Grocery store hate.

After nearly a year of living here, I have quickly learned that France is a place of many contradictions. It’s a land where stunning beauty nearly knocks your socks off at every corner, but also where dog poo threatens at every turn. Where one can fathomably subsist on cheese, pastries and wine and still not gain a pound. Where people will not hesitate for one second to mount a fierce strike or protest against even the smallest infringement, but only if it doesn’t interfere with les vacances.

But I’ve found these contradictions in national character to be no more prominent than in the grocery store aisles. Where else in the world can you find more than 200 kinds of cheese and 20 varieties of cream, but not one single can of beans? No beans, people! Not dried, not canned, not anywhere to be found. Only lentils. Man do these people love their lentils. But any other bean? N’existe pas.

Now, I can fully understand when I go in search of Worcestershire sauce or instant oatmeal or canned pumpkin and come up empty handed. Those are weird American things. But beans? Aren’t they an international magical fruit? It’s ludicrous. And it just further confirms my love/hate relationship with the supermarché.

You see, I try to shop at the open air markets as much as possible. They’re wonderful. Spectacular. A regular cornucopia of fresh goods. But it also means you have to speak French to lots of different people, explaining what you want, when you want to eat it, how you were thinking of cooking it. And you have to plan really well, because the markets are only open certain days, for certain hours.

Sometimes you just want the old isolating American shopping experience, where you don’t have to interact with anyone and you can go at whatever time you want (well, almost). Other times you just really need toilet paper and diet coke, so a trip to the grocery store is a necessary evil.

I say evil because the grocery stores (in Paris at least) all seem to give off a communist Russia vibe. They smell bad. They’re not particularly well stocked. The isles are cramped and full of old ladies who won’t hesitate to run over your toes to get the last jug of milk. They haven’t yet caught on to the idea that if you make the food look nicer, people will want to buy more of it. And in mine, if you want to buy toilet paper, you have to go up three floors from the food level, where it’s stashed in between children’s toys and office supplies.

Many an afternoon I stumble across the most perfect sounding recipe ever, only to find out that the MonoPrix is out of flour and cannellini beans are considered an exotic legume. It’s super frustrating, and further supports my theory that the French government is secretly giving everyone crappy ovens and smelly grocery stores to bolster the restaurant industry. Which, now that I think of it, is pretty brilliant. And totally fine by me.


Add Yours
  1. Shelley

    beans. I’ve actually resorted to buying them dried at the Lebanese store and cooking them in a pot. And then storing them in the fridge. I’ve got a container of kidney beans in the fridge right now. I must admit to using Monoprix less and less (except for wine). I’m 50% Dia and 25% Lebanese/ethic store and 25% farmers market.

    • jfwillson

      I don’t know why I thought they would have cannellini beans. They never have beans. False hopes! What’s Dia? And I guess I need to start making trips to ethnic groceries to stock up on stuff.

      • Shelley

        Dia is our version of Ed. And just to note, I was in Bon Marché today, and saw canned kidney beans – red and white – and these can be yours for only 83 c each. I didn’t manage to buy anything cheap, myself, i only ever manage to spend 80 euros in there and never on anything reasonable… ~ me

  2. Andrew

    Jesus, do you live right by Place du Terne? This sounds just like the pains I went through the three years I lived in Paris…ESPECIALLY the TP part. At least you get non-pasteurized cheeses!

Leave a Reply to Vocab Friday: Un rêve « Unlikely Diplomat Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s