Conned and homeless on my first day in the United States.

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That’s how I started my internship at BookPeople. Well. I started working the day after that, and it’s a testament to how good the people are here that my situation was resolved in a few days.

Here’s how it all started.

My name is R and I’m French. 100%. I was born in Alençon, and that probably doesn’t ring a bell, but maybe it will if I say south of Normandie? Or Normandy, excuse me. And I’m proud to be from Bretagne (sorry, Brittany), from my dad’s side.

Now I see that doesn’t really interest you, so: yes, I’ve lived in (or very near, rather) Paris for the past two years. It was for my two-year diploma in book jobs. In a school that specializes in book jobs. Yes, we have that (several, in fact). I decided to become a bookseller to have a stable income in a world I like (books), because my real dream is being a writer and that… is more difficult to make a living out of.

At the end of each year we have to do an internship. So I did my first one for a month in my hometown, in a middle-sized bookstore (that I thought, at the time, was big) called Le Passage. I’d already had the idea of doing an internship in an English-speaking country, being bilingual and all (school helped, but I got there on my own!). And after London’s bookstores responded coldly to me, I thought I’d try America. And one of my best friends (thank you, internet) lives near Austin, and I was told Austin was a haven in… Texas… So I looked up independent bookstores in Austin and as you can guess, BookPeople popped up, so I applied there. And was accepted! That was last July.

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So what did I do until the day I came in, April 5th? Well, went to school, for one. Interned at a book convention. And went through the administrative hell of getting a visa, which costs not only stress (it’s not like I have GAD or anything) but also a kidney and a leg. I thought I’d found a roommate (for cheaper lodging), I got there the 4th and met my friend! Then found out I had been a complete fool, cried, slept at hotel, cried, went to BookPeople, didn’t cry because my tears had ran out, and was enveloped in an environment of sympathy, kindness, and helpfulness.

After that got sorted out, I could finally work! In an American bookstore! So let me tell you my impressions.

First, you’ve got to know that books are a special cultural product in France. There are laws that protect bookstores and libraries and regulate the market and that’s why there are still independent bookstores to this day, even little ones. Mention the “Lang law” (1981) to any independent bookseller and they will get stars in their eyes. We hate Amazon and grudgingly tolerate big chain bookstores just as much as American independent booksellers seem to, if not more. Mention Amazon to any independent bookseller and they will get flames in their eyes.

Here, I’ve been told it’s almost impossible to run a store only selling books. Events and gift items must abound to keep afloat. Of course, BookPeople is one that does it very well. The size of it is almost overwhelming to little French me (like your roads, your cars, your everything). I think there must be like 5 or 10 independent bookstores in France that match it.

But it’s different in a good way too. French booksellers suffer from the old cliché of being stuffy, grumpy, hard to talk to (although that was not the case in Le Passage, because it’s the only bookstore of my Alençon so everyone knows each other). BookPeople is so open (in a literal way too, in France most stores close at 7pm), and open-minded, and friendly, and people don’t come here only for the best-sellers. I’ve been having such a great time talking with my coworkers: customers of BookPeople, you really are lucky. I’d love to work in this community-knit and cultured environment forever – well, except for the fact that my favorite french authors aren’t translated…

My sections of predilections are SF/F, manga, and anything that has LGBT characters in it, because I’m weak for representation, being agender, ace and biromantic myself. Which is also why it’s such a blessing to be here: special sections, and a language that has pronouns for me and is generally gender-neutral, unlike French.

So yeah, I’ll probably post in the future regarding stuff like LGBT representation in fiction, and the difference between the manga market in France and in the USA; but meanwhile, I got a bilingual bookseller twitter account you can follow, @libre__R. Among other things, I’ll post my staff selection cards there!

5 thoughts on “Conned and homeless on my first day in the United States.

  1. My son Jason Martin told me your story, I am so sorry you had to go thru such a horrible experience. I am traveling to France in a couple of weeks with my French daughter in law and 2 grandchildren, we will be in Stratsburg then drive to Totlousse
    I hope I get to meet you before you return to France.
    Andrea Martin

  2. Pingback: It’s June! It’s LGBTQ Pride Month!! | BookPeople's Blog

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