dimanche 1 mars 2015
S is for Shopping
S is for Shopping
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 not unusual to stand behind someone paying for three apples at a market stall by cheque. A 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.
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. Of course, you can never be sure anything will be open. It’s not unusual to drive 50km to a shop only to be greeted with a well-worn sign that reads “fermature exceptionelle”. The cause of the exceptional closure will never be discovered.
Whatever town or large village you visit, you can be sure to find at least one of all the following: a boulangerie, a pharmacie, 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. The pharmacie is easily recognisable by a flashing green cross outside — and the stream of people exiting laden with bulging carrier bags crammed full of pills and potions.
When you visit smaller shops especially, it is polite to say “bonjour” to everyone already there. Invariably, you will be asked whether you want your purchase — be it a biro, a box of chocolates or a tube of hemorrhoid cream — giftwrapped. Say yes, and the assistant will parcel it up with a flourish, embellish it with a pretty bow and present it to you at no extra cost. The queue of people waiting patiently behind you will nod with approval and urge you to have a bonne journée as you leave.
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.
Then there are the markets. Fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, jam, meat, fish, local specialities, cheese, wine, clothes, bags, tablecloths, flowers… you name it, you can find it at the local marché. Plan well and it’s possible to visit a different one every day of the week. At our last visit to the Sunday market, we got free gifts of a bunch of parsley, a tangerine, a couple of pieces of cake and then a loyalty card from our favourite cheese stall. But remember, markets are not for the squeamish. Chickens and other poultry usually come complete with heads and feet, that tasty-looking sausage is labeled as being of the donkey variety and you spot a large poster boasting of the availability of local horsemeat. We once bought four pigs’ trotters thinking they were… actually, I’m not too sure what we thought they were. Just not pigs’ trotters.