How I Became A Better Person

When I arrived in Switzerland, I paid for my train tickets once every four times, stole candy and drinks in the supermarket, and arrived minimum 5 minutes late to all my appointments. I was quite a bad person. Three and a half years later, I have a train pass, I pay for the food I consume in the supermarket, and I’m maximum 2 minutes late to my appointments. I’m objectively a better person.

What happened? Switzerland. And love. From the start of our relationship, Nick’s natural honesty and high values have inspired me to become a better person. Unfortunately, I can’t say much about inspiring him towards the same direction. If anything, I’ve been quite a bad influence to him with my French manners.

On our 3rd date, Nick took me to the supermarket. It was that time when it was still fun and romantic to get groceries together. I was thirsty so I took a bottle of iced coffee: a delicious drink that cost 4 CHF. Much more money than I could afford at that time- I was still looking for a job, lived with my dad, and didn’t even have a bank account. Nevertheless, I’m French and my parents encouraged me and my siblings to eat Kinder chocolate bars and candies in supermarkets to have a minute of silence while our mouths were full. At best, they would then hide the empty package in their pocket. At worst, they would ditch the half-eaten biscuit package in some random shelf. So I took the drink and started drinking, casually.

QUOI?! Four Swiss Francs for that?

Nick stared at me in disbelief and whispered: “Don’t you want to wait until we’ve paid for it before drinking?” How sweetly naive of him. He didn’t realise that I’d never intended to pay for that drink.

“It’s okay,” I said, imperturbable. We went on with our shopping and I finished my iced coffee.

At the cashier, Nick asked: “What about your drink? I can get it for you if you like.”

“No, I’ll take care of it,” I said. (Note how cleverly I shaped my sentence as to avoid lying.)

Nick paid for his groceries and turned to the conveyor, expecting to see my empty drink on it. I still shiver and sweat remembering the look of horror and utter disappointment on his face when he saw me shoving the empty bottle in my purse instead of puttting it down on the conveyor.

Nick’s parents had apparently told him that the police would get him if he stole candy. Efficient rearing technique- Nick still believed I could get arrested for stealing a bottle of iced coffee.

“Pffff! Zis is ridiculoos!” I couldn’t help answering to his concerns, barely suppressing a laugh. “Supermarkets have a special loss budget in their accounting for food shoplifting. They don’t even care.” I had seen a documentary about it on French TV.

“But it’s not right to steal a drink from the supermarket!”

“Look, that drink is outrageously expensive. 4 CHF is pure theft. I regularly buy my groceries in this supermarket, therefore, it’s okay if I get a free drink every once in a while.”

My French logic failed to convince Nick; he was disgusted.

Luckily for the sake of our relationship, I quickly found a job after the incident and earned enough money to stop stealing. Every time I’ve been tempted to get a Twix bar for free, Nick’s look of disgust flashed back in my memory. I also grew more and more annoyed at all the fines I had to pay for all the train and tram rides I had tried to get for free- I bought a pass. I guess I never had any tangible excuse for being late, except a sheepish: “In France, it’s normal to arrive at least 5 minutes late to appointments!”. I quickly had to learn to be almost on time in order to keep my job.

Amusingly, Nick’s high values and natural honesty have been undermined by my French influence. The other day, he wanted to buy hand-sanitizer at the supermarket because he was worried he’d get the plague from sorting out our recycling. As we walked out, I asked him to give me the hand-sanitizer to use it on my own hands.

“Oh, I didn’t buy it,” he said, casually.

“Huh? How did your hands get clean then?”

“Oh I just opened the thing, took a drop to wash my hands, and put it back. It’s a freaking ripoff; I’m not paying 8 CHF for that.”

How could the man that had inspired me to become a better person steal a drop of hand-sanitizer in a supermarket?

I soon remembered the iced-coffee incident, and started laughing. Then I pestered him about it for at least ten days without respite.

While I had become a better person, Nick was slowly becoming French.

You might also like:

What Switzerland Taught Me

How to survive a Swiss Winter With Dignity

46 thoughts on “How I Became A Better Person

  1. Pingback: The Risks Of Writing « Trying to be Conscious

  2. Too funny and I have definitely had the same thing with my French husband. Like, he has no problem breaking traffic rules like one-way streets and what not which totally freaks me out! I enjoy the glee with which the French break rules – like it is a fun personal challenge!

    In other news – don’t know what happened but I’ve stopped receiving emails for your posts! I just checked today wondering if maybe you had stopped because of moving! Glad I did!

