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Life in Rural France

Living the French Dream….The Good, The Bad, and The Hilarious

How to survive grocery shopping in France as a British Expat

Grocery or food shopping in France compared to the UK or US is a little bit different. Whether it’s in your local SuperU or a  bigger Carrefour or LeClerc, it can be a wee bit confusing. So if you want to avoid looking like a complete tourist I have 5 quick tips to help you navigate.

What you need to know about shopping in France

Before we dive in there are a few things you should know upfront about food shopping in France. And the first is that the French generally go shopping if not every day then every other day. And there are a few reasons for this. But the first is definitely about the local produce.

Fruit and veg in a French supermarket is generally seasonal. You don’t have the array of choices you have in other countries and you won’t find things available all year around. But what you will find, or you certainly do in my local Leclerc, is the option to buy from the local farmers.

You’ll see baskets full of wonderful seasonal items that have quite literally come from the fields down the road. From green beans and carrots to pumpkins and potatoes. It’s such a lovely idea to be able to support the locals. And trust me when I say, their produce tastes ridiculously good. It’s so much fresher than anything else you can buy.

This calendar of seasonal fruit and veg in France is really handy.

The other thing is the bread. Generally it needs to be eaten the day you buy it. The French make the daily trip to the boulangerie to get their fresh baguette, boule de pain, or whatever their bread of choice is. And this in itself is just a wonderful part of French life.

I love nothing more than seeing people walking through the village with a baguette tucked under their arm. And it wouldn’t be unusual to see them nibbling the end as they walk. I mean who can blame them when they smell and taste so good.

Shops Aren't Open 24/7 in Rural France

I should also mention there are no such things as 24 hour supermarkets here. In fact, it’s not uncommon for supermarkets to close at 7.30pm and not open again until 9am the following morning. Especially here in the Charente region.

And as for Sundays this is not really a day for shopping of any type. Most shops don’t open on a Sunday, period. But some supermarkets open until 12.30pm and then that’s it till Monday. So you need to plan your grocery shopping accordingly.

Finally, don’t be surprised if you see people paying for their shopping by cheque. Yep, cheque books are still a thing here in France. I actually have one myself from Credit Agricole, my French bank. But I literally only use it to pay the wood man for our wood delivery once a year.

At all other times my French cheque book sits in a cupboard gathering dust. Just like so many other things here in my home in France.

Tip No 1 – You can’t buy painkillers in a French supermarket

As a born and bred Brit I’ve always been used to being able to get literally everything from the supermarket. And that includes my stash of nurofen, aspirin, paracetamol etc. And as I’ve also lived in Australia and the US, I know it’s the same there too.

Not the case in a French supermarket. So plan a trip to the ‘Pharmacie’ if you want to stock up on painkillers. And be prepared to queue because you can’t just pick them up off the shelf. They are over the counter only.

Tip No 2 – You usually have to weigh your own fruit and veg

In many of the supermarkets you’re required to weigh everything yourself before going to the checkout. Now this can be problematic if you don’t know the French name for the items you’ve picked up.

If you’re like me and carry an extensive shopping list with each meal for the week planned out, you’re in luck. Try writing the french word for each of the fruit and veg on your list before setting off. Write them down next to the English word and you’ll be all set.

Now like I said not all supermarkets require you to do this. For example, in my local SuperU in Mansle they do it for you. But in pretty much every other supermarket I’ve ever been to you have to do it yourself. Look out for the little weighing machines in the fruit & veg areas. There are usually a few of them dotted around in the general fruit and veg area.

Oh, and don’t forget to check if the price is per item or per kilo. I’ve been caught out like this before with kiwis. Often they are priced per kiwi so don’t need to be weighed. If that’s the case you’ll see something like ‘à prix unitaires’ next to the price.

Trust me there’s nothing worse than standing at the weighing machine trying to find something that just isn’t there. You feel like a right idiot and you’ll likely start to flap.

Tip 3 – Refrigerated milk isn’t popular in France

The French buy UHT milk and it’s found on the shelves along with other grocery items. Not in the refrigerated section. So if you’re looking for the huge array of milk options you see in ASDA, you’ll be disappointed.

As someone who always bought skimmed red milk in the UK I’ve had to make a change to ‘demi-écrémé’ in France (semi-skimmed). For reference, it’s usually a blue top. Red top here is ‘entier’ and that’s whole milk. There is no skimmed option.

Tip 4 – Be prepared for the question “La carte du magasin?”

Every cashier will ask you this question as standard. Do you have a loyalty card? A simple ‘oui’ or ‘non’ will suffice here. But in all honesty, if you’re starting the adventure that is living in France, then it’s definitely worth getting one.

My purse is full of them. From the cardboard loyalty cards for the English Fish & Chip van to the plastic variety issued by SuperU, Laclerc and Carrefour.

The latter will sometimes give you discounts on the spot but more often it’s likely to be an accumulation of points. A bit like a Boots Advantage card.

Tip 5 – A 6 pack isn’t sold only as a 6 pack

This one had me stumped for quite a while when I first moved to France. In fact, it actually used to really wind me up. I’d see people ripping open a 6 pack of coke, taking one bottle, and walking off.

Why would you do that? Why not just take the 6 bottles? Or take one bottle from the stacks of single bottles sitting there waiting to be picked up. It was absolutely beyond me, and still is if I’m honest. I just don’t get it.

I’m always reminded of that scene from Father of the Bride where Steve Martin’s character goes into a supermarket and breaks open a packet of hotdog buns. He then completely loses it at the shop assistant because he only wanted eight buns not the twelve that came in the packet.

I guess it made sense to his character in the same way it makes sense to the French.

Bonus Tip – Get your veg at the local food market

Food markets are a way of life here in France. And in the Charente we have an abundance of them. The produce is usually local and just the experience itself is worth it. I’d always pick the food market over the supermarket any day of the week.

One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning is to go to my local food market in Verteuil. With a view of the fairytale chateau it’s like being in a French fantasy dreamworld. The market is held in the square till around 1pm. I get my cheese and pate fix, visit the Brit shop for my English treats, and do the rounds of the fruit and veg stalls. After it’s a glass of rose in the square enjoying the sun and surroundings.

So there you have it, my five top tips for surviving the French supermarket and a bonus tip thrown in for good measure.

“Fun fact. I bet you didn’t know that the most popular colour of toilet paper in France is pink.”

Kylie Lang

A little piece of completely useless French trivia to keep life interesting.

As always I’d love to hear about your escapades with life in France and how you navigate each and every little adventure. The good, the bad, and the absolutely hilarious.

À bientôt et merci beaucoup

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