petite anglaise

May 9, 2005

supermarket sweep

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:07 pm

My secondary school French teacher could barely contain his excitement when we got to the section in our textbook devoted to French hypermarkets. He hopped from one foot to the other and gesticulated enthusiastically as he extolled their virtues. They were vast! You could buy a TV along with your weekly grocery shop! They constituted a shopping revolution! All of his sentences ended with exclamation marks!

Well, I moved to France ten years ago and I must confess that thus far, I haven’t manage to work out just what it was that my teacher was getting himself worked up about. I think that the most sensible explanation for this – the one not involving my teacher being in need of sedation – is that in the meantime, Tesco and Sainsbury’s superstores in the UK caught up with French hypermarchés, overtook them, and raced on ahead, turning only to make a triumphant bras d’honneur in the direction of the rapidly receding Auchans and Leclercs.

I can’t claim to have frequented many proper hypermarkets, as living in central Paris and not owning a car, I have always been more likely to shop in the Franprix/Leader Price that seem to be located every 500m or so throughout the city. The choice of products is relatively limited, but they do sell all the basics we need, and the prices are somewhat more reasonable than slightly more upmarket Monoprix. But when we visit the Evil In-Laws (as we did this weekend), and it rains (as it always seems to, making the promises we have made to Tapole about being able to play in the garden/on the slide/in the paddling pool/on her bike null and void) I can usually find a reason to visit Géant Casino at Chateaufarine for some much needed respite from the Evils.

Chateaufarine is one of those soulless industrial estates which exist the world over, populated with sweaty sports shops and ‘bargain’ clothes stores, housed in vast hangars, interconnected by a labyrinth of roads and a roundabout every 20 paces. Invented intially as a traffic jam free alternative to town centre shopping, these trading estates are now a victim of their own success: the enormous carparks are always full, the access roads are choked with stationary traffic. I curse myself every single time for forgetting just how depressing the Chateaufarine experience is.

Just because Géant Casino is located in a gigantic hangar, doesn’t, in this case, mean that I stand a better chance of finding just what it is I’m looking for. Vast does mean that the yoghurt aisle is ten times longer than the one in Franprix. But all this really means is that the same flavours are repeated over and over for again for the length of an Olympic sized swimming pool, the only difference being that they have different brand names on. Shopping becomes exercise. As far as I can see, there doesn’t seem to be any more real choice than in Franprix. On this occasion, there was no Thai green curry paste to be had for love nor money.

It also proved to be nigh on impossible to buy a regular-sized pack of nappies for Tadpole’s use at the In Laws’ house. The optimist in me shied away from buying a 92-pack of huggies, just in case we are successful in potty training her before the end of 2005. But the only packs on sale were of the “mega multi family value bulk buy” variety. If this principle is applied to the rest of the merchandise on offer, these places must be every singleton’s nightmare.

And last of all, I could not help but compare the in-house store fidelité cards, a relatively recent phenomenon in France, with their equivalent in the UK. My parents, through astute use of their Tesco credit card, recently managed to wangle themselves a week away in the Channel Islands, all flights and accommodation courtesy of Tesco Plc. When I consult the balance of my s’miles points (Monoprix, Galéries Lafayette and Géant Casino), they serve only as a grim reminder of the indecent amount of money I must have spent shopping there to get them, only to be rewarded with a free cinema ticket for every 1,000 points accummulated. If that is all my fidelity is worth, I shall be sleeping around from now on.

The only upside to visiting the souless trading estate is that I immediately felt like a fashion goddess, conspicuous in my understated, but oh so terribly chic, Parisian clothes. Now far be it for me to say that country folk have inferior dress sense, but if my options were limited to the best that Kiabi, Pimkie and La Halle aux Vêtements had to offer… [sentence best left unfinished so as not to cause offence to rural readers]

Anyway, I would like to point out at this juncture that I wasn’t the one muttering “pramface!” and “chav!” at fellow shoppers. I didn’t know whether to chastise Mr Frog for making the risky assumption that no-one in Chateaufarine speaks fluent English and regularly reads popbitch, or to be proud of his impressive knowledge of English vernacular.

