maa-ren…zhah-KESS? Click below to hear this.*

Godmother…shall I ring it up?

I know you’re thinking this is odder than most of the phrases I feed you. Let me explain.

Some 44 years ago, I was living in France for a year of graduate studies. I ate most of my meals in the student restaurant, but I bought my few groceries at the épicerie du coin, the corner grocery store. Most of the time, the shop owner grated my cheese, handed my jelly and a couple of pots of yoghurt over the counter, selected a tomato for me.

One day, I was waited on by a sad-looking and somewhat sullen teenager, maybe 14 or so. She gathered my purchases on the counter, but when I pulled out my wallet to pay, she yelled unceremoniously towards the back room: Marraine…j’encaisse?

The grocer-lady contented herself with shouting back an affirmative, whereupon the girl made my change and stashed my bill in the cashbox.

So now I knew the relationship between the girl and the woman. I had to go home to look up encaisser. I could see what it meant, but I had never heard the word before.

It made sense. Since une caisse can be either a cashbox or a cash register or even a checkout lane, encaisser simply means to take in money. Cash or check (or probably even credit card, though they were not nearly so widely used at the time), no difference.

But by extension, it can also mean to take in all sorts of other things. Not sewing or laundry, but blows, scoldings, rude comments, compliments…. It implies that you accept what comes your way, without any particular reaction. It’s not necessarily making a poker face (see this link from the other day); it’s more like absorbing. It’s what Mary, the mother of Jesus, famously did, as reported in Luke 2:19.

As I stowed my groceries in my little rented room that day, I thought: that girl seems to have encaissé more than my money.

*Some mobile phones, such as Blackberries, won’t display the audio player. If no player appears, here’s an alternative link to the audio file:



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