Going to a grocery store is always a buzz in another country, and France is no different. Lots of different products, choice, and variations on a theme when compared to products available at home in Australia.
Whether it be E.Leclerc, Intermarché, Géant Casino, Carrefour, Super-U, Auchan or Lidl, it is always an enjoyable and stimulating experience. Grocery shopping is one of our enjoyable outings in France- is that sad? A mini cultural experience.
There are quite a few differences to the chains found in Australia. So what are some of them? What are the traps for new learners? How to avoid embarrassment? What to be aware of? Here are some tips that, from experience, might be useful .....
And then there is this great spread called “Speculoos”, a cinnamon-y taste, which is a spread form of a biscuit they have over here, one often served with coffee. It is great on hot toasted slices of bread! However, you won’t find any vegemite on the shelves here.
3. Fresh milk seems to be a rarity in France. Lovers of "long life" milk are well catered for, but if you want fresh milk, come early before it runs out. In a huge store, there may only be a very small cabinet devoted to fresh containers of milk.
4. There are different arrangements for buying fresh fruit and vegetables at different stores. Sometimes there is an arrangement where you have to have your fruit and veges weighed first and priced to take it to the check-out. Other times, you need to put the co-inciding number of the product (that is displayed) into the self serve scales and put the ticket on the plastic bag before going to the check out. It can be embarrassing to get to the check out and you don’t have the price of the fruit on the bag! Creates a hold up in the queue if you have to run back to the fruit and vege section to get your purchase weighed and priced. This only happens once! The hint here is to just watch the other customers.
5. Over here, fresh chickens and other poultry tend to have a yellowish tinge to their skin… What the?!
6. France is fond of cheques. For whatever reason, cheques remain a very popular mode of paying for goods. While unheard of in Australia, in France we often pay by cheque in grocery stores. Every second or third person at the cassier at our local grocery store seems to pay by cheque. Logistically, all it requires is a signature, the cash register does the rest.
7. Be prepared to take your time. There are often queues for the check out, and even when there isn’t, it is not unusual for the check-out operator to have a casual, friendly conversation with every person in the queue before you. We have found this unhurried approach to service a challenge to get habituated to, but eventually it becomes quite pleasant, quirky custom.
8. Rug up when you go grocery shopping. Our experience is that the grocery stores here can be freezing!
10. Plastic bags are out in France. A great, progressive move. Remember to take a shopping bag/s with you when you go to grocery shop. Places like Le Clerc, Super U and Intermarché do not supply them. If you do not have any with you, you can buy them at the check out counter. Some bags are actually quite nice, often have a design related to the local area, and make inexpensive, light-weight gifts for those at home.
11. Opening hours. Always a little confusing as they vary according to the retailer and to the time of the year (and then there is always the “fermature exceptionelle” when places seem to close just for the heck of it).
12. Always announce your turn at the check out with a friendly “bonjour” (or “bonsoir” if after about 18.00), and on leaving, a “merci, bonne journée (or bonne soirée), au revoir” is the norm.
13. Bring a 50c or 1 euro coin to access the shopping trolley!
Jim lives in Brisbane, Australia, works at The University of Queensland, and enjoys visiting, reading and learning about France.