Thursday, December 6, 2012

Priority Lines

One of the perks of being pregnant in France is the caisse prioritaire.  This is the priority check-out line, which most supermarkets and other large stores offer.  Anyone can enter the line, but pregnant women are given priority - in other words, you are both allowed and expected to cut the line. 

Now, the rule-following, law-abiding American in me chafes a bit at the notion of simply cutting the line.  Especially because having a screaming baby or toddler with you does not entitle you to priority status, but sporting the baby bump does - this has never felt quite right to me.  That said,  if you've got it, you might as well flaunt it.  And I've definitely got the baby bump now.

My first experience using the caisse prioritaire was at the urging of Mr. Oil on a trip to Ikea.  And by urging, I really mean that Mr. Oil said, "You are pregnant. We are cutting this line."  It was quite a line.  It turns out that when you point to the belly and say something along the lines of, "Caisse prioritaire...", everyone nods in an understanding manner.  There were one or two quiet grumbles, while the nicest people about it were the only other couple with a toddler in the line. 

A few weeks later, I happened to be in the priority line at our neighborhood grocery store - I have regularly chosen this line since well before I was pregnant because it is the widest check-out line and therefore the easiest through which to navigate a stroller.  There is a certain irony, I suppose, to the fact that I've been standing in the priority line without demanding my priority rights for most of my pregnancy.  In any event, one day the employee at the cash register looked up at the man standing in front of me and said, "Excuse me, sir, but I am first going to help this pregnant woman" - and proceeds to point at the woman behind me.  Quickly realizing that my wooly maternity sweater must make me look simply like an obese woman, I unbuttoned the sweater, pointed dramatically at my belly, and declared, "Madame! Je suis enceinte aussi!" (I'm also pregnant!). 

She was somewhat embarrassed - a very un-French emotion - and apologized profusely for not realizing that I was, in fact, pregnant and not just fat (well, I'm implying the latter - she did not actually say this).  At the same time, this experience helped me fully embrace the power of the caisse prioritaire.

My prowess at undoing my jacket and declaring my pregnancy, often wordlessly with just a strong point of the finger, has increased.  My confidence in this area has grown as well, culminating in a recent episode in which I actually responded to a snarky woman who tried to deny me my line-cutting rights with a few choice French words.  Yes, that's right - I can stand up for myself in French, which has more to do with attitude and tone of voice than vocabulary, but that's really besides the point.  The point, snarky woman, is that I am pregnant and the sign says pregnant women get to cut the line. 

I have about seven weeks left of government-sanctioned line-cutting at the grocery store and  I fully plan on utilizing this right at every possible junction.  It's not clear that pregnant women need to be able to cut the line in this manner - there are not any pregnancy precautions about waiting in line that I've ever heard about.  When in France, though...