Food shopping in France is usually a joy and I am a big fan of French supermarkets. I went to my first French supermarket when I was in my late twenties. Although I’d visited France many times before I’d just not had occasion to visit the supermarché, I either stayed with friends or in a hotel or ate out and it just didn’t come up – the need for supermarket food shopping that is.
In my late twenties though, I went camping at a place called Le Gurp with my then boyfriend and food was required to be bought and cooked round the obligatory camp fire. It was my first encounter with E Leclerc supermarket.
I was amazed at the old ladies walking their dogs on leads round the supermarket, that would never happen in London. I wasn’t sure whether it was scandalous or great but it certainly was different. The huge variety of fresh meat, vegetables, fish, wine, it was all really quite overwhelmingly great. I suppose the only thing that is not so much fun is the time it often takes to be served. In rural areas of France and even in towns and cities, you need to be be prepared to queue for as long as it takes for those in front to have a chat, go through all their money off vouchers and then pack slowly into their trolleys and leave, infuriating when you’re in a hurry, endearing when you’re not!
Now that I spend a lot of my time in France I shop at both the local street markets and the supermarkets. My favourite supermarket is my local Carrefour. The butcher who runs the meat section is clearly a ‘real’ butcher. He’s a young man with a deep voice and a great sense of humour. He deftly cuts and parries like no butcher I’ve ever seen before; he produces exquisite beef burgers and amongst many other delicacies, he creates little minced pork parcels, wrapped in the thinnest pork slices and tied with string that look like something a top chef would do. Not only that, he appears to have some autonomy over the buying of the meat that’s sold in his counters, it’s not all just delivered the same as every other Carrefour shop, and I’ve seen him wrangling with reps who come in to sell their produce.
Not everyone where I live is a fan of supermarkets though. My neighbour has not, in all of her considerable 85 years of life, ever set foot in a supermarket. She is still gardening and with the help of family grows all her own fruit and vegetables. She breeds chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits for meat and eggs and her meat freezer is supplemented with animals caught at the local hunt by family members. One of her chickens became a bit gung-ho last year and kept climbing trees and jumping into our garden despite having a pretty full on wing clip. We didn’t mind but there were no trees on our side for Rambo-chicken to get back so we’d have to take her back for her dinner. One day she had just had enough of it, we knocked on the door, she answered – gave the chicken a look that could kill – but it didn’t so she wrung it’s neck.
She does have her bread delivered though as we do. No self-respecting French person in my village would dream of not having a baguette delivered every day.
Although I’m aiming to be more self-sufficient in my life style, I can’t see a time when I’ll ever be happy, let alone able, to survive without visits to the markets and the supermarkets. Besides, going to our local supermarket gives me a chance to stop at Chez Annie, the local wine bar, for a gossip and to see what everyone’s debating that week. It’s always fascinating listening to the oldies arguing about politics, those old folk are so dismissive that for the life of me I can’t think why one of them doesn’t try to get elected. I’d vote for old Monsieur Levant who is mad as a box of frogs to be President any day!