Perhaps Mr Frog should be awarded honorary British nationality?


  1. Heh – on school french trip anout 8 years ago we had an afternoon dedicated to exploring the delights that Carrefour had to offer. 4 hours in a glorified supermarket – not the best way to spend an afternoon with 12 year olds.

    That said, it was just an excuse for the teachers to stock up on their alcohol…

    Comment by dafyd — May 9, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  2. Our teachers were a total nightmare on our school trip to France. We were promised Versailles and we got hypermarkets.

    Pramface is a new one on me. Well done Mr Frog.

    Comment by Satsuma — May 9, 2005 @ 4:11 pm

  3. The “grandes surfaces” did seem amazing when I first lived in France. However, on returning more recently they just seem kind of grubby, smelly and warehousey compared to the clean, bright British equivalents.

    But they do sell Red Oak Leaf lettuce, and for that they are to be forgiven.

    The coolest thing I saw in a hypermarket was the assistants who were dealing with price enquiries/missing barcodes at the checkouts. They would go off to find the item on roller skates!

    Comment by witho — May 9, 2005 @ 4:37 pm

  4. Not exactly like I’m a big fan of giant shopping centres (ewww, les Halles est trop naz) but PA, what exactly do you like about France? (not to be too snipey but you snipe a lot about how shit France is so I’m curious what you actually like about it… can we have a post on that?)

    Secondly, those giant malls, when I used to be a mallrat, were excellent for scoring miles of free food and those five finger bargains. But, have to say that yes, now being a Parisian, it’s the likes of Leaderprice and Franprix that catch my fancy too. Sigh, sometimes I get all adventurous and go to the market but it lacks all the subtle sterile pleasure of a checkout counter.

    Comment by nardac — May 9, 2005 @ 7:19 pm

  5. Hello,
    I’m here via Michele’s game du jour. Just the thought of escaping to Paris to shop is so inviting.. even if it’s for diapers! Have a lovely day!

    Comment by Marie — May 9, 2005 @ 7:21 pm

  6. I learned about the joys of the Carrefour and other hypers at school too. However, the supermarkets are often open ’til eleven p.m. or midnight in Wellington, so I wasn’t particularly impressed either.

    I am impressed with Mr Frog, however. I hadn’t heard of pramface before either. I try not to talk about other people in English though — I’ve already had a couple of people talk about me in *Dutch* thinking that I wouldn’t understand, so English is far too risky!

    Comment by Sierra — May 9, 2005 @ 7:32 pm

  7. Pramface! You’ve taught him well Petite…

    Comment by Teacup — May 9, 2005 @ 7:34 pm

  8. When I first went to France in 1998 my boyfriend and I got addicted to Breton hypermarkets. (Look, it rained hard for a fortnight and we had no TV.) Every year since we have been progressively less impressed, which as you state is exactly because English supermarkets have caught up with and overtaken their continental counterparts.
    Incidentally we live in Canada now and the supermarkets here are rubbish. I’d expected better from the next-door-neighbours of America. Surprisingly, you can buy live fish in Safeway – I’ve yet to work out at whether the supermarket or the consumer is responsible for ‘dispatching’ them.

    Comment by Hannah — May 9, 2005 @ 8:00 pm

  9. nardac – I love France and I love French, but I suppose the honeymoon period is long over, and I think I sat on my rose tinted spectacles, so I now rip the bits I don’t like to shreds, in just the same way I would be hard on England if I lived there full time. And I wouldn’t! No way!

