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The Invaders

“You know, you could have queued at the ‘less than 10 items’ cash register.”

I look around me.

“Probably,” I reply. “But the lineup is as long, I think. I don’t mind waiting; I’m not in a rush.”

I’m not in a rush, sure, but my arms are killing me because I’m balancing two packs of yogurts, a pack of Coke, butter and a large eggplant. In my shopping bag—French supermarkets phased out plastic bags years ago, you have to bring your own—are carrots, bananas, bell peppers, zucchini, two packs of cookies, two baguettes and soup, hopefully enough supply to feed the nine of us. Well, eight and a half, Mark doesn’t eat that much yet, although he did have two of the vanilla creams my grand-father usually eats and merde, I forgot to buy more.

Screw that, I can’t carry more stuff. It’s going to be a long walk to the house, and uphill climb to boot.

“It’s all the tourists,” sighs the woman in front of me. “It’s a… it’s a…”

“An invasion!” shouts her husband. He is loud enough that several people nod, while others bow their heads. Easy to see who agrees and who doesn’t. The queue turned political, bienvenue en France.

“We live here, you see,” she adds—an half-hearted excuse.

I nod.

Pregnant pause.

“I… I spent most of my holidays here as a kid,” I say because the two seventy-something obviously expect me to explain my presence here, in their supermarket. It’s pretty obvious I’m not from around here. For a start, if they live here, they probably know everybody. Then, I am wearing a tank top with Thai writing—a beer ad—and there are still a few Canadian coins mixed with my Euro. And I’m shopping like a tourist: I bought bread at the supermarket instead of going to the one and only bakery by the church, like locals do (I couldn’t be bothered to go back to the supermarket if the bakery had been closed or had ran out of bread).

“Well, we live here. All year long,” the man states defiantly.

“It must be… nice?”

“Ah! Not so nice now with the crowd! Look how packed the supermarket is. And all the cash registers are open. Normally, there is only one and we don’t queue.”

“Well, it’s Bastille Day weekend,” I reply. “And the supermarket closes at noon on Sunday, in fifteen minutes basically. So people are rushing to buy supplies for the weekend.”

“Well, normally we don’t queue like that.”

Then why are you shopping on the middle of rush hour like all the dumb tourists whose mere presence bothers you? Of course, I’m not saying that. I just nod wisely and shrug as much as I can with all the stuff I’m carrying, because if I’m dropping anything I’m sure they won’t help me out.

Saint Michel is normally a sleepy little town whose claim to fame is the cookie factory. Most houses are résidences secondaires, cottages built or bought in the 1960s or the 1970s when real estate was cheap and when the economy was doing better. Our grand-parents were richer than us, and even the lower middle-class accumulated estate—vive les Trente glorieuses, the golden post-war era!

These days, only a handful of people—mostly retired folks—live here all year long. During school holidays, visitors from Nantes, Paris and Western France in general come and stay for a few days. The summer months are busiest, a few camping grounds open, there is a camp for kids and teens, daily markets and dozens of businesses catering to these invaders…visitors, I mean.

But like in many places in France and around the world, the long-term residents treat tourists with scorn. This kind of attitude annoys me. Touristic places make money out of—guess what, tourism. Deal with it. I see why and how tourists can be a pain, I understand on some level. But really, there is enough room for everyone here and we are not talking thousands of people taking over the small village and its buttery cookies! Tourists around here are modest folks who eat moules-frites (mussels and fries, the local version of cheap food), walk the pathway along the beach, have fun in the water and buy local wine. It’s not like they are damaging precious relics or endangering rare species (there are plenty of mussels, we are good on this side).

“Do you have our point card?” the lady at the cash register asks when it’s finally my turn.

“No, we don’t live here,” I reply.

I’m an invader. I can live with that for a few days.

You can find all the pic­ture in the France 2015 set.


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