Kumar de Silva

Henriette and Juliette

I bumped into these beauties in a little flower cum garden store one beautiful drizzly autumnal Sunday morning in Britanny off the northern coast of France. Audrey and I mandatorily parked in the parking lot, and, fighting the biting wind from blowing our jackets off, rain stinging our faces, scrambled into this store.

My intention was to buy fleurs for (my adopted Breton mother), Maryvonne Lefebvre of ‘Les Bois Normands’ in St. Alban, a little bourg equi-distance between St. Brieuc and Lamballe on the côte Eméraude.

And as I surveyed the fleuriste’s interior, love at first sight it was. “Coup de foudre” as the French would say. There they were, perched on a counter top, heads held up haughtily high as though it was beneath their dignity to look at the clientele.

They were relatively expensive for my Sri Lankan Rupee into Euro conversion. Old Mme Henriette, the fleuriste, behind the counter wasn’t in a terribly good mood either. A client had left the door open. The wind had whooshed in and blown one of the massive glass jars off its pedestal. It looked surreal … a fractured tapestry of broken flowers splattered with shards of glass and splayed with water.

Henriette (the morose one sporting the larger shell, at right)

Henriette (the morose one sporting the larger shell, at right)

And there I was contemplating how much of a discount to ask her if I bought both of them. “Mai NON, ca va pas”, (“No. That’s not done here”) muttered Audrey, (Maryvonne’s grand-daughter) embarrassed, under her breath.

Attends, attends, laisse-moi”, (“Wait. Let me”) I muttered in return.

Summoning all my Asian charm I said, “Bonjour Madame, je viens de très, très loin, de Sri Lanka et O la la comme j’adore ces escargots. Pourriez vous me faire un prix special s’il vous plait”,

(Hello Madame I have come from far, far away, from Sri Lanka and ohhh how I love these snails. Would you please consider giving me a special rate).

The other customers stopped and stared. Poor pink faced Audrey blanched into an anaemic white. Sullen Henriette was conscious of the several pairs of eyes indiscreetly on her and several pairs of ears waiting for her reply. I beamed, maintaining my best and most charming Sri Lankan smile.

She glared at me and said “D’accord 01€” (OK one Euro off)

Juliette (the slimmer one with the smaller shell at left).

Juliette (the slimmer one with the smaller shell at left).

One miserable Euro was no big deal BUT I exclaimed in glee “Ohhh vous êtes si gentille Madame. Je vous remercie infiniement” (Oh you are so kind. Thanks a million).

“Au-revoir”, and we left Madame to clean the tapestry on the floor.

Driving back, Audrey, my daughter’s age, chided me saying that one never asks for discounts in France. Jamais. Never. “Excuse-moi my dear I’m Sri Lankan and in Sri Lanka we always do”, I assured her.

This incident took full centre stage as lunch time conversation in the old stone farm house as we tucked into a warm poulet rôti with frites accompanied by a chilled sauvignon blanc

PS : Henriette’s assistant was apparently Juliette and so it was easy to baptise my new acquisitions – Henriette (the morose one sporting the larger shell, at right) and Juliette (the slimmer one with the smaller shell at left).

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