VIVE LE FRENCH SUPERMARKET
April 11, 2011 4 Comments
For visitors to France it can be quite exciting to visit a French supermarket, not because you will find anything different on the shelves than you would find in East Cheam or Footscray for example, but because everything will be in a foreign language, in a different and confusing layout and because shopping behaviour varies wherever you go.
Globalisation has ensured that we can buy the same can of peeled tomatoes in every supermarket in the world and the difference between “tomato” and “tomate” would only fool the most dim-witted of travellers. What is different in every country is the etiquette involved once you are inside, as this does vary considerably as you cross national boundaries, and France has some unique elements of supermarket etiquette that are worth knowing. Here are some that I have found critical to understand.
1. In villages in the French countryside, the correct dress for a supermarket visit is shapeless smocks for women and bright blue overalls for men.
Berets are not mandatory but appreciated. It also helps if the smocks and overalls have never been washed since purchased a decade earlier, and carry evidence of all meals in that time.
2. Never brush your teeth or wear deodorant when going to the supermarket, but ensure that you stop a lot of people and ask directions to the cheese counter.
The French love visitors who have immersed themselves in the local culture and statistics show that the average French villager uses only one tube of toothpaste and two bars of soap annually.
3. Disregard signs that say that the special checkout lane is only for people with less than 10 articles, as this is just intended to keep out foreigners who believe what is written on signs.
There is no limit for locals, particularly those who are buying the monthly supplies for their entire village, and can’t actually see over the top of their laden trolley.
4. Always cut out all the discount vouchers in the junk mail in letterboxes that you have come across in your travels, and present all these to the checkout clerk even if they have no relevance to what you have purchased or the store that you are in at the time.
It will be easier for the checkout clerk to sort through them and hand back those that are not to her liking. Keep these for future visits.
5. Never accept that your discount vouchers are out of date.
The dates are just there to test your resolve, so you should dispute all that are rejected for being past their use by date. You should use the argument that they keep selling things that are past their use by date so why should they not accept discount vouchers that are past theirs.
6. Supermarkets prefer payment is small coins rather than notes, credit cards or cheques.
The French Government has decided that this will increase numeracy skills as you stand at the checkout and count out all your small coins. If you lose count, don’t feel bad about the queue which has built up behind you, just shrug your shoulders in the French way and start again. You will find that people behind you will offer advice in loud voices but this is just the locals encouraging you to keep improving your counting skills, so take your time and get it right.
7. Make sure that you sign up for all supermarket loyalty cards (Carte de Fidelite) as these ensure great benefits for regular customers, and you will be given a diverse choice of rewards as thanks for your purchases.
These can include a 1 kilometre credit on any SNCF French rail trip for every € 1000 spent, or inclusion in a nationwide weekly raffle draw for a set of 6 steak knives with a serrated edge that will never need sharpening (even with French steak).
8. The speed limit in French supermarket car parks is 100 kilometres per hour and, as this is strictly policed, this limit should be observed at all times, and should only be exceeded when in active competition for the same car space with another serious contender. You may also disregard all the one way direction arrows painted on the ground.
9. The way to shop and check-out in France is changing.
The traditional method of collecting all your goods and proceeding to the checkout counter in one movement has been dying out. The new method in this electronic age is to collect half your required items and proceed to the checkout counter. Once the checkout clerk starts scanning your purchases, you are now free to make numerous forays back into the shelves for the other half of the items on your shopping list. This method is called multi-tasking and you will be admired by other customers for your modern ways.
10. There are many small supermarkets in the French countryside called “8 a huit”.
This name would suggest that they are open from 8.00 am-8.00 pm providing 12 hours of continuous daily service to the public. The reality is that the name has actually nothing at all to do with opening times, but is a reference to 7.52 pm when the owner will go to bed. Deducting lunch times, coffee breaks, closure for phone calls, running out of stock, family visits and the need to watch all interesting TV programmes they will be open roughly 12 hours in any week, but when and for how long is always at the discretion of the owner.
You should also remember that the person in front of you at the check-out counter will have all the delicacies that you couldn’t find and those that you didn’t even know that the supermarket carried. Offer to help them unload their trolley, and just surreptitiously slip anything that looks good into your own.