petite anglaise

November 15, 2004

unhappy shopper

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:44 pm

I did most of my Christmas shopping in the UK this weekend.

This has less to do with the fact that I am arguably the most organised lady in the Northern Hemisphere, and more to do with yuletide hazards such as overshooting airline baggage allowances and dislocating shoulders. I am thoroughly fed up with only being able to buy lightweight, non-breakable presents for my family and then having to cart them across the Channel for our Christmas visit to Yorkshire. This weekend for a four day stay in the UK with Tadpole (but sans Frog) the unwieldy bag weighed in at a healthy 15 kilos. As usual, I only had a couple of changes of underwear, the rest belonging to Tadpole. Steering the pushchair with one hand upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport, we then proceeded to do 2 laps around circular terminal 1 (one clockwise lap inside the baggage hall, followed by an anti-clockwise lap outside to reach the taxi ranks) during which I could feel my right shoulder straining to leap out of its socket.

A mound of presents is currently residing (wrapped and labelled, so I don’t forget which is which) at the parental home. But certain aspects of Christmas shopping in the UK made the experience rather less pleasurable than I had hoped.

Firstly, in a trend which seems to be worsening every year, the high street shops have given over the lion’s share of their floorspace to ‘Christmas tat’: arrays of shiny, nasty looking gift boxes, with a pink aisle for the ladies and a black/silver/navy aisle for the gentlemen. You would have to be so uninspired to buy one of these items: everything screams ‘I don’t know you/like you very much/give a toss and I have no imagination.’ But, irritatingly, these offending items were of course occupying the very floorspace where the very thing I was looking for should have been. And was no longer as it has clearly gone into temporary hibernation. Grrr.

In the unlikely event that I did manage to find what I was looking for, I then had trouble paying for it. The UK has finally got around to introducing a chip and pin system, in an attempt to curb credit card fraud. My French (debit) cards all have chips on them (in French such a card is called a carte à puce, as puce means ‘flea’ and ‘dearest’ but also ‘microchip’) and I can’t remember a time since I’ve lived here when this system was not in operation.

But here’s the snag: the UK chip readers don’t read French cards. So inevitably in every shop, the assistant would:

1. try to read the chip with the spanking new card reader
2. get an error message
3. look very puzzled*
4. try again
5. scratch his/her head
6. (optional) ask for another (French) card
before 7. eventually swiping the first card successfully in the old style reader and obtaining my signature.

Explaining that I had encountered the same problem five minutes earlier on a different floor of the very same shop did not speed up the process at all. Instead of proceeding directly to step 7, they just continued to perform the same elaborate ritual. On one instance my card did not function at all and I was obliged to go to the nearest cashpoint and withdraw cash (which of course my French bank will enjoy charging me extra for). In the face of such adversity I had to be very motivated indeed to complete my shopping marathon undeterred. Which is where all the junk food snacks listed in the ‘post’ below came in handy.

The remainder of my Christmas shopping will take place in classy Parisian shops with a backdrop of a bare minimum of tacky Christmas displays and a free gift wrapping service. Vive la France!

Now all I have to do is work out a cunning strategy for transporting all the Christmas presents we will receive in the UK from our extended family (mostly large toys for Tadpole) back to France again. We have a 50 kilo baggage allowance between us and are staying for a week.

Something tells me I will have to make a noble sacrifice and manage without a change of underwear…


  1. did you go past the smelly cheese shop in CDG 1 on one of your laps?

    Comment by Lauren — November 15, 2004 @ 1:27 pm

  2. you can smell that shop for miles around can’t you? Always makes me want to uncork a glass of red…

    Comment by petite — November 15, 2004 @ 2:48 pm

  3. p a

    You want to try that Interweb thingy for all your Christmas shopping needs. What they don’t sell between Amazon, La Senza and The Gadget Shop isn’t worth having.

    Alternatively, they must have an ‘English Connection’ in Paris. Go there.

    Yours festively,

    Comment by backroads — November 15, 2004 @ 4:13 pm

  4. Christmas Shopping here in the UK does indeed get more depressing each year and the tat quotient does also seem to be increasing. Just to top it some shops had decorations out before the end of September just to get us in the scrooge mood. Hopefully i’ll only panic in mid December if agent provocateur, amazon, fortum’s and few other top shopping sites fail to come through. Still I’ll be out there at least a few Saturday’s before Christmas wondering what to get for my aunt and cousin battling, queuing, bumping and jostling before quietly retiring to a pub to rest up before a cab to the station and then home.

    Comment by sp999 — November 15, 2004 @ 5:36 pm

  5. you could always handwash yer knickers …

    just a thought.

    Comment by zed — November 15, 2004 @ 8:40 pm

  6. More of a matalan man myself. Do tesco deliver to paris?

    Comment by Tim — November 15, 2004 @ 10:46 pm

  7. Last year, I managed to do 90% of my shopping through the Internet. I had all of the gifts shipped directly to my Mom’s home, so that I did not have to worry about carrying it through several security check points. In the United States (aka police state), you can not take wrapped presents through security. If your presents are wrapped, they will make you unwrap each and every one of them. I can promise you that you will only make that mistake once, like I did.

    The only hazard with shopping through the Internet is whether or not your gifts arrive. On Christmas morning (or evening depending on your tradition) no one wants to hear, “Oh, I’m sorry that you don’t have a present under the tree. It is on “back order” and you should be receiving it in 6-8 weeks.”

    Comment by Jason Stone — November 16, 2004 @ 9:52 am

  8. You could post your knickers ahead of you.

    Shop assistants never listen to me when there’s a problem and I can explain what’s gone wrong because it’s happened before. Treating the customers like idiots seems to be pre-programmed into them.

    Comment by Claire — November 16, 2004 @ 11:48 am

  9. I’ve only been to CDG once, and I spent most of the time there wandering around in circles looking for the taxi rank. I was on the wrong level…

    Comment by witho — November 16, 2004 @ 11:50 am

  10. Claire – I’m sure I read about a starlet who sends her pants by DHL because she can’t bear the idea of customs searching her baggage and seeing her smalls. And now I can’t remember which celeb dirtmag I read it in or who it was? Kate Winslet maybe?

    Comment by petite — November 16, 2004 @ 4:58 pm

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with all previous contributors who lauded the virtues of amazon in its various manifestations. Exiled in Waffleland I could not live without it. Apart from its impeccable service, however, most other British firms with a website are trapped in the Stone Age – many refuse to accept orders from abroad, which only usually becomes apparent once you have gone through the rigmarole of typing in credit card numbers, addresses etc. As for the shop assistants, whilst they are in all likelihood constrained by company instructions (violating which would probably cost them their jobs), they are not exactly hired for their stunning intellects (I realise this makes me sound horribly elitist and completely ignores the vicissitudes of fate – one Scottish restaurant’s sales gimmick was that it only recruited waitressing staff if they were in possession of doctorates). No jostling, bargain-sniffing crowds for me – just the keyboard and the tranquility of my bookshelf-lined study.

    Comment by Chameleon — November 17, 2004 @ 11:45 am

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: