"Do you mind?" the owner snapped. "I have to answer the same questions twenty times a day. It's really annoying."
Some days you remember that Paris has that reputation of nastiness to strangers. As I used to explain to people, in New York City there are a lot of nasty people, but most people are not nasty. But in Paris, everyone has a nasty side. Someone will be charming and friendly with you, and then turn and scream at someone else, and then turn back and be nice again to you and expect you not to care. I have never been able to adjust to this, and still find that my good opinion of that person never completely returns.
Today, a pleasantly warm day for this time of year, I was strolling through a flea market when I heard a crash. Two young Japanese women had accidentally knocked down a small tray of enamelware. The owner of the stall started screaming at them. "Non mais! You don't touch these things! You ask me if you want to look at them! Do you think I have all day to pick up after careless people? Go to some other stand if you want to knock things over!" and on and on till a crowd of people was staring. The Japanese women looked shell-shocked and did not look at her as they tried to pick up the enamelware as fast as possible. In their country this would never happen. They probably didn't speak French well enough to ask the woman for help and had been trying to shop without asking.
I felt an odd emotion. I was ashamed for Paris. It shouldn't greet strangers this way. I knew the vendeuse was equally likely to scream at native Parisians, but the Japanese girls didn't know that. This incident may well be their most memorable moment in Paris.
One of my Louisiana cousines lived in Paris for a few years. She spoke good French, learned on the Cajun prairie, and like all Louisianans, she associated the French language with hospitality and good food. Her first week, she went to the boulanger around the corner from her new apartment to get croissants. It was her third or fourth visit, and this time she didn't see any croissants.
"Do you have any croissants?" she asked the boulangère.
"Do I LOOK as if I have any?" the boulangère said nastily, sniffing and turning to the next customer.
My cousin burst into tears and had to rush out of the shop. "No one in my entire life has spoken that rudely to me," she explained later.
That is one of those tristes records that many people around the world associate with Paris to this day.