One of the things we’ve enjoyed living in the heart of Geneva is that over time, you begin to identify your favorite business establishments, and as you more frequently patronize those establishments, you begin to make friends with the proprietors or clerks who work there. So for me, whether I was going to the grocery store, filling the car up with gas, buying a croissant or chocolate at our favorite patisserie, I could always count on seeing a friendly face and getting a chance to speak some french with one of my friends.
Like the city of Geneva itself, this is an eclectic, diverse group of people:
I’ll start with Huseyn, my friend from Turkey who who I wrote about in a recent review proclaiming him the architect of the best shawarma sandwich in town. The fun thing about Huseyn is that as I would enter his shop, he would enthusiastically greet me with a firm handshake, ask how many sandwiches he needed to make me, offer me a free beer while I waited and then go to work on my sandwich(es).
Our go-to grocery store, called Coop (pronounced “cup”) is just a block away. There were days where I would venture over there once in the morning, realize I needed something else and go again in the afternoon, and realize I needed one more ingredient for that evening’s meal and go one more time as I was making dinner. Point being, I am there a lot. I became friends with one of the clerks, but never learned her first name because her name tag only revealed her last name. She is from Marrakesh Morocco, a detail I learned when I told her once that we were going to be visiting that city, and she pondered the idea of me “delivering something to her husband” who still lives there. She ultimately decided against it, which in retrospect was a good decision because I don’t know how anyone could possibly find anyone else in that crowded city. I asked her if I could take a selfie with her, but she didn’t like that idea, I don’t know whether it was for religious reasons or just that she thought it would be weird to take a picture with a customer, even though we had become pretty tight. In either case, I wanted a picture of her for this blog post, so I went ahead and snapped this photo of her without her knowledge. That’s her with her hands behind her back walking in the opposite direction.
I also spent a lot of time in the local drug store filling certain prescriptions. I never learned this woman’s name either, but she was always incredibly nice and helpful and friendly. One time I was hiking up the Saleve and I ran into her up there. She also just recently changed the style of her hair, it used to be longer and dark, and now look at it! The first time I saw her with her new hair style, I made a point of saying, “J’aime bien votre cheveux!” which she seemed to appreciate.
And speaking of hairstyles, after posting a piece in this blog lamenting the fact that haircuts — like everything else — are expensive in this town I found a barber who would cut my hair at a reasonable (sort of…) price. His name is Salah, and he hales from Iran. He doesn’t speak a lick of English, and since its a barbershop where you are obligated to make small talk for the duration of the haircut, I could always count on getting a good 20 minutes of french practice in. The most exciting thing is that he recently became a first-time father of a little girl, which gave us plenty to talk about.
One of the perks offered to foreign U.N. diplomats is that you get a break on gasoline taxes. I’m not sure that I like the idea or even think that its fair, but as long as it is UN policy, I’m going to take advantage of it. But the process of getting the cheaper gas requires that you fill up at just one or two stations in Geneva, so I got into the habit of always filling up at the same gas station, which is where I became friends with this nice young lady, whose name I never learned.
Last but not least are my friends at our favorite patisserie, Frederic Ducret. Frederic Ducret is a little shop just up the street from our apartment that we identified early on as the best place to buy croissants (my favorite, their almond croissants!) and chocolate truffels. We would frequent this shop every time we had guests and lots of times when we didn’t. On trips back home, we would always stop there before heading to the airport to buy some chocolate truffles, of which they had about 40 varieties. As you can see from the photo, they were the nicest people ever.
When it comes time to leave and head back home, these routine encounters are some of the things I am really going to miss.