    • I’m glad you found your way back here. I actually thought of you when I wrote this post. Reminded me of the one you wrote about le canard à l’orange, if I recall correctly :-)

      I also had weird things happening with WordPress recently. half of the mail end up in my spam folder…

  3. Haha, this story is really fun: I cannot imagine you stealing something!

    Are you sure this is really French? My parents would have been very angry with me if I had done such a thing… Isn’t it the South of France influence??? :-p

    Laurène, du blog

    • Well, I thought it was quite french to eat food in the supermarket and not pay for it, but since I wrote this post, a lot of French people have protested and said they’d never do it. So I’m not so sure anymore… ;-)

  4. Even though I was raised by a Dad who would walk five miles to return an overpayment of a nickel in change to a store, I found your account adorable!! Being fashionably late is the most I can manage, and even that is a strain on my sense of correctness!! Must be my English heritage!! Thanks for the funny and irreverent read!! :)

  5. Maybe it’s an anglophone thing; my parents told me the same thing about stealing candy. When I was really young I cried because I thought I stole a plastic-wrapped plastic straw from 7-11 (when they are for free). I heard police sirens and I got even more scared.

  6. Great, funny post! I love getting to know you and Nick through your blog. This would make a great chapter in your memoir one day. I can relate to this a lot. I used to have a lot of “bad” habits and these days I’ve really cleaned up!

  7. A la place de la bannière que j’aimais bien avec les fleurs, j’ai maintenant sur mon écran des propositions de chat coquins??? Est ce que c’est l’influence de Dany?!
    Je suppose que tu as inventé le passage sur les parents au supermarché car je ne me suis pas reconnue!!!! Peut-être devrais-tu aussi ajouter l’affabulation
    à la liste…LOL.
    Avant de t’avoir ma chérie, j’ai moi aussi fait un stage de bonne conduite en Suisse et je ne crois pas t’avoir inculquée d’aussi mauvaises manières. De plus je suis et ai toujours été d’une ponctualité maladive :)

    • Ah bon c’est bizarre cette histoire de pub, ça apparaît ou exactement?

      Je n’ai jamais écrit que mon manque de ponctualité venait de toi! Par contre je suis désolée mais le vol de barres chocolatées au supermarché n’est pas une invention! Je ne vois pas comment j’aurais pu me fabriquer de faux souvenirs… On a qu’à demander à Jerome et Flora ce qu’ils en pensent!

  8. Trop drôle ! j’adore. Même si je n’aurais pas osé en Suissesse que je suis, avec toutes ces caméras ici et là…En tous cas, c’est bien décrit et je crois voir le regard effaré et effrayé de Nick.

  9. Oh haha…..that was so funny. I definitely didn’t see that last part coming. I was like whaaaaat!? Well, there’s a saying in my mother tongue that if you stay with a person for 6 months, you’d become exactly like them and they’d become like you. This is one very good example. Oh, I can’t be punctual to save my life. Routine bores me. Oh dear, how will I ever be able to settle in clockwork Switzerland? Oh, so there are three things I need to become a french lady…son’t be punctual, check; help ourselves, ahem I’m too chicken for that, moving on…; what else? The trains! Still didn’t venture there. I’m happy with my bike. It’s handy. Ok, I’m rambling!

    Great post.

    Love, XOXO

      • oh no Cecile, I’m more interested in travelling the world. Living in many places excites and scares me. So, I would love to stay in Switzerland for quite a while. The idea itself is so dreamy. Yeah, 6 months is all it takes..but it’s a proverb.

  10. I have a difficult time picturing you stealing anything (except, perhaps, a kiss from Nick). I guess it’s not that big a surprise when teaching showed me middle school students who had done things that would certainly have shocked, maybe, even you! lol
    Good Post – I had great fun reading it.

  11. The French aren’t so bad. You should come to India sometime. You can depend on us to be puntually late. :P
    My grand-uncle though, has settled down in Switzerland, and in the many many years he’s spent there (30 years? 40? I don’t quite know. I wasn’t even born then!), he’s turned into a complete Swiss gentleman. He’s always on time, looks so confused when we crib about how expensive everything is, very politely requests for whatever he wants, and cringes at the crazy loud volumes that are so common to us.
    Hilarious post, but I guess it’s quite true as well. I certainly enjoyed reading it. :D

    • I’d love to visit India Mythreyi. I can totally imagine how your uncle turned Swiss after so many years in Switzerland. The place where you live gotta make you change your ways if you want to be part of it.
      Glad you enjoyed the story, I had a lot of fun writing it :)

  12. So funny! I guess I’m proud of you. And of Nick too – they should have a sanitizer dispenser for your protection! Ripoff indeed.

    I’m curious how you fared in NYC with your French ways? I’m still learning to be on time and I hate it.

    • Yay! Glad I made a comedy writer laugh! You’re right, they should have a sanitizer- of course.

      I don’t remember having any problems in New York being late… I was a student though; I guess it becomes problematic when you have a job. I think I ate in the supermarkets there as well and never got arrested. I always paid for my train tickets though- controls in the LLIR are systematic, there was no way to get around to it.

  13. I’d write a disapproving comment here about lateness and stealing from supermarkets…but I myself fare-dodged my way around Switzerland on numerous occasions. So I can’t really pass judgement. :p

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