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Not so supermarché? Why we either loathe or love French supermarkets

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Not so supermarché? Why we either loathe or love French supermarkets
Photo: AFP
16:55 CET+01:00
You might not imagine French supermarkets to be a particularly divisive issue, but the subject can ignite some pretty fierce debate among lovers and loathers of Carrefour and the rest.

It appears that when it comes to French supermarkets, foreigners either seem to love them or absolutely loathe them.

For some, they’re wonderful places full of great French products and real fresh food, but for others, a visit to a French supermarket can leave them cursing into their panier (basket) or caddie (trolley).

Here’s why French supermarkets might drive you mad:

1. Anarchy in the queues

This is a common complaint given that queuing in French supermarkets can often be a chaotic affair.

Even for those used to waiting patiently in line, shopping for your dinner could be a somewhat traumatic experience in France given the average length of the supermarket queues (or is that just in Paris?).

France has only recently started to cotton on to automatic checkouts but supermarché managers seem no nearer to cottoning on to the fact that maybe they should help out at the check outs from time to time, when they see the queues begin to lengthen.

And when it comes to queuing the general attitude of 'every shopper for themselves' doesn't really help the situation.

You can have clusters, multiple lines and people just milling around in random positions with their baskets waiting for an opportunity to get to to the nearest till.

Even if a queue does form shoppers will deem it fair game to just to stroll up to the checkout from a different side.

And if you've been waiting a while and a new checkout is opened up, don't expect new queue arrivals to usher you through. In a French supermarket you have to be alert at all times. In general 'you snooze, you lose'.

2. Lack of world foods

"Surely we don't need foreign foods, we're in France!" many people say. But then many others are desperate to get their hands on some global goodies.

But as seen from the often microscopic “world food” sections of a French supermarket, the world outside of France seems to be made up of a few overpriced tortillas, some bizarre sweetened French soy sauce and a jar of suspect yellow sauce simply labelled “curry”. 

While things are changing slowly French supermarkets are still a source (or sauce) of frustration for those foreign citizens looking for something a little more exotic than jambon and fromage

And it’s not just complaining Anglos who think they’re missing out.

Simon Goodenough, director a British company that delivers food from the UK to homes in France, told the Guardian his French customers can't get enough of their tacos and curries, because they just can't get them in France.

3. Not-so-ready meals

Surely we should be celebrating the lack of ready meals in French supermarkets?

But there's always a time and place for a pre-cooked meal isn't there?

And let’s not pretend that French people don’t enjoy a little commercial convenience food. In 2014, the all-frozen goods supermarket Picard was rated France’s favourite brand.

So why is the ready meal selection in the supermarkets so, well, unappealing? Perhaps the fact many were found to contain horsemeat did not help (although the French don't tend to wretch at the idea of horsemeat like others might).

(Photo: The Local)

To the relief of many Brits in France Marks & Spencer is now filling the huge void.

4. Customer service

Service culture is a little different in France and you’ll have to get used to working harder to flag down some assistance.

Don’t expect the (admittedly way over attentive) helpers you might find in supermarkets at home leaping out from the aisles with a chirpy “can I help you?”

And if there’s a problem, it’s you and the shop assistant on your own. It’s not certain that French supermarkets actually have managers, as they are rather elusive creatures.

5. Extortionate toiletries

Stocking up your bathroom shelves in a French supermarket might leave you more out of pocket than you expected.

Razors, deodorants, shampoo, sunscreen; general grooming makes a deep dent in the supermarket grocery bill.

So much so that some foreign shoppers have taken to bulk buying in other countries and taking the products back to France.

6. Tiny stores in city centres

If you can’t get to one of the big out-of-town stores, you’re left with the “city” or “express” versions of bigger supermarkets.

Many of these, especially in Paris, are more reminiscent of rabbit burrows than a regular supermarket.

There's little room to swing a demi-baguette in most of them and the queues (did we mention them?) can often fill the entire aisle.

… But in their defence

But faithful French supermarket lovers will vehemently defend their favourite stores from these criticisms.

Let's face it, who doesn't get excited when pulling up at a cavernous L'Eclerc or Hypermarché on the way home from the beach? Or at least kids certainly did, but that was probably down the mammoth "back to school" sections in French supermarkets that made them go weak at the knees.

(AFP)

Despite the drawbacks highlighted above wheeling a trolley round the deserted isles of a French supermarket can be a soothing experience for many.

After all, in the supermarché, fruit and vegetables taste “how they’re meant to”, (rather than just tasting of water), there’s real “made in France” goods, there are cheese counters, meat counters, fish counters, yoghurt counters...  just kidding, but there are yoghurt walls and wine walls and chocolate walls to feast on.

The French also care about the environment (or at least the government does) because single-use plastic bags are also banned in French supermarkets.

So, love or loathe them – what’s your take? 

By Rose Trigg

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