And now for the funniest story from the Barcelona trip. It was not the champagne-drinking birthday crew on the Easy Jet flight, nor the sweet French/Spanish bilingual little boy Maxime asking me... "Vous avez des enfants?" and "Pourquoi venez-vous en Espagne?" (though that was probably the cutest story of the journey), nor the crowds of older Spanish folks holding hands and dancing time-tested steps on a public square.
Oh no... this story is a tale of a Foot Locker employee's brilliant marketing skills. The story begins with my need to find basketball shoes cheaper than I might find them in Geneva, where everything is ridiculously expensive (i.e. $250-$300 for b-ball shoes). On Friday nights, I shoot hoops at the University's Centre Sportif Universitaire, and I am hooked. I might be a little "nulle en attaque" (horrible at offense), but I love the game. My old running shoes had me sliding all over the place when we had to do suicide sprints (oh yeah, we're core), so I knew I would want to find a pair eventually. Carina and Felipe suggested we hit a few Spanish department stores, but there were no basketball shoes for women to speak of. Felipe suggested Foot Locker--it's an American store! They are sure to have them.
I roll in the store on my own, while Felipe and Carina printed pictures. I perused the shoes on display but decided to be brave and ask a salesperson for help... starting in Spanish, then going in to English, once I knew he could handle it. I explained what I was looking for, and the transaction proceeded apace, as he asked my shoe size. 41. Interesting sales tactic number one: Raised eyebrows at the mention of my giant foot, he gently explains... well, we don't have any women's shoes in that size. The basketball shoes we have though, they're all unisex, so don't worry about that. You just want a shoe that fits. I laughed, saying I knew my feet were large, and he said, no, no, it's really the Spanish women who are the anomaly: they have really small feet. Good save, Jordi, the sale is not yet lost.
We stroll over to the selection of basketball shoes, almost all of which look decidedly masculine. I will NOT be buying the LeBron James model, thank you very much, though the Jordans are tempting, more because they promise to make me fly and score mad points than for aesthetic reasons. Then there's a pair of straight-up, practical, black Nikes... not too expensive and expressly made for basketball. Yes, we'll try those and the Jordans, gracias, and the other glaring neon green monstrosities will be for some other unwitting customer.
Interesting sales tactic number two: Jordi returns with the big honking shoes, and I try them on. Felipe has returned from photo developing and is there to offer his opinion. I'm not sure how I feel about the black ones... are they comfortable enough, can I run around and potentially slam dunk (or at least score a simple layup)? I'm not convinced. So I try the Jordans. I feel a bit like I'm an astronaut walking on the moon in these shoes... not so bad if I want to defy gravity? And this is where it gets interesting-- Jordi explains that the Jordans are not just for basketball, but really for walking the streets, a sort of status symbol... he'd go for the cheaper ones. You know, Michael Jordan, the US, F**K the US, who needs the status! The black ones, they're especially made for basketball. Wait a minute, did a salesperson just say F**K the US to an American? (And how did he NOT know I was American with my non-British English accent?) I laugh nervously, not sure if I heard correctly... a bit stunned, I look at Felipe, equally stunned, this time HIS eyebrows raised, not Jordi's. I pretend to be a Harlem Globetrotter a bit, and I'm feeling the black ones more now. I tell Jordi so, and I say, yeah, I'm American, but no Jordans for me. Interesting sales tactic number three: Jordi covers his face with embarrassment, then says... typical Spanish joke, F**K the US! You know? F**K Spain!
Well, that convinced me. I bought the shoes... and some socks, too, and as Jordi walked to the cash register with my purchases, his co-workers murmured in admiration: He's a professional... I laughed and said yeah, he's a REAL professional. Jordi sheepishly grinned. His co-workers just didn't know the code word for selling to Americans.
Post-script to this story... this is exactly why we need good language teachers. Pragmatics. What is appropriate to say and when. This guy clearly didn't get that during the slang lesson.