Shopping in France is a wonderful adventure for the uninitiated, particularly if the visitor is from a country that actually has a culture of customer service. (see “Vive le French customer” posted 22 August, 2011). The French tend to associate “service” with “servitude” which they consider demeaning, and as the entire population of 66 million actually participated in the French revolution (1787-1799), they feel that they have earned the right to not serve anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Author: J.P. Coulpier; PD-US; via Wikimedia Commons

This does make retail shopping in France somewhat unique, and it is important that tourists undertake this activity well-armed and knowledgeable beforehand. To facilitate surviving this particular excursion, I have stolen some pages from the “French Training Manual for Retail Shop Assistants”, and have translated these instructions into English, published here for the first time outside the secretive and hallowed halls of the “Secret Order Divine of French Factotums” (SOD-OFF).

Understanding these will help you to understand the whole shopping experience in France.


SOD-OFF rules for those employed in the Retail Industry (pages 1&2 of 200)

1. If you are faced with the challenge of someone entering the store where you are employed as a shop assistant, it is critical to remember that the first answer to any question is “no”. Even if the question is as non-aggressive as “I see that you have underwear displayed in your window, can I have a look around your store?” Only if they do not leave immediately, and persist in asking more questions, should you change your answers to “maybe”. The only time you should ever answer “yes” is to the question “Would you prefer me to leave?” Under no circumstances should you ever ask any questions such as “Can I help you?”, although if they are a regular customer you are permitted to say “hello” when they first enter.

Author: Discoverretail; via Wikimedia Commons

2. You should openly display only a minimal amount of what you actually have available for sale, as this will deter people from spending too much time in your store. Most of your goods must be kept in a cluttered back-room, where everything is stored at random. This will ensure a high probability of people in the store running out of vacation time while waiting, as you continue to rummage through the piles pretending to look for something that you know does not exist, and hence them rushing out to get to the airport in time.

3. If the customer is still at the counter when you resurface from the back room, the chances are that they live locally and are just on a cigarette break from their own job and hence have all the time in the world. If they ask you to order something in for them, acquiesce grudgingly, but make them write down all the details of their request themselves, in your book for “New Orders – Wanted Any Year” (NO WAY). Wait for a minimum of 5 weeks and then call them to say that the warehouse has advised that this particular product/style/size/colour is not being manufactured any more. Try not to giggle hysterically when delivering this news.

4. Ensure that any bags that you have available for customers to use are always smaller than your smallest item for sale, so that nothing will ever fit in them. This will save you a large amount of expense by not having to give away a bag with every purchase, and will provide you with a chance to rearrange these bags whenever a potential customer enters the store, ensuring that they have to wait for you to finish this critical task and establishing that they play no importance in your priority list.

Author: Paul Robinson; via Wikimedia Commons

5. It is critical that you only load the credit card payment machine with extremely small rolls of paper (ideally just enough for 2 or 3 payments only). This will mean that you can regularly stop the need to deal with a customer desperately trying to give you some money, and hence provide you with a living, but who is diminishing the valuable time that you need to artistically arrange things in the store, such as the bags (see 4 above) or the 6 thongs hanging from the artificial cactus display in centre-store (see 2 above).

Author: Rojypala at ml.wikipedia; via Wikimedia Commons

6. You must learn the etiquette involved in the use of the in-store telephone system. SOD-OFF runs regular 3 day live-in courses in phone usage, now fully paid for by the Socialist Government. The basics are as follows:
– Friends are allowed to call you at work any time during work hours but no calls should exceed more than 30 minutes, and you should limit your personal calls to no more than 10 per day. This limit can only be exceeded on the first day of the work week whether this be Monday (most stores usually closed for Recovery Day) or Tuesday, when there is a lot to discuss about what you did over the weekend.
– Calls involving customer queries always take priority over customers actually in the store, particularly if they involve you having to spend time in the back store room.
– When involved in an interesting or complex conversation you may ask all the other shop assistants to leave their customers and join you in the discussion to ensure that you do not have to repeat the story to them afterwards.

7. You should close the store exactly at noon every day for 2 hours to ensure that you can have a nutritious and rejuvenating lunch break with at least 4 cigarettes. This lunch closure rule is mandatory even if you are working in a takeaway lunch bar. If people want to eat lunch they must learn to plan ahead and buy their food before the lunch break, otherwise they could be denying another citizen from needed nourishment.

8. Trust no-one, as tourists are notorious shoplifters. As well as all items having electronic tags (always placed where removal will create the most damage), with an alarm system at the exits, you should also carry out searches of all bags as well as conducting random full body frisking. Cavity searches however can only be used in stores handling high-cost but small items.


Just remember that if you find retail therapy in France less than soothing, the Guillotine is the only true French chopping centre.

via Wikimedia Commons: PD-US



  1. Lyn Maltus says:

    Although giggling over my cornflakes whilst reading your blog, I only had to think back to Saturday and my interminable wait in the queue at a local sports shop where one till was broken and the cashier on the other had gone for her cigarette break, leaving one till open for all the back-to -school shoppers who were foolish enough to attempt to purchase necessary items that day. However, having lived here for 20 years, I stood meekly with the rest of them and waited my turn! Note to self – need to re-ignite queue rage.

    • leshayman says:

      Lynn, the Socialist government also have started 3 day live-in “Ignite the rage” courses, but I think that the rage being taught is directed against the rich, as Francois Hollande has publicly stated “I hate the rich” and therefore wants everyone else to do so in support. Les

  2. Massimo says:

    Very funny as usual. I gather you have been having some issue with your shopping recently!
    Retail is an interesting business and every country has got some specific behaviours of shop personnel that can’t be annoying but sometimes very entertaining. How many times you enter a shop and you see suddenly people looking elsewhere, being busy cleaning props, hiding behind a till? In other countries, and I know Les you are not a fan of the hi five yankee spirit, this actually translate into service. I find shopping experience in some US stores incredibly better compared to the misery you go through somewhere in Europe. France comes from years of strong trade unions and protection, it is difficult to incentivise individual productivity, manage performance and get rid of your worst employees easily without going to the employee tribunal, this means that if you have some good initiative you loose it as this does not get recognised. This clearly shows in your examples where people generally try to do the less possible. However the issue with incentive systems shows also in Germany where you can’t have individual commission but only team commission, so what happens when you have a low performer in your team and can’t get rid of him/her right away? You start working less, why bother after all…It is not just France you can have shocking shopping experiences in many places and depending on the culture of a specific business this can vary to some extent within the same country…this is retail…!

  3. Massimo says:

    Hi 5!

  4. Ellen de Lenclos says:

    Absolutely hilarious!! Unfortunately true!

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