Doing Business the French Way

IMG_3569We stopped by the used book store just off Rue d’Italie this morning.  Kathy, our family’s voracious reader, had four used books to give back. And she had a plan: Perhaps, as we prepare to leave Aix-en-Provence, she could trade the four books for one used English book to read on the road.

The slight, fine-boned owner, a man about our age, explained, almost with remorse, that he didn’t exchange books.

“Some books don’t sell,” he explained. “And not all books are in good enough condition.”

So Kathy gave him her four books and began browsing for her next novel to read.  Meanwhile, the owner and I struck up a conversation.

He told me he had visited Boston for a day in 1977, when the ship he was taking from New York to Le Havre docked in Boston for a night.  At that time, he had a brother-in-law who worked at the United Nations. During his visit, he stayed near Columbia University.  (I suspect his English is better than my French but we spoke only French.)

This summer, he’ll visit a friend or relative — I didn’t catch which — in Vancouver for a fishing trip. He laughed as he told me that each year that individual drives down the West Coast of the United States and then inland to Arizona to escape the winter.

His first bookstore, he said, had been in Marseille.  When I told him I liked the city, he told me it’s unique, that each corner is its own neighborhood, that it takes a really long time to get to know the city well.  He’d opened his first bookstore in Aix 30 years ago. This was his second.

By now, Kathy had picked out a book, Douglas Kennedy’s State of the Union.  The price marked inside the cover was 7.5 euros, about $10.50.

“You can take it,” the owner said. “This time only I’ll allow an exchange.”

It was one more example of the warmth and friendliness of the Aixois if you give them just a little time.


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