Sunday, April 1, 2012

Food, Markets and Shopping...the French Way

Food, Markets & shopping...

So it's been a few days now since my mother went back to the States.  Life returns back to normal routine...but I have to say, I'm still figuring out what exactly that means.  I guess it's fair to say life still seems so new here and different than our life in New York.  Some things are similar but other things are definitely different.  Not only is my routine here different, but everyday errands here take on a whole new dimension.  Just take grocery or food shopping here.  It's an adventure no matter how you look at it.

I'll start first with the traditional way of French shopping - weekly markets in town.  Every town here has one day a week or often more when local vendors come into a town square to sell their wares.  These markets are not just  fruits, vegetables, meats, fish etc...but also craft artisans selling jewelry, pottery, shoes, housewares etc..  For small villages this is often the best way to pick up household linens, clothing, books and gifts.  When we would visit my in-laws in the summer - their weekly market in their village was a shopping event!  For my fellow Saratogians..imagine the Saratoga Farmers market times 10!

Now, living in Bordeaux area means we not only have the traditional fresh local markets, but we also have large grocery stores.  Grocery stores have evolved here - slowly over time getting larger and larger.  In Pessac, where I live, I have several large supermarkets to choose from - These large versions are often referred to as Giant or Hyper stores.  These would be similar to a Price Chopper, Tops, Krogers or Hannaford supermarket.  Wonderful size and nice variety of things.  But one main difference - Supermarkets here also carry clothing, shoes, & household items....Like a Target or Super-walmart but not quite as big of a selection in those areas.  Still in France, it's the place to go often for your everyday needs.    There are also seasonal items carried in grocery stores here which also help the consumer.  For example, at the holidays in the supermarket - they had huge toy selections so if you didn't have a toy store near you, on could purchase there. Presently, as it's Spring/summer - the seasonal displays are now camping, picnic supplies and patio things.  Again similar to the US, but these seasonal displays are much larger than I've seen in the States, often 2-3 aisles, not just a part of one.  Near the Bordeaux airport is a HUGE supermarket called Carrefour Planet...This supermarket has all the things above plus a large book section and large electronics/appliance section - Imagine Super-Walmart meets Best Buy!...This type of store is pretty rare and definitely extremely oversized!!  The employees even use roller skates to move about the store.  I'm not kidding!

One of the things I dreaded about moving here about grocery stores was the lines.  I had experienced these lines each summer in my in-laws grocery store and in other stores when we would go on vacation.  The French service is about taking time with the customer, not how fast you can get a customer through the line.  The cashiers scan the products but at their own pace.  Another difference here is that you bring your own bags and pack your own groceries right at the check out.  (Similar to Aldi's, BJ's or Sam's).  Everyone here buys the re-usable bags or in cities pull bag carts around to pack their groceries in.  So add together self- packing and a cashier who just takes their time with each customer, you get long lines!  Ugh - for this American, I'm not use to being patient and in the States, I was often squeezing a quick trip to the store on my way to pick up a child - so needed to be on time.

Much to my surprise, the grocery stores around me have self-scanners.  These handy devices have changed my life as regards to dealing with French grocery stores!  They are individual scanners that you pick up on the way into the store using your store loyalty card (Think Price chopper card here!).  They are hand scanners that you use to scan each item you want.  They show you the price and total your bill as you shop.  Great for budgets!  You can pack your grocery bags in your cart as you shop.  When you are done shopping, you go through a designated scanner line (often shorter and  move faster!)  The cashier just takes your scanner - asks if you had any problems and most often just gives you the total.  They do random checks every so many customers where they need to re-scan items.  This just means the cashier gets up and individually scans items until they reach a certain amount or you may have to place all your items up on the belt and they scan everything - but this is not every time.  For the most part, it's hand over the scanner and pay!  If there is an item that didn't scan, they will add it in at the register.  Love this system!    All of the large grocery stores are installing scanners and they are definitely easier!

A couple of other differences in regards to food shopping here are buying bread on almost a daily basis and of course enjoying the local Patisserie or bake shop!  Bread stores here make the most wonderful bread and as compared to US prices, it's very inexpensive.  Bread is a staple at most meals in France.  You eat it with your meal, you eat it with cheese, you clean up your plate with's just part of the meal!  Bread is most often the traditional baguette shape, but can also be round.  For most families, they find a bread store they like and buy bread there continuously.  For us, it's just down the road and we stop to buy it almost nightly!

Our other favorite thing to do when we have guests or for special meals is to buy something at the Patisserie.  These cakes, tarts, and other desserts are absolutely out of this world!

So as far as routine of food shopping it all depends on which day of the week it is...Do I go to a market or just the supermarket?...and I need to make sure I have enough time to pick up what I need.  Additionally, when I arrived here I had the challenge of finding where different items were located and what they were called in French....Early on it would take me 2 hours at the grocery store!!  I've also had to adjust my cooking here - they are many items that I can't find in France...and there are regional and National ingredients that I wouldn't find in the States..but that's for another post.  Needless to say food here is it's own culture and experience!

August 2013 - I was just re-reading this post for re-posting and thought I would add another new dimension to grocery shopping - On-line ordering and pick up.  I know this concept existed in the States, but near where I lived, it was a luxury and one paid a high cost for such thing.  Here, warehouse stores - Chronodrive and bigger super markets have installed a "drive " component.  I love using Chronodrive - it's an on-line order only store and their prices are very compatible to regular stores.  They also have weekly specials and reimbursement programs.

So it's simple, in the luxury of your own home (or even on one's smartphone - I've done that too!).  You pick your products, place your order and in about an hour and half it's ready.  You can schedule your pick up up up to 2 days after you've placed your order.  You receive an email verification. You then go to the pick up site, at the outdoor kiosk, plug in your customer number, verify your order and pay by debit or credit card.  You then drive to the indicated loading area and wait for them to bring your order out.  They bring it out, scan your receipt to verify it's the correct order and then load them into your car.  If you have ordered any fresh fruit or vegetables, they ask you to check for freshness and verify your happy before they put those items in your car.  This service is super!!  This particular company is actually very consumer friendly...I have only run into a couple snags - once an item I ordered was no longer available - they refunded the item to my account and since the item was a grouping of products - they partially replaced a couple items with substitutions at no cost.  Another time, I got home and realized I was missing a few items -(probably a bag that didn't get placed with the delivery) - some packages of yogurt.  I called them, they looked up my order and asked which items were missing and they were ready for me when I arrived later.  No questions asked.

Since I love to complain about French customer service, in this case - I will give Chronodrive an A plus!

So I hope you enjoyed reading a little about different ways to food shop in France.  A lot of what's available does depend on where one lives and what's available around you.  It also depends on the individual - there has been a lot of news lately about how overall the French population has gained weight over the years as there is more processed and prepared foods available - with the arrival of all of these big grocery stores - people are shopping at the markets less.

Around here, I see all kinds of shopping - the markets are crowded, along with the grocery stores - so I think it really comes down to individual tastes and habits.

Just some things to ponder - Have a great weekend!



  1. Can you talk about the cost of living in Bordeaux for a year? Thanks!

    1. If you would like to email me at, I would be glad to try to specifically answer some of your questions.


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