petite anglaise

August 9, 2007


Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 7:23 pm

“Come on mum,” I say in a wheedling voice. “I’m going to have some cinnamon toast. Don’t you fancy a bite to eat? My treat…”

Mum frowns at the menu. “Well,” she says hesitantly. “A toasted scone might be nice. With some raspberry jam…”

When the uniformed waitress has scribbled down our order, my mother slips off to the ladies room and I rest my elbows on the cool pane of glass which protects the tablecloth from tea and coffee stains and stray dollops of whipped cream, and look around me. The flock wallpaper, which used to be a claret red, is now deep racing green. The carpet looks different too, although I can’t recall how it was before. If I crane my neck, I can see along a narrow corridor into the tiny kitchen, which appears to have had an extreme makeover in gleaming aluminium.

At the tender age of fifteen, I began working in a local newsagent’s to top up my pocket money. My memory of my first day in that job is crystal clear.

“20 Park Drive,” barked an elderly customer as he stepped up to the shop counter, under which the penny sweets were laid out in their cardboard boxes. I swallowed the white chocolate mouse I had just popped into my mouth and reached for the paper rounds ledger, scanning the pages for a mention of Park Drive, assuming the gentleman had come to settle his bill. “What on earth are you looking in there for, you daft cow,” the man said impatiently, “the fags are behind you…”

My face glowed an attractive shade of beetroot as I turned to face the wall of cigarettes behind me and scanned the unfamiliar packets. Legally, I wasn’t old enough to buy any myself, but within a few weekends I would know every price off by heart, and soon when particular customers shuffled through the door, I would reach instincively for their smokes of choice. In that neck of the woods back in 1987 by far the most popular brand were Lambert & Butler, which came in gold and silver coloured matt-finish packets not dissimilar from those they are sold in today.

My second weekend job, at the age of sixteen, was in a tearooms in York city centre. The main attraction of that job was the generous tips left by the well-to-do ladies who stopped by for breakfast, elevenses, lunch and afternoon tea. I scurried around, hot and flustered in the wool skirt and heavy blouse of that season’s uniform, and served cream teas and triangle sandwiches (“would you like the crusts on or off, madam?”) in this very room.

I do a swift calculation in my head, put a shocked hand to my mouth, then remove it so that I can repeat the sum on my fingers, twice, to make sure there can be no mistake.

I worked here NINETEEN years ago? Can that be possible? I mean, the waitress hastening towards our table with two large cups of coffee and a jug of single cream is probably not even nineteen years old. I worked here before she was even born?

I send an incredulous text message to my Boy to the effect that I am having an attack of age vertigo.

Tu m’excites plus qu’une fille de 20 ans,” he retorts immediately.

I set down my phone with a smile. This boy, I think to myself, is most definitely a keeper.


  1. Don’t worry. You’re obviously not losing ‘it’ yet.

    Comment by sablonneuse — August 9, 2007 @ 7:28 pm

  2. Oh dear god. I just this second deleted a spam comment filled with links to sites touting “mature sex”.

    Is spam contextual?

    Comment by petite — August 9, 2007 @ 7:33 pm

  3. god that must feel quite odd. just the other day I walked back into the bakery I worked in a year ago and it felt kind of weird already, so I can’t imagine 19 years!

    Comment by est — August 9, 2007 @ 7:44 pm

  4. Don’t worry petite, time flies but you shouldn’t worry too much about it…

    I also look at the places I’ve been and see teen-agers doing what I used to do, but do I really want to go back and be in their shoes again? NOOOOO! I’m glad time has changed me into who I am today, and allowed me to live the life I choose…

    P.S. YES!!! I’ve also had to delete bad spam from my comments…

    Comment by Farfallina -a roam to Rome — August 9, 2007 @ 7:45 pm

  5. This guy certainly knows how a French man is supposed to talk to his lady, I’d say :-).

    Comment by Chloé — August 9, 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  6. Here’s an American age-related anomaly.

    I go to the supermarket and buy, among other things, a bottle of wine. The cashier sets aside the wine and scans and bags everything else. Then he or she scans and bags the wine, and calls for a manager, explaining that s/he is under 21 and can’t legally sell alcohol.

    A manager arrives, presses the key that rings up the entire sale, and walks away. Then the cashier takes my money.

    So the under-21 cashier can handle the bottle of wine, scan it, put it in my shopping bag—but she can’t press the key that rings up the total sale. In other words, she can’t technically sell it to me, though after someone else has facilitated the sale, she can accept my payment.

    It doesn’t compute to me.

