Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Capitalism and croissants

It was C's turn to buy croissants for the office this week. He stopped in at the boulangerie on the way to work. The bakery was warm and smelled like fresh bread. C and our friend the baker exchanged greetings: how is madame, how are les jumelles, how is M. Bush?

All as well as could be expected, thank you very much. And then: 30 croissants, s'il vous plaît.

The baker frowned. You need 30 croissants? If you buy all my croissants now then what am I going to tell the next customer?

C faltered. He still thinks that shops are for selling things.

He explained: they were for his colleagues.

The baker sighed. He shook his finger at C: Next time you are going to want this many croissants, call me. Tell me. Let me know, so I can make more. Otherwise, you buy all my croissants, and what do I tell the next people who come in?

C, totally humbled now at the presumption of his request, suggested that perhaps he could take 15 pains au chocolat, and 15 croissants? Would that be plus façile?

The baker nodded. He took out a plastic bag to put the pastries in, and then, remembering that they were still warm, so warm that they would melt the plastic (it's hard, living in France, it really is), he took out a paper sack instead.

The croissants disappeared well before the 10.00 coffee break at the office. Later in the day, we saw the baker and he said that he had managed to bake a second batch of croissants, so the crisis was resolved. He had enough croissants for the later customers after all.

I'm sure that this story, in the hands of someone who had taken Economics 101 in college, could offer some insights on the Current Economic Unpleasantness: something about building relationships, not overextending, maintaining a close watch on supply and demand. I never took Econ, though, so all I can say is this: it's not about the exchange of goods, it's about the relationship. If the baker had sold out of his croissants before 8.00, what would he have told his regular 8.15 customers? His goal is not to make as much money as he can as quickly as he can, but to build lasting relationships with enough customers to be able to make a sustaining amount of money over a lifetime. And, of course, to enjoy a quick chat when the customers stop in.

Next time, we'll call ahead.

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