Thursday, January 8, 2009

La Haine...Snark, Part 1

Or...Things that sometimes make us want to poop on the sidewalk

We recently decided (after much debate and pouting) to include a little more snark (parents: that's what we kids call a snide remark) in the blog. While we will still be rhapsodizing new discoveries and the delights of France, there are a few things we feel the need to address. Such as, for instance, certain things so poorly designed that we continue to hate them, even after trying really hard to find their redeeming qualities. Note: this is not mere homesickness for a certain brand of cookie or the lack of a specific type of beer, these are things that anyone--even the French--should be complaining about.

So without further ado,

Snark, Part 1: Géant Casino

For starters, it's called "Giant Casino". Just the name makes me think of an onslaught of light, noise and irritation. Sometime I wonder if France is playing a cruel joke on us. The Americans create things like Walmart, McDonalds, and blockbuster movies (which I don't like, in case you didn't know), and the French see these things and morph them into something even more outrageous. For example, the French word for "corporation" is "exploitation". It's as if they are taking the aspects I dislike the most and shoving them back in my face in the form of monstrous stores, food that makes my skin crawl, and movies that make me cringe just thinking about them. Perhaps they are doing this in an elaborate attempt at cultural critique?

Géant is a large commercial center located near the University of Poitiers. Similar to a Super Walmart, it houses a huge grocery store along with lots of other smaller shops. In addition, all under the same roof, there is a bowling alley, three restaurants, many clothing stores (such as H&M, Zara, Jules, Bershka, Esprit, Stradivarius), several shoes stores, three banks, a Sephora, a hair salon, a pharmacy, a gas station, and a car wash.

Of course, it's different closer to the center of Poitiers, where there are a lot of quirky shops (a custom umbrella shop, communist bookstore, etc.), but there are certain items, like socks, that you can only find at the hypermarché.

We've been to Géant a few times, mostly because it is near Rebecca's office at ESIP. At first it seems really convenient. The bus, which typically comes by every 15 minutes, drops you off just down the street. But then you start to walk toward the building from the bus stop, and the sidewalk abruptly disappears. You end up in a pavement purgatory, walking through a narrow entrance (the western one just off Avenue JFK) to the parking lot with limited visibility, jostled by other pedestrians as well as cars, bikes, mopeds, and volatile middle school students. Oh yeah, and once you get to the entrance, you are greeted with exactly no places for bike parking.

It is hard to see how this complex could have been designed so poorly. Perhaps if it had been built 20 or 30 years ago when there weren't many bike riders in Poitiers, I could understand. But it's only 10 years old. Besides, with the university so close, how could they completely fail to anticipate the possibility of pedestrians?

OK. Supposing you finally make it inside, you get your 5 kilometers of exercise while shopping in this giant store and you're happy because almost everything is super cheap. You then have 40 checkout lanes to choose from: the traditional sort with a real person there to scan your items. Oops, only 3 of those are open.

Should you go through the self-checkout? Not unless you want to wait for the newbie to figure out that they have to set the item down on the counter after scanning it.

How about the self-checkout plus? You get to carry around a cool handheld scanner and zap all the stuff you want, then just dock the scanner and swipe your card. Nice idea, but it requires advanced registration and your first born child.

Maybe the credit card checkout? They scan all your items and give you a barcoded receipt, then you proceed to a separate machine to pay. This works on the theory that paying is the part of checking out that slows things down. Interesting hypothesis, but it doesn't stand up to testing. You still have to wait in line to get all of your items scanned. And paying is still a hassle, especially with American style credit cards that require a signature. This option is a last resort.

Oh wait--there's an opening in one of the traditional check-out lanes *sigh of relief*. The checkout person is scanning all your items and everything is great. Oh crap, where's that little sticker that was on your red pepper?

"Oh no, please don't tell me that your red pepper doesn't have a little sticker on it. Here at Géant, we don't keep a list of all those exotic vegetables at the checkout counter, so I'm sorry but you'll just have to walk back 300 yards to find a new little sticker and bring it back. No, I'm sorry, we can't just call someone and ask them what the code is. This is Géant, we don't do that here. Do you want to go get the sticker or just forget the red pepper?"

So, dear reader, unless you enjoy torturing yourself (as many people seem to here, given the popularity of Géant), or you like to bowl while your significant other does the shopping, I would try to avoid this hypermarché hell.

Side note: This post is conspicuously devoid of pictures. The last time I went there with my camera, I left too frustrated to think about taking pictures. In any case, pictures rarely achieve the same snarkiness as a well-placed barb.

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