    And I’m a fellow grumpy person, don’t forget…

    Comment by petite — May 9, 2005 @ 8:53 pm

  10. Petite froglaise, Do not take away the only thing that French people can brag about, i.e. la bonne bouffe.
    I will have to disagree on that one. Until couple of years ago, would you believe, I still had food being sent to me. My 6-monthly survival pack included real chocolate, cheese (although I like cheddar now, it is great), baguettes, croissant and chocolatine…..all that are new things here in the northwest of the UK(it is not that far from London). But still there isnt that much choice, lest take yogourts, there are 3 brands here and triffle and strawberry is the only flavour. What about the cafe liegois and other danone, nestle…. sacre bleu?
    At least now, we have got here decent size shops and close by. When I first came here I had to live on pain de mie for a few years…terrible, what a torture. Now I can wear proudly me beret and cycle to the shop to buy my daily baguette, what a pleasure.


    Comment by Zed0 — May 9, 2005 @ 10:48 pm

  11. hahaha, yeah, I suppose I’m much in the same boat. But, little things like private sales and being invited to Paris Hilton’s birthday party at the Ritz more than make up for the insane idiocy of french bureaucracy in general.

    happy you’re a grumpus, like me.

    and, yeah, do you want to go to those private sales? let me know. I’ll put you on the list.

    Comment by nardac — May 10, 2005 @ 12:02 am

  12. Don’t you dare talk about the yogurt aisle of my beloved French hypermarches! That’s one of the first things I do when I go back to France. I go to my parents’ provincial and hyper mega giant Carrefour, I race to the cheese section and then to the yogurt section.
    When you live in a country where they have 2 brands and 3 flavours of yogurt and where the so-called giant supermarket has 50 times less products than in a normal one in France, this is blasphemous ;-)

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — May 10, 2005 @ 4:51 am

  13. I remember the first time I went to a hypermarché… can’t remember where en france, but it was in the mid eighties and I was a teenager and I was blown away (tescos etc in UK hadn’t acheived superstores status yet) It was all I could dream about for years, “when can I go back to france, to the hypermarchés?”…
    what a sad git.

    Comment by vit — May 10, 2005 @ 9:32 am

  14. Why not, Petite? Why wouldn’t you live full time in the UK? Do you actually dislike it, or do you just love Paris/France more?

    Comment by l'autre — May 10, 2005 @ 11:26 am

  15. Oh dear, petite, you seem to have hit a raw nerve with the homesick French here.

    In my experience, having lived in both countries, English supermarkets are very good at stocking a variety of products from all over the world, while French supermarkets are very good at stocking hundreds of varieties of French products.

    That’s all I’ll say on the matter.

    But I’m also interested in why you wouldn’t want to come back to the UK…

    Comment by witho — May 10, 2005 @ 12:31 pm

  16. I’m so pleased that ‘Pram-face’ is making a comeback.

    Comment by Greavsie — May 10, 2005 @ 1:22 pm

  17. I know about chavs, but I’ve never heard of pramfaces. where does it come from ? Please define…

    Comment by Smartie — May 10, 2005 @ 1:27 pm

  18. To Witho, no point going down the road of french cuisine and products, is there ;D.
    As to why petite froglaise lives in France, I can understand, living in the UK, it is only a shame it is full of French people, boudiou.

    Comment by Zed0 — May 10, 2005 @ 1:36 pm

  19. “La Halle aux Vêtements” eh? That’d be the equivalent of Dress Barn?

    Comment by dave heasman — May 10, 2005 @ 2:01 pm

  20. Zed0 – it’s a debate with no end, I learned that a long time ago as a Brit in France

    Comment by witho — May 10, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

  21. Marine, Zed0 – I’ll think of you both next time I tuck into a proper pain au chocolat or a nice wedge of brie de meaux. Honest!

    Pramface, term of abuse aimed at, in particular, female pop stars from lower class backgrounds – contracted from ‘a face more suited to pushing a pram around a council estate’ (i.e. being a single mother on social security). Coined on the Popbitch website.

