Sunday, April 27, 2014

Adieu, Tour de France

The South End just got a nicer, if less "colorful." A reader just sent me this comment:
We observed the owner at Tour de France's verbal abuse on a few occasions. Went by there today and saw the store closed and empty! Apparently replaced by an art gallery. Not particularly shedding any tears ....
This Thayer Street store sold beautiful French imports: antiques, furniture, art glass, china, pewter, and a wide variety of table linens. But the owner, a Frenchman, was the retail equivalent of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi. My husband and I were victims of one of his nasty, screeching tirades back in 2008, and it cost him the sale of an expensive set of antique art-nouveau dining chairs. He accused us of nearly breaking a Lalique vase that we had been nowhere near, among other things. I wrote a stunned review on some web site, and can't find it now. But there are more than a hundred other, similar online stories from his staggered, quivering victims, detailing outrageous behavior.

In all my visits to France, I was only treated rudely by a shopkeeper once. (Hotel Coste candle shop, j'accuse!) And since that rude fellow spoke English, I made sure he understood that I was amazed, and just... so hurt... by his nastiness, and I kept it up until he began to feel bad himself, as he wrapped and rang up my purchase. There is a polite ritual for shopping in France: you greet shopkeepers briefly as you enter and leave. It's customary, but if you don't do it, you won't be attacked — you really won't have anything like a Tour de Force experience. Most shopkeepers will assume you are a foreigner and they might greet you first, and the worst that ever happens is that you're ignored. (Which is what most American browsers prefer, anyway.) I greet shopkeepers all the time in Boston, too. Once you start, it just feels nice to do it, and awkward not to.

French people are very nice. Given all the ignorant, silly tourists doing ignorant, silly things all over Paris, all the time, and often much too loudly, it's surprising how patient and polite the residents generally are. 

Anyway, Tour de Force was something else entirely. In 2010, I posted the following after a brave second visit on a Saturday in March:
Then we steeled ourselves and went into Tour de France. Exactly a week ago, we were at the Marché aux Puces in Paris, and we just needed a French fix. We first visited Tour de France a couple of years ago — and had the most appalling retail experience of our lives. We were treated like clods incapable of not knocking over valuable items, when we hadn't touched a thing.
During today's visit, the owner was singing to himself, in his beret, rearranging silverware on a table, and pointedly ignoring everyone in his store. Fine with us. We fantasized about knocking over a vase, but... aha! Those dining chairs from 2008 are still there! There is justice after all. (We'd gotten ourselves a set of lovely antique bentwoods at a fraction of their price.)
I recommend reading Tour de France's "Yelp" reviews; choose a time when you need some cheering up. You will seldom find so many colorfully detailed, thoroughly appalled, ferociously negative reviews of anything in Boston. It will brighten your day just to know that at least you avoided an attack  at Tour de France — and that it would be impossible for you to ever behave as badly as he routinely did. So just go here, and when you are finished with those, be sure to dip into some of the next 110 reviews that are not "recommended" but also have a horrified, disbelieving tone that is almost uniform. (There are some positive reviews; the owner wasn't always in the store and his assistants were far more civilized. And a few of the reviews are suspiciously praiseworthy, as other reviewers point out.)

At Apartment Therapy,You can find more horror stories along with photos of the store. It really was lovely, in the alluring, entrancing way of, say, poisonous shrubs that have luscious-looking but deadly fruit. You browsed among those table linens in mortal peril.

I must say I am not that surprised that the shop closed — and not because thousands of people had terrible experiences there. My husband and I were in the South End last month and thought we might be in mood for punishment, so we braced ourselves and entered Tour de France. We nodded a polite but silent greeting, on our guards, tiptoed about, and waited for the hostility to begin. Instead the owner was pleasant to us, complimentary in fact. We felt shock and awe. Then we praised his linens right back, in flowery adjectives. He really did have heaps of elegant things. As we left, he said to us, "You look very French with that baguette under your arm. Bonjour!" 

Aha! We'd gone to a bakery earlier, and had forgotten about the baguette since we are always carrying them around. Until the owner said that, I had wondered if he were having something akin to a breakdown, given his dramatic personality change. But no, it was just our baguette. 

But now I will always wonder if it was indeed a sign of The End. Bonsoir tristesse.

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