    Comment by Passante — August 9, 2007 @ 7:55 pm

  7. No more than the way Amazon always emails me offers about 10 minutes after I have been discussing the coincidental items with other people.

    Comment by Daniel — August 9, 2007 @ 8:05 pm

  8. Would that have been Betty’s, then?

    Congratulations, by the way, on the ex-employers paying up.

    Comment by Claire — August 9, 2007 @ 8:17 pm

  9. Does your French boy have an unattached brother? Where do I sign up? THAT is the way you treat a woman.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — August 9, 2007 @ 8:23 pm

  10. And my own “My God Am I Really THAT Old?” story… on Bastille day, while picnicking with friends, several of us girls were enjoying ourselves, gawking at all the young, buff, hot French army boys doing demonstration maneuvers on the lawn for the crowds.

    I walked over to snap some pix. And then realized in horror I was drooling over boys who are the same age as my 20-year old NEPHEW. My younger sister’s son. The one where I am literally old enough to be his mother.

    Dazed and slightly depressed by this revelation, I returned to my picnic blanket and poured myself a nice big glass of wine.

    Comment by The Bold Soul — August 9, 2007 @ 8:26 pm

  11. Time slips by, like the water in your eye. Un-noticed.

    The ’20 Park Drive’ reminds me of the practical joke established workers would play on un-witting apprentices. I.e. ‘go to the stores and ask them for a long-stand’. Only to return 3 hours later, empty handed…

    Life, best experienced and never counted…

    Comment by Steve... — August 9, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

  12. Blimey, I have no idea what you’re worrying about at your tender age and, by the way, I hate piercing your eye with my cursor – it makes me feel quite peculiar.
    [deep breath and ………]

    Comment by Daddy Papersurfer — August 9, 2007 @ 8:30 pm

  13. you are what you feel, as I am sure you have heard many times…clearly he feels good…

    Comment by lou — August 9, 2007 @ 8:34 pm

  14. Re the under-21 selling wine, we have that here too. If the cashier is less than 18, he/she rings the bell or waves the bottle towards management and then continues with the sale. It’s not quite as organised, in that nobody has to arrive with a key, but the principle is the same. I assume someone who is under the drinking age is not though capable of judging the customer’s age. Or perhaps the under-age would sell to each other.
    An excellent post Petite, and nice to see you happy. Clearly you are in the UK at the moment (or were recently). BTW, I think your boyfriend has excellent tastes. And as an over-sixty, I feel surrounded by people who weren’t even born when I arrived in the UK in 1975.

    Comment by Pierre L — August 9, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  15. Thaose sort of memories take one back!

    Comment by Jean-Luc Picard — August 9, 2007 @ 8:57 pm

  16. I recently realised I was three times the age of my daughter who is now grown up. No wonder everyone looks so young now. But when she was five I was 8 times as old as she was, which somehow didn’t make me feel old at all. Age arithmetic is funny isn’t it?

    Comment by varske — August 9, 2007 @ 9:42 pm

  17. Ah 1st jobs. Mine was in a bowling alley long before automatic pin setters when we set out the pins by hand. Dangerous work that. Mon dieu, what made me think of that? Perhaps I’m becoming senile. Naaaah! And the “boy” definitely is a keeper; oh my yes.

    Smiles from me to you and the keeper
    Beau in Seattle

    Comment by Beau — August 9, 2007 @ 10:37 pm

  18. How did I know than another of your posts would end with “your Boy” and your libido? You’ve obviously been examining your life BUT from the wrong end!

    Comment by SW France — August 9, 2007 @ 11:42 pm

  19. “My libido”? I can’t hear those words without thinking of Kurt Kobain.

    All I can say in my defence is that I have been in England for TWO WHOLE WEEKS now. And am suffering boy withdrawal symptoms.

    Vivement dimanche.

    Comment by petite — August 10, 2007 @ 12:10 am

  20. Speaking about alcohol selling, I think I’ll start feeling old the day I’ll be carded when buying wine at the store down the street… the guys at the checkout are in their thirties and the best way they found to please women their age is to pretend they look under 27 and have to be carded. Looking something like 24 years old, I have never ever been carded there.

    Comment by Chloé — August 10, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  21. that love and technology can offer you so much comfort in an instant, the sharing/caring that happened? Is positively brilliant. That is what love is about. You wrote back in March of 2006 that “neither should settle for less than what they shared in the beginning”. This IS the beginning that continues on. Always hold out for it. You deserve it I think. Sending hugs.

