter frowns. “What’s that?”
“É um bolinho francês. Sabe um pouco como o bolo de laranja, mas é baunilha,” I feel the need to explain.
Gosh, here’s my colonial moment, a French spreading French culture around the world. Enlightening ignorant locals, a beloved European tradition…
Also, be assure that the words in Portuguese that came out of my mouth probably didn’t sound as correct as the sentence I’ve just typed—story of my life in Brazil.
Yet, the mother and daughter understood me and they sound interested.
“Sou francêsa,” I add in case they might think this is a weird direct marketing moment. “Estes bolos são feitos na minha cidade.”
They look at me respectfully, ask a couple of questions I try my best to answer, grab a handful of madeleines and pay.
There! I’m sure I saved the job of a French madeleine factory worker in St Michel! The French unemployment rate went down 0.0001% thanks to me!
Also, madeleines are very good cookies. I wouldn’t promote a bad product.
I saw St Michel products—cookies, madeleines, cakes—everywhere around Floripa once I started paying attention. Strangely enough, it made me happy.
I’ve never been very patriotic but I feel more French when I travel than when I’m in France or in Canada. When I’m asked where I’m from, I often reply “France” even though technically, I entered the country with a Canadian passport. I don’t feel like a convincing Canadian—I don’t have an English accent when I speak Portuguese or Spanish, I’m always cold and I don’t “look Canadian,” whatever that means. But I can’t pass easily for French either, especially when people pick up that I speak English with Mark and Feng.
At least, people usually accept my answer. For Feng, it’s a question with an innuendo those who don’t look Caucasian are probably familiar with. If he replies “Canada,” a non-politically correct follow up would be “no, but where are you really from?” because surely, Canadians can’t look Asian, he’s hiding is true identity.
Meanwhile, it’s been five days that the two employees at the supermarket’s bakery practise their high school Spanish with me.
I just don’t have the heart to come out as a French or as a Canadian and tell them I’m not from Argentina, Uruguay or Chile.