    As for why I wouldn’t live in the UK – I think that one may have to be a post, so patience…

    Comment by petite — May 10, 2005 @ 2:40 pm

  22. My sister was just in for a week from Florida. She was soooo disappointed by our “cheapo” supermarkets. Nothing compares with the US Target,KMart and Wal Mart. She couldn’t believe that you can’t find any makeup for a Euro. I too miss the US superstores, but content myself with the fancy shmancy Monoprix that they’ve facelifted all over Paris. I still have candy sent to me though… (Reese’s, sweettarts, cinnamon gum)

    Comment by magillicuddy — May 10, 2005 @ 10:06 pm

  23. Cheers petite froglaise, will do the same next time I have a full english or marmite on bread, hoping it is not actually marmite that drove you away from Britain.

    Zed Zero

    Comment by Zed0 — May 10, 2005 @ 11:07 pm

  24. I’m soooo disappointed to read from this post that you and Mr Frog have become typical Parisian snobs, looking down your noses at the people, habits and tastes of places you come from but have left behind.
    Mr Snooty scooter-riding Frog has always come across as a bit of a prat but with this pramface stuff he’s just shown what he really is – an insensitive conceited pretentious git from the provinces blithely unaware of his unpramfacelike good fortune to be born into a family able to pay for his presumably Parisian supdeco education allowing him to get a job in ever-so-smart advertising and to entrap a Parisian chicly dressed English woman as his trophy (not quite) wife.
    Up to now I thought you were far too good for him but maybe you deserve each other after all.
    That’s enough bile for today.

    Comment by parkin pig — May 11, 2005 @ 3:35 pm

  25. someone forget their medication?

    Comment by kim — May 11, 2005 @ 3:52 pm

  26. Calm down Parkin pig – we are not really like that AT ALL. It was all supposed to be very tongue in cheek, as I am hardly a paragon of chic (but I hate Kiabi and I’m not ashamed to say so) but obviously you didn’t take it as such.

    We are both from working class stock, not a posh business school (or well paid job) in sight, but Mr Frog does have a habit of peppering his conversations with English phrases just to show off his command of slang, even sometimes when it is completely out of context. He wasn’t being mean, he was just trying to make me laugh as I was feeling rather gloomy trapped in rainy Besancon with the Evil In Laws.

    Obviously you are free to think precisely what you please, but I feel I may have misrepresented us here and I would like to correct that.

    Comment by petite — May 11, 2005 @ 4:25 pm

  27. If we look down on pramfaces (and c’mon, who doesn’t?) it’s because people should know better than to copy so badly the look they see on television. It’s not just something we see in the provinces either, btw.

    And what else do you want from Mr. Frog? If he didn’t speak some english with her you’d think he was an arrogant french prick who didn’t bother to learn the language of his lover.

    You can’t hate someone just because they grew up in a well-off family, the way you can’t hate someone just because they come from a poor family. That’s just plain prejudiced! Sounds to me like you’ve got a chip on your shoulder when it comes to Parisians. Deal with that before vomiting such bile.

    Comment by nardac — May 11, 2005 @ 4:54 pm

  28. Point taken. Frog is just a silly boy unaware that using terms like pramface is degrading to women. As a highly intelligent woman without his cultural handicap, you should know better.

    Comment by parkin pig — May 12, 2005 @ 10:55 am

  29. I don’t know about the Pramface usage but I am thrilled to hear that you went to Besac even if it was to visit the evils. I lived there for two year as a student and then working and that’s where I met my husband.

    And I do remember that it rained there ALL THE FREAKING TIME. There wasn’t much else to do except hop the bus and go to chateaufarine for a little (or a lot of) shopping at Geant. ;)

    Comment by Aimee — May 12, 2005 @ 3:42 pm

  30. Parkin’ Pig – you are so sad. only losers play the PC card.

    Comment by nardac — May 12, 2005 @ 6:06 pm

  31. […] at low prices. If you are curious, petite anglaise has an old blog post that mentions Leader Price here and I did as well on an old post here). Still, even the cheapest Wal-Mart crap usually tears off […]

    Pingback by Armistice Day, Sunday Luncheon, and Other Miscellany « An Alien Parisienne — November 10, 2009 @ 4:19 pm

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