mercredi 15 septembre 2010

H is for Hypermarkets (and shopping in general)

On part dévaiser les magasins — we’re going on a shopping spree

What can’t the Germans and Belgians do, the British are discouraged to do, yet the French do as much as ever? The answer is, pay by cheque. There are no guarantee cards, but cheques are almost as good as cash in France, simply because it is illegal to go overdrawn at your bank without authorisation. If you do, you could be banned from the banking system for several years, which might be a tad inconvenient.

So it’s quite common to stand behind someone paying for three apples at a market stall by cheque. A French friend once gave me a cheque for the 6 Euros she owed me. Having said that, there are some garages that won’t accept cheques, but I suspect that is because no one is ever on the till. It seems we always end up getting our fuel dispensed automatically after inserting a credit card and trying to follow instructions that are about as complex as those that come with a self-assembly IKEA wardrobe.

Incidentally, IKEA is very popular here. We once saw a coach trip to Toulouse advertised, and thought it would be good as it would save the hassle of finding somewhere to park. Turned out it was a day trip to IKEA — and nowhere else.

High streets here still boast a range of small, independent shops. Hypermarkets and larger supermarkets are found out-of-town, alongside DIY stores and furniture superstores; everyone seems to co-exist in reasonable harmony. 

Whatever town or large village you visit, you can be sure to find at least one of all the following: a boulangerie (bakers), a pharmacie (chemist), a bar, a tabac and a ladies’ hairdresser. The bar invariably doubles as a PMU (betting shop), and the ladies’ hairdresser also caters for those men who aren’t put off venturing inside an establishment with a name like Chez Virginie.

Hypermarkets and supermarkets sell local produce as much as possible, so your fruit, vegetables and meat has probably had a shorter journey than you. Hypermarkets are very big and sell anything and everything; you get used to standing at the checkout behind families with a patio table and four chairs or a fridge-freezer in their trolleys.

Even our small local supermarket has a fresh meat counter. If you want mince, you ask the butcher for ‘steak haché’ and he minces it in front of you. And the larger supermarkets and hypermarkets have extensive fresh fish counters too.

The other week we arrived at our local Intermarché to find all the staff dressed in kimonos and the whole place done up to resemble an establishment that would have been more at home in downtown Tokyo. They were promoting sushi and had shelves and shelves of the stuff. We accepted a free tasting, thought it very nice, and bought some. A couple of weeks later, we went back to buy some more. Not a bit of sushi to be seen. That, I find, is the trouble here. You see something you really like, go back like Oliver Twist for more, but you never see the same product again. I’ve never quite got to the bottom of that one.

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