    Comment by beaunejewels — August 10, 2007 @ 12:22 am

  22. “You excite me more than a girl of 20 years!” Wow, what a powerful and heart melting statement! You better keep him Petite… if not, definately send him my way! You are one lucky lady! =)

    Comment by Cul8ter — August 10, 2007 @ 1:57 am

  23. I had similar feelings on realising seven years ago (and six years after she moved in) that my current partner was just half my age. In twenty years she’ll be two thirds my age.

    Are there any mathematicians out there?

    She age-flatters me too, not by text, just by not giving a damn about age differences. Preferred the company of her grandmother to her birth mother, so I guess that’s how it started.

    Once you truly realise just how old you seem to your children, you give up the pretence of youth and get on with more important things, imo.

    Comment by andrew — August 10, 2007 @ 2:44 am

  24. I also know the “age vertigo” all too well. One day at the winery restaurant where I work a new culinary intern was chatting with a waiter (realizing that they must be about the same age) asked him what year he was born. “1980” was the response. Ack, I had to retreat to my pastry room for a minor cardiac as I had graduated high school that same year.

    Comment by California Reader — August 10, 2007 @ 5:12 am

  25. Ahh, 1987…and my first son was born.
    It should make me feel so old, yet it doesn’t…
    It’s only time, darling.
    Age begins in our head.
    I’m still 19 in there.

    Comment by the domestic minx — August 10, 2007 @ 6:12 am

  26. When I think about my son’s age, I am always amazed. I don’t feel old enough to have a son that old. In my mind, I still feel 30 or so. Always a shock to look in the mirror.

    Comment by Linda — August 10, 2007 @ 7:27 am

  27. “Boy” withdrawal. For me it’s lover withdrawal too. She’s flying in tomorrow. Really can’t wait. Thus P’tite I completely understand and commiserate; tomorrow is going to be fun–Jet Lag or no–Wheeeeee!

    Smiles to you, P’tite and a wink to the gods of lovers,

    Comment by Beau (encore) — August 10, 2007 @ 8:00 am

  28. I swallowed the white chocolate mouse I had just popped into my mouth

    Cue my own personal attack of age vertigo there. Haven’t had one of those since I was about seven years old!

    Comment by Iain — August 10, 2007 @ 11:45 am

  29. Have they started calling you “Madame” rather than Mademoiselle yet?? That hurts.

    Even further down the age-road, then you get a daft thrill when someone calls you “Mademoiselle” – or are they being facetious? I never can tell…

    Comment by Amanda — August 10, 2007 @ 12:16 pm

  30. I told you so…


    Comment by frog with a blog — August 10, 2007 @ 1:46 pm

  31. Aah, memory lane. You are not old enough for this!

    Why I have such a good likeness on my blog:

    (petite’s unmasking is the first and perfect example of its type it seems)

    I’m really Lord Lucan

    Comment by Eats Wombats — August 10, 2007 @ 2:54 pm

  32. wow, he’s a charmer, for sure. i can’t even READ most french, but i am pretty sure i caught what he said there.

    you think your story is a horror? try working with people who, you one day realized, weren’t even born when you graduated high school!

    Comment by franko — August 10, 2007 @ 3:16 pm

  33. Speaking of age…. does your “Boy” know that he is being referred to as “boy”? It sounds so, SO wrong. Mon garçon. Does he call you “My Girl”? Ma fille? Perhaps a relationship sans pedophilia imagery would help you feel more secure and assist you in sending less insecure old lady text messages?

    Comment by french panic — August 10, 2007 @ 3:57 pm

  34. Re 29. Its like the first time I was called “nice lady” in a shop by a parent as in “let the nice lady get past”. I looked around to see who they were talking about and then realised it was me! I’d always been a “girl” up to that point!

    Comment by Sarah — August 10, 2007 @ 4:06 pm

  35. That HAS to be Betty’s, surely. Vertiginous indeed – though the carpet has changed (and the menu, everso slightly) in 19 years, things are also very much the same. Anyway, it’s not age that counts, it’s outlook.

    Comment by Vick — August 10, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  36. How cute, your French beau’s message…I love such sweet nothings, really. I don’t know if it’s me, but I’m finding French men, generally speaking of course, a lot more…”sensual”…maybe? Compared to the guys that I dated when I lived in NY. I’ve had a crappy experience too, but I’ve been dating a LOT since I arrived in France, and I’ve had more great experiences than bad ones, with French men.

    On years gone by, I have these moments all of the time…especially because I don’t think I look 34…at least others tell me that I don’t. So paranoid am I that I only just now posted a picture of myself on my blog for the first time. :0l To hell with any fear about aging…at least, I’m trying, that is.

