My French Supermarket

Photo on 2013-07-05 at 06.59

Here is a map I drew of my Carrefour supermarket. The one that has random American products and where the stunning checkout girl came out to me. Because our apartment has only a dorm-sized fridge with no shelves inside, I am forced to go here at least every other day.

It is full of nooks and crannies, and the shelves (broken red lines) are arranged to ensure that you can’t see anything until you’re right on top of it. And of course, all the outer walls are lined with shelves as well. The empty space in the back is where they keep unrefrigerated eggs and beer, because why not have the most breakable items next to where drunk students and dogs-on-a-string people are bobbing and weaving their way towards 49-cent warm beer?

I’m fairly obsessed with this market, and anyone who comes to visit me is taken on a tour of it. It reminds me of the D’Agostino’s that used to be on University Place between 10th and 11th in Manhattan back in the day. My dad has worked in supermarkets pretty much my entire life, and they’ve always been big box store with ample parking; a cramped market in the bottom of an apartment building was a revelation to me. Also, because I’d never had to shop for my own food – my dad would bring home whatever we needed every day – it was the first time I was in a market to actually shop. I loved having the freedom to check out every single item, which is still something I enjoy doing whenever I’m in a new market.

So yesterday I go into this Carrefour for dinner stuff, and half the inventory is in shopping carts in the aisles; the rest is clearly in the midst of being put back on the shelves, albeit in completely different places. Which means that every single person in there had to walk up and down every single aisle in order to find what they wanted. Sayeed, the manager who knows everyone and never seems not to be there, fielded questions from people the entire time.

Cal sometimes heads out in the afternoon to the pub up the street from the market to read a book, and Sayeed will pass by during his break. Cal buys him a beer, they chat, and then Sayeed goes back to work.

Sayeed makes a guy do the floors with a Zamboni-looking machine around 4pm every day, which is a pretty empty time in the market but is ideal for me. This guy hates me because I’m always trampling over his pristine floors and turning up an aisle that he’s taking up all the space in. The floors are matte black stone, because why not.

In the mornings, when I sometimes go because the cleaning lady needs something, the market is completely taken over by old people. The only checkout is handled masterfully by a middle-aged lady who wears low-cut sequined sweaters and disco ball earrings and looks like Tweety Bird. She chats with all of them as they fumble in their change holders and hold up each coin to see its denomination. I don’t know how she has the patience for it, but nothing ever seems to faze her. I, being a mere 42, am invisible to her; she scans my items and slides them down to me and chats with the old person behind me the entire time.

There is exactly zero point to this post, except that I wanted you to know about the market where I shop.

15 thoughts on “My French Supermarket

  1. Hey cool post! Why go to a big supermarket when there are so many wonderful small shops that are charming and have amazing products? And shopping EVERY day with these friendly talented people is fun and part of the whole French (and European) way. It is a shame that we ruined that culture in North America and now it is only for the rich. Let’s support the French small shop keepers and keep the culture alive! Maybe even help bring it back to North America because it is so fun!

    • Peter, I do in fact shop at the smaller mom-and-pop stores and the open markets, all the time – you can’t beat ’em! But I also need kitchen staples nearly every day as well (cat food, toilet paper, pasta, etc.), and sometimes I don’t have the time to schlep all around town to 15 stores, and so to the Carrefour I go. It’s a fact of daily life, even for Europeans.

      • Hey I agree not to schlep around to get staples – we go to get these things once a month. I think selling anything else (like food) at these big stores should be illegal. Ruins the culture and allows marketers to target us with crap dressed up as healthy. The europeans are beginning to fall prey to the same thing that happened to us in NA. It’s sad and unhealthy. And We arent saving any money. And if you combine your food shopping with markets and small small shops located next to wonderful cafes or other wonderful treasures that small european towns offer, it isn’t schlepping. If we don’t speak up, no one will. And the little shops will continue to disappear. And they will find themselves with empty beautiful ancient buildings and ugly square boxes on 8 lane highways with smog everywhere. Oh and some small shops for rich people. And big healthcare bills from the chemicals. And big houses that are full of creature comforts instead of vibrant small towns which are the living rooms of europe. Watch out. There is no “cake-and-eat-it-too” in this world. And if influential people like you don;t realize that while extolling the virtues of what is beautiful about Europe, no one will. And check the price (and the taste) of apple juice in France. One ingredient. In glass jars. Made local. Creates jobs and the farmer can live a decent life. In North America? Same price. But tastes like shit, full of chemicals and ingredients I can’t produce and imported juice from offshore, bottled in plastic. Why is it the same price? They spend their money on advertising to you that it is “natural” instead of on the people who grow the apples with love and who are their neighbours. I have watched the culture begin to deteriorate here based on NA influence. Someone has to speak up. End rant. Sorry!

