You're wrong about me (and I'm right about you), part 6: Ah, the French! (Ah, the Brits!)

We have a guest blogger today: John, a Brit living in France who’s an expert on Brazilian music. His story is about assumptionsperceptions, and convictions—and how they all lead you to being WRONG. Enjoy!


I am in the midst of a community perceptual spectacle along the lines of your topic.

The building in Roubaix, where I am 5 days a week at Le Day Job, formerly housed on its 2nd floor a branch of Trésorier Publique, the public-treasury office that handles tax returns. They moved out in January, taking everything, including the door handles. They put a sign up indicating the move and took their own sign down. However, now not even the "We have moved" sign remains.

Not a morning goes by without someone in my company (or our neighbours) having to explain as calmly as possible to someone or other that the Treasury office is no longer here. Some of these people are so convinced that it is here (after years of knowing it really was here) that the "It's moved" possibility is not the first thing in their minds. The 2nd floor is totally empty and dark (they even took the light bulbs), there is no door handle or any indication that anyone has touched the place for close to a year... yet it is not uncommon to find people on the staircase who want to know at what time "we" open, since no one is there yet. No sign, no furniture, no lights, yet... the treasury must be here, as here is where it has always been! Sometimes their confusion is alleviated when you point to the envelope invariably clenched in their hands, with the new address of the public treasury printed neatly in the upper left corner.

But sometimes not. "Yes, but I am looking for the place to pay my taxes..." (“Well, sir, if you are making a cash payment I will see what can be arranged….”)

I make a game with myself, seeing if I can guess who is in the building, or approaching it, in order to make use of its former fiscal functionality. I count the points. Two days ago, not wanting to abandon my ipod in mid-song, I preemptively told a lady about to embark on the staircase that the public treasury was no longer here. I couldn't hear her response too well. She might even have been going to the dentist on the 5th floor... but sometimes, you just know.

Before you start thinking that I’m right all the time and enjoy rubbing it in, here’s another story. Yesterday I went to say goodbye to my mother at the station. I had even bought her train tickets for her, so I had already seen all the dates and hours. I panicked for most of the afternoon, realising I had told her to take a Eurostar that didn't exist at the appointed time, asking the check-in helpers to see if they could look up what time her train to London really was (had she left already? had she missed her train and panicked herself? was she on a later Eurostar?); I ran all over Lille looking for her and cursing my absent mindedness, why had I got the time of her train wrong??? I later realised to my horror that her train was not to London, but to Paris (and from Paris to the Eurostar). So I had doubly confused her: sending her not only at the wrong time but to the wrong station!

There is a tangible taste to this "inversion of the world" when we miss a set of circumstances that is not only possible, but probable, or indeed actual; it is disconcerting. Luckily, wise woman that she is, she got all of her trains, no problem. I am still feeling disoriented!