    Comment by Mlle Smith — August 10, 2007 @ 5:14 pm

  37. oh puhleeeease! i was working out how old i was when i did my a-levels the other day. let’st just say, i had to double the number i first thought of. i maintain we’re improving … we are, aren’t we? x

    Comment by rivergirlie — August 10, 2007 @ 5:15 pm

  38. he’d be bored stiffless with a twenty year old!!! here’s to all us thirty somethings!!!

    Comment by aminah — August 10, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  39. I usually feel pretty good about being in my thirties . . . until I meet my 19-year-old sister for lunch.

    My first job was driving a miniature train around the gardens of a museum. Low point was a child falling off the train and into the pond (actually, that was a high point – very annoying child).

    I like your writing very much!

    Comment by Emily — August 10, 2007 @ 7:29 pm

  40. I’ll bet you made a fortune in tips if it was Betty’s you worked at. There’s a reason I’ve only been a couple of times, and it’s not because I disliked it! ‘Ladies who Lunch’ venue, definitely.

    As for age, I’m still about 16 in my head. Loopy, loved-up teenager wondering what adulthood will feel like…still don’t know 12 years on.

    Comment by Soph — August 10, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

  41. I really try to avoid commenting on stuff and saying… wow this reminds me of my life. I read blogs to get away from my life!

    But I just have to say this….I USED TO WORK IN A NEWSAGENTS….IN 1987…….AND….I was 15!!!!

    Comment by Yellow — August 10, 2007 @ 9:12 pm

  42. Hey – did you ever work at a place called ‘Betty’s’? God I have no idea if that punctuation was anywhere near correct – anyhoo – come to think of it I think Bettys’ was in Harrogate? Anyway – my husband worked there about 20years ago too :) – at the ripe old age of 16 :)

    Comment by Valkyrie — August 10, 2007 @ 9:58 pm

  43. Not Betty’s, no. Somewhere very similar, a tearooms within a china shop…

    Comment by petite — August 10, 2007 @ 10:09 pm

  44. I constantly have age vertigo. Especially yesterday when with my younger cousins who think because I am 30 I am past it and out of touch.

    Wish I had a “boy” to help me feel better. Hang on to him Petite, he seems like a real diamond.

    Comment by Catkin — August 10, 2007 @ 11:54 pm

  45. As a high school teacher I’m around teenagers a lot and get quite used to reminders of the difference in age. One young lady told me she likes old songs, “You know, from back in the 90’s….”

    And that was a really smooth reply from your boy.

    Comment by ~Tim — August 11, 2007 @ 8:00 am

  46. Hello, Petite, I lurk but don’t comment – until now. I spotted you on this:

    Thought you’d like to know!

    Comment by Miriam — August 11, 2007 @ 4:38 pm

  47. Ah, yes. Somewhere between 30 and 40 life’s speed goes in overdrive. The moment you find out, you’re a walkaway from a Pink Floyd song.
    But your boy is proceless, he’s a charmer, he is.

    Comment by Jasper — August 11, 2007 @ 4:59 pm

  48. Yes, but after 40, the age vertigo recedes. I guess we get acclimatized. Technically, this is known as “giving up”….


    Comment by Barb — August 11, 2007 @ 7:41 pm

  49. I’m with french panic on this one – can’t you call him your Beau? it almost rhymes with Boy… well, not really.

    Daft cow? that was downright nasty for a cute teenager. No wonder you remembered it.

    Comment by Alethea — August 11, 2007 @ 11:37 pm

  50. I think Yorkshire is about the only county in England where calling someone a “daft cow” can actually have a gentle air of affection…

    Comment by LaiLou — August 12, 2007 @ 8:53 am

  51. Look carefully at Tadpole. Try very hard to imagine that she’s at the wheel of a car, eighteen-years-old, doing 150 in a rainstorm on the Autobahn, in absolute control of her vehicle, and you’re describing this to Mr Frog on your phone.

    And he’s thinking… what I was thinking yesterday when my ex reported our daughter’s latest step ahead in life.

    Treasure every minute, lass.

    Now there was a café called the Pavilion Pantry back in th fifties on Westborough in Scarborough… Oops, sorry!

    Comment by malcolm thomson — August 12, 2007 @ 11:01 am

  52. I’m reassured by Barb’s comment that age vertigo slows down after 40 … I’ve recently begun to experience it myself and it aint pleasant.

