A guessing game I think I have become increasingly good at, having run my online French grocery store Simply Gourmand for over a decade now, is figuring out if a new customer is French or not. It matters because I want my welcome email and our overall communication to be in the language closest to them and I want to understand who our customers are to meet their expectations as best as possible.
It is often easy to identify a customer as French just looking at their name, but I know for a fact that this simple test is not all there is to it. Some first names and last names are not distinctively American or French. Some French women have taken their non-French husbands’ last names. Since about two thirds of our customers are female, that leaves us with a lot of potentially French women, in addition to the obvious ones. So how do we guess when a customer’s name does not give them away?
Well, we look at the order! If it is large and full of solid mainstream staples (bonjour Amora Dijon mustard, Nestlé Dessert baking chocolate, and Teisseire grenadine syrup…), the customer is likely French — and a bit homesick. If the order is smaller and leaning toward gourmet products (hello Rougié duck foie gras, Les Délices du Lubéron olive tapenade, and François Doucet pâtes de fruits…), chances are, the customer is an American foodie. The proof is in the… gâteau.
But for all my trained ability to detect French patterns, I am far from making correct assumptions each and every time and that’s somehow part of the fun. Take André and Eddie, who both ordered from Simply Gourmand for the first time last year. André has a typically French last name (think Jacquemard), so I sent him my welcome email in French. However, this kind old gentleman responded in English and explained that his French was very limited, his Gallic roots notwithstanding. Eddie, on the other hand, has a Japanese last name, so he got my welcome email in English… and replied in unmistakable native French.
I find these counter-intuitive moments both delectable and thought-provoking. What they tell me is that multicultural connections and identities are varied and not necessarily visible at first glance. Come to think of it, my own daughter could not be recognized as French just on the face of her Indian first and last names…
Simply Gourmand is the place where I engage everyday with people with the broadest array of backgrounds, our valued customers, which is somehow reflected by the makeup of our own team. It’s the place where I am at the receiving end of many different multicultural stories. These stories are in turn funny, moving, and inspiring. And they are one of the key reasons why I love my work.