Yesterday, I made the acquaintance online of someone who’s spent a lot of time in France. He insisted that Parisian grocery stores were exactly like American ones, other than the labels being in French. Ummm, no. At least not in Paris proper.
During my two months in Paris, I rented an apartment with a nice kitchen. I went to grocery stores nearly every day in many different districts: 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th. There were a couple Monoprix that were large, but still only about half as big as a typical American grocery store. This, as best I can tell, is mostly a matter of real estate. Real estate in Paris is already built up over nearly every inch. And, of course, it’s very expensive. So, huge shops like Galleries Lafayette and the Hotel DeVille Bazar exist, but they are definitely not the norm. Also, even those stores are divided up into smaller ones. Paris is just more intimate like that. No giant Victoria’s Secret stores, tiny little lingerie stores. With amazing lingerie. But I digress; that’s another post.
Grocery stores in Paris don’t carry much produce, because Parisians get their produce at open-air markets or from tiny street vendors. They don’t carry much meat, because the French go to l’boucherie (a specialty butcher store) for that. They don’t carry much bread and zero bakery items, because the French go to l’boulangerie for that. Wine, ditto. They do tend to have quite a bit of cheese in the stores, but still less than you might find in a better American grocery store.
That’s pretty much how routine shopping in Paris goes. Everything is in a separate small store. It takes forever. Little to no English is spoken by any of the staff in grocery stores. And other mini-catastrophes await you. The credit card readers usually take several swipes, always scaring me that maybe my card had stopped working. In some stores, you have to weigh your own produce and print your own label for it, and they make horrible gestures at you if you don’t know it. Wifi is awful, so my translation app was useless. This left me at the mercy of my pocket translator, which didn’t have super specific items in it like you need for grocery stores. Just getting coffee cream was a challenge.
This same guy insisted all the grocery stores have great deli counters with tons of great sauer kraut. Again, not so much. I saw zero deli counters in Paris. I saw a few prepared foods at Carrefours Market and some packaged appetizers, etc. Perhaps this guy was in Bizarro Paris, since I can’t fathom where he was finding these huge American-style grocers. All I can say is that after visiting many, many different grocery stores all summer, most grocery stores reminded me of a 7-11. The real action is at the farmer’s markets all over town, the best of which is Bastille. Go there, buy fresh, ask for a taste … or be prepared for what I’ve listed above.
Me, I viewed grocery shopping as another adventure, much like the rest of the time I was in Paris with my limited French. When I couldn’t comprehend something, I usually just said yes, and decided whatever the outcome, I’d view it as a lovely surprise. Most of the time, it was lovely. Quite lovely. So be open. Paris has many surprises, and you’re not there to just have everything be like back home, are you?