The Shopping Experience
Shopping is easy in France, even the smallest village will have a Boulangerie or Patisserie (Bread/Cake Shop) Boucherie (Butcher's Shop) Charcuterie (Cooked meat/Delicatessen) and L'épicerie - grocery shop.
If you don't speak the language, please don't worry - we have always found that the shopkeepers are very patient and understanding - after all they want to make a sale don't they?!
However, if the language difficulties do worry you then there are many large supermarkets and Hypermarkets around and these are well signposted from most towns and villages. Watch out for Leclerc, Les Mousquetaires, Intermarche, Auchan, Carrefour, Continent and Casino to name but a few. You can shop in these without having to use more than a Merci (Thank you). You will recognise virtually all the food stuffs on display and if you don't see the brand you are used to at home then the picture on the packet will give you an idea what's inside.
Shopping trolleys (les chariots) are not free in French supermarkets either but they use they same systems and in most UK supermarkets and are operated with a coin.
Of course, if you don't have the right coin or are only making a few purchases, there are baskets (les panniers) inside the entrance which are free, just like in our supermarkets.
Don't expect to have carrier bags at the checkout for your shopping. The French rarely have them and use reuseable bags. Much better for the environment. Did you know that plastic carrier bags take 400 years to rot?!
"An amazing assortment of breads and shellfish to choose from"
You will find that French supermarkets carry basically the same assortment of tinned foods, cereals, paper products, cleaning supplies, soft drinks etc. The tinned foods are geared toward French tastes, so in addition to peas and carrots, you may also find cassoulet in a tin!
A lot of UK supermarkets seem to have adopted the French way of using scales to weigh your purchases so you shouldn’t have any problems here - the scale has pictures of all the different vegetables, which are sold by weight. You hit the appropriate picture, and viola, the scale spits out the price.
One commodity that seems a little rare in a French supermarket (although we have noticed it becoming a little more easy to find now) is Fresh milk, the French seem to prefer long-life, pasteurised milk which is usually sold in 1 litre boxes, similar to those used for fruit juice, and is not kept under refrigeration but just out on the open shelves. Personally we don’t like the taste of this milk and will try to order milk on the campsite as they usually try to supply the needs of British campers. It pays to know a little French when shopping for milk: lait entire is whole milk; lait demi-écrémé is the equivalent of semi-skimmed; and lait écrémé is the equivalent of skimmed milk. Beware too of buying Creme Anglaise thinking this might be English cream - it’s custard!
The meat counter can be an eye-opener. In France, you will often encounter types and cuts of meat that you don’t usually find in the average British supermarket. For example, it is not uncommon to find horse (cheval), bull (taureau), rabbit (lapin) and far more common than in the UK, duck (canard)
The fresh fish counter will have much of what you find in the UK along with eels, crayfish, live crabs, lobsters and many other types of shellfish.
French supermarkets do sell health and beauty items such as toothpaste, soap, shampoo and the like, but they do not sell aspirin or cold remedies. For those items, you must go to la pharmacie (Chemist)
French supermarkets also have frozen food sections, which carry the usual assortment of ice cream, vegetables and prepared meals
As far as payment is concerned, you can pay cash, debit or credit card. (It is worth checking with your bank before you leave to ensure that your card will work abroad). All the supermarkets we have visited seem to accept credit/debit card payments without a problem and our Chip & Pin works fine. In some of the larger shops the Chip & Pin machine could register that your card was English and the instructions came up in English but even if they don't it's easy to guess - retirez la carte = remove card etc. Don't worry if you don't know your numbers in French -- most supermarket cash registers have display screens that shoppers can easily read just like here. You can also pay for your fuel with credit/debit card too at most major supermarkets. We always carry some Euro's too just so that if there was a problem we could pay for our purchases quite easily - thus avoiding any distress.
"Olives, pickles, jams and preserves - you name it they have it.
Plus freshly cooked Pizza"
For those who are ready to tackle something a bit more advanced than basic supermarket shopping, a trip to the hypermarché, sometimes these are so big that the employees make their way around the store on roller-skates! Think of a hypermarché as an electrical store, a furniture store, a clothing store, a garden centre, a general merchandise store, a car spares shop, and a supermarket all rolled into one.
When visiting gift shops (cadeaux) if you are asked if the present is a gift (un cadeaux?) you will find that the gift is wrapped up beautifully, with ribbons and bows, even for the smallest and cheapest purchases
Take time to visit the outdoor markets too, most towns and villages will have a market day each week sometimes more than one, there is always plenty to see even if you don’t buy anything, they are delightful and offer far more than the usual fruit and veg you can get clothes, vast choices of cheese, cold and cooked meats, paella, unusual knick knacks, jewellery, even live chickens and rabbits if you so desire! Plus many other things to numerous to mention.
Look out too for the flea markets where the traders will sell secondhand goods and antiques, great for browsing round and picking up an unusual item at a bargain price.