    Comment by Stratfordgirl — August 12, 2007 @ 4:04 pm

  53. You toast your scones in Yorkshire?

    Comment by Ariel — August 12, 2007 @ 10:24 pm

  54. I feel more and more that I wouldn’t wish myself a teenager again for all the tea in China…and yes, the perfect reassuring comment – definitely a keeper! :)

    Comment by Alexx — August 12, 2007 @ 11:00 pm

  55. He is a keeper!

    I live in my hometown. When I see someone I remember from school in a store line, who is a year or two older than myself, I am always amazed how “old” they look. LOL This aging thing is surprising. But, PA… you are a long way from that yet. Congrats on your employment win.

    Comment by Danna — August 13, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  56. BAH!

    Your blog has become sooooo boring……………..

    Comment by Parisite — August 13, 2007 @ 1:25 am

  57. I was asked to produce evidence of my age when buying two bottles of beer in Chicago, a few years ago. I was quite suprised, as I was 47 at the time. I think the 17-ish yr old girl at the cash desk was probably just going by some prescribed rule, rather than making flattering estimates of my age. Maybe the citizens of Chicago had heard that liquor had been rumoured to have a negative influence on their city, and wanted to Change the Culture ;-)

    Comment by Horatio — August 13, 2007 @ 1:30 am

  58. Ariel – it’s not a scone! Classic recipe for cinnamon toast:
    thinly sliced bread, cut in triangles, soaked with red wine, covered with cinnamon and sugar, (press in some dried fruit if you want) then quickly baked in oven until toasted.

    Comment by Horatio — August 13, 2007 @ 1:33 am

  59. Ariel – my apologies, for there it is in Petite’s post: ‘toasted scone’. Puzzling. If you toasted a normal yeast scone under the grill or in a toaster, you’d end up with a carcinogenic chunk of coal. Perhaps it’s a scone cut in two and simply quickly heated/rebaked in the oven? Or it could be a Scottish drop scone (cooked on the griddle). Or maybe it was a toasted teacake? Or a muffin? (You can toast those quite successfuly.)

    Comment by Horatio — August 13, 2007 @ 2:43 am

  60. 20 Park Drive? Perfectly understandable mistake. Just like the time when, trying to make small-talk at a retro-themed party, I commented on the background music: “Do you like Glen Miller?” “No,” replied the gorgeous Italian, “I never drink whisky”.

    Comment by kitikat — August 13, 2007 @ 8:22 am

  61. Elevenses?? Really? Is there something called elevenses? What a fun word! :-)

    Comment by nrg — August 13, 2007 @ 9:47 am

  62. I turned 40 recently and am trying not to focus on it. Haven’t yet achieved that which I want most, marry and have children – or have a child with someone supportive even. What happens if we just don’t get what we want?

    Comment by Bebopper — August 13, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

  63. Oui, ou alors il ment très très bien!!!

    Comment by NewYorkAngel — August 13, 2007 @ 10:38 pm

  64. #53 and #59: I sometimes toast scones perfectly successfully. You split them and the surfaces brown just as a piece of bread would. Not sure why they’d turn to cinders unless you leave them toasting so long that you’d need to call the fire brigade. Not sure, either, what “yeast scones” are — normal scones are made with baking powder.

    Comment by Passante — August 13, 2007 @ 10:51 pm

  65. Thanks for the tip, Passante: I’ll try it.

    Comment by Horatio — August 14, 2007 @ 1:49 am

  66. your post made me think of this poem.

    I was doing exactly what you were in the newsagents, except I was eating a lot of sweets whilst not being able to find that ounce of Golden Virginia. Never got fat, & there lies the rub … getting older … fewer sweets = more pounds!

    Comment by helensparkles — August 14, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

  67. You’re welcome Horatio. It’s a good way to breathe new life into scones that have been around a day or two — in fact it works best when they aren’t absolutely fresh.

    Comment by Passante — August 14, 2007 @ 10:29 pm

  68. My first Saturday job was also in a tearoom. Back then it was just a ‘caff’ and was horrid. Originally worked in the kitchen (no tips) and then progressed to waitressing. The tips were pretty bad, so, even though the place now bears no resemblance whatsoever to the way it was when I worked there, I massively overtip! My mum hates going there with me!

    Comment by Sheppitsgal — August 15, 2007 @ 10:41 am

  69. I hope you left her a decent tip – now that you’re one of the well-to-do ladies popping in for elevenses.


    Comment by Damian — August 20, 2007 @ 1:28 pm

  70. I hate to tell you this, but it gets worse, the age thing. I am ten years older than you and I started to feel my age when I was about your current age. Now though, even thirty somethings like yourself make me feel old…

    Sometimes though, I look at photos taken ten years ago and I think: “Don’t I look young?”

    If only we could see ourselves at the age we are now, as if we were ten years older than we are now…

    Comment by Sally Lomax — August 20, 2007 @ 10:54 pm

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