One of the things I love most about France is its food, and more specifically, France’s food culture. France does food differently, and in most cases, better, than the United States. During my stays in France, I have come across enormous cultural differences when it comes to food. Today’s topic is that of grocery shopping.
My friend Michelle sent me this great link about grocery shopping around the world, and it is actually pretty scarily accurate. In the United States, we are all about convenience. We buy in bulks, and we do our shopping once a week or even once every two weeks if we can help it. We love stores like Sam’s Club, which provides us with a month-supply of munchies and a year-supply of ketchup. In the United States, most stores also provide you with paper or plastic bags, and your very own bag-boys and bag-girls as well as deluxe shopping carts. This is simply not done in France!
Here if France, especially in the south, people do not buy food in bulks; instead, a little bit is bought every day. French homes are typically smaller than in the states, and are crammed for space, so French people do not want to take up their free shelving space in order to store 29 bottles of ketchup! Additionally, France generally puts less preservatives in its food, so while the food is fresher and better for you, it generally does not last as long. We Americans find these daily errands to be annoying, or a burden. But, here in France they are seen as a day-to-day pleasure– a chance to catch up and say Bonjour! to local vendors or neighbors and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the center of town. For example, every morning it is normal to wake up and walk to the boulangerie to buy bread, which is eaten at every meal (side note- there are boulangeries on just about every block in France– most French people would say that their local boulangerie makes the best bread in all of France). Then, you head to the butcher to buy your meat, and after to your daily market (there is always a market!) to buy your fruits and vegetables, along with seasonal specialties such as warm nuts. Finally, you may head to the local supermarché or Carrfour (France’s version of Walmart) in order to complete the rest of your errands. Food in France is sacred, and the French take pride in choosing only the freshest and best-tasting food for themselves and their families.
At actual grocery stores in France, things are also a bit different. Carrfour does provide carts, but they are not as big, and they are more wagon-style. However most people, myself included, bring a chariot or plastic re-usable bags in which they put their purchases. When you get to the checkout center, the person who checks you out is always seated (in contrary to always standing in the United States- with the exception of Aldi’s, which is a European chain). Additionally, it is you, the customer’s, responsibility to bag your own groceries, as well as to provide your own bags (they are not provided for you, unless you buy them from the store.) All of these reasons are why most people bring a chariot and or bags, and do not buy in bulk.
I think some of the biggest changes for me are having to buy bread everyday, buying one gigantic water bottle to last me a week instead of a pack of twenty, and milk and orange juice being stored on the normal dry shelves (they are refrigerated after being opened). Additionally, The salad dressing here is an extremely lite vinaigrette (but it tastes better!), and there are entire aisles dedicates to yogurt and cheese. Finally, I buy most of my fruit and vegetables at the daily farmer’s market.
In general, I hate grocery shopping in both France and the United States. I just find it to be one of those mundane but necessary tasks. It is very hard for me as an American living in France to NOT buy in bulks, because I am all about convenience. However, I’m learning and adapting to this French way of life, mostly because I do not have a car, so therefore I am forced to do all of my grocery shopping on foot! However, I do appreciate France’s ongoing commitment and love for good-quality products. Food culture is definitely something I’m going to miss.