        • I know exactly what kind of influence I have, and I extol my butt off. And you can’t go five pages back in any “life in France” blog without a post about winsome farmers’ markets and fresh, seasonal foods and how much better everything is here blah blah blah. I wanted to write about an aspect of my day, and thought something that Americans also experience, told from another perspective, would be an interesting subject. I’m sorry you’re upset about the state of nutritional affairs in the world, but this is not the venue for that discussion, and I am not the person to helm that ship.

          • Thank you for the note. And I will respect your position. I just can’t help to see the irony of loving these aspects of the culture – writing about them – then not supporting them because you are too busy. I think it is everyone’s job to do their part and get the balance right and make this a better world.

            • As I said in our exchange, I do shop in local/artisanal/adorable shops almost every day, right along with my supermarket. But when I’m working 10-14 hours a day and the farmers’ markets shut at noon and the other shops I frequent take three-hour breaks in the middle of the day and close early and have random days off, then yes, if I want to eat, some days I have to go to the big bad supermarket.

              Today, I chose to write about my supermarket. Which, if you read carefully and noticed that my father has worked at one for over 40 years, has literally put food on my table for my entire life, clothes on my back, and gave me a college education.

              But that’s neither here nor there; what I don’t think you realize is that writing about one thing does not mean every other aspect of that thing is absent or untrue. While I fully appreciate your passion for a subject in which I am also keenly interested, I do not appreciate being made to feel like I’m responsible for the downfall of Europe because I’m trying my best to make my daily life work. You have no idea how I shop, and even when in a supermarket, how I choose the items I purchase. Perhaps if you’d like to get more people to join your cause, you could think about your tactics, ask questions first, and get to know the whole story.

              After so many months of writing so much each day for clients that I was simply too tired mentally to write for myself, and so happy to be inspired to write just for the sake and the pleasure of writing, to be attacked by someone who has no idea what my daily life is like is an affront.

  2. Peter Schwartz- before lecturing a person, you might want to consider doing some legwork first. If you read even just a handful of Miss Expatria’s posts it would’ve been abundantly clear that she is the last person you should be unleashing this tirade on.
    just sayin’…

  3. My apologies to all. I should have in fact done a little more research and not have been in a “tirade”. You are right. I admit, my level of frustration with the impact of big business on small artisans who cannot make a living has reached a fever point. I am looking for support from anywhere I can get it as it is epidemic. And if you are traveling to France you will see a marked difference just in the last five years. Especially for those of us that enjoy the charm and quality of small shopkeepers, we need to lead the charge and when I first read this article I felt that even in context, it was promoting the large grocery store format which has really changed the culture in France. We don’t need to get rid of them, I just wish they weren’t cherished and encouraged like they have been. And it really is convenient to buy all groceries at small shops if we take the time to explain to audiences where they are and how awesome it is. Instead, a lot of North Americans head straight to the supermarkets and that has been a huge catalyst for the cultural shift. I apologize again for choosing this as a forum and hope you at least understand the motivations behind my inappropriate tone and delivery.

    • I appreciate your thoughtful reply, Peter. Hopefully you can find the balance for yourself and those close to you!

  4. The post is exactly the point. I too make a point of going into the places where people find their food. It is a holiday ritual for any and all vacations, which no one seems to see the point of, except for me. And my mother. And I think, you. What a fine view into the world.

  5. Another thoughtful reply- When you have a passion you should go for it. Start your own website and blog…that is exactlly what Miss Expatria did and all of her followers appreciate what she has allowed us to see about France and Italy from an on the ground, first hand experiece by someone who truly loves and appreciates all that she has found there. She is a generous, passionate soul who has chosen to share all that she loves. So rare. So beautiful.

    Peter, you have a passion. You should follow it. Start your own blog or website and surround yourself with those who love to follow every word you say. When you do, you will see how inappropriate it is when someone tries to undermind and scorn your passion and love when they don’t know about you, take the time to read all you have freely given to all those who chose to listen and appreciate who you are and what you do.. I appreciate seeing the apology although even in that attempt, your passion continued to be inserted and justified. In the future, I do hope you feel free to move on instead of commenting on people’s website’s and blogs. Think of it as TV. If you don’t like what is being said or the story the artist is sharing for you, change the channel. Please don’t ruin the story for everyone else.

  6. This is so wonderful. I love European markets, the tall and the small. Supermarkets and mom-and-pop stores. I love the beautiful packaging and the teeny-tiny boxes – a full-sized box of corn flakes that my husband would likely eat in one sitting, but is meant to serve a family. I love looking at labels and trying to figure out what’s in this tube – goat livers? Horseradish? Toothpaste? I love that if I go into a tiny store late in the day, there is likely to be one onion, two different loaves of bread (one of which looks bent), a package of rice, six small bottles of random pasta sauces, and sixteen customers lined up with two or three items each,

    I reflect that if this was in the US, people would be screeching about their inalienable right to fourteen kinds of bread and demanding to see the manager. Instead, I buy a tube of what I hope is horseradish, a thick slice of pate, the least-damaged loaf of bread, and know that this is going to be an amazing dinner.

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