Le Shopping, Parts One and Two
Who knew something as simple and usually boring as grocery shopping could be such a fascinating experience?
I’ve been here two days now and not only have my meals been erratic and eaten at odd times of day and night, but they’ve all been eaten outside my apartment—not a financially sustainable situation! I’ve got a mini fridge in the apartment, a stovetop and a microwave. There’s a drip coffee machine, but I like French press, so I bought a three-cup Bodum and some coffee yesterday, but I still hadn’t gone to a regular grocery store to get milk and sugar, as well as other essentials, like laundry detergent. I looked up a store online this morning and found a Monoprix a few blocks away that closed early on Sunday, so off I went.
First of all, the Monoprix is not just a grocery store; it also sells cosmetics, housewares, clothing, bedding, books and more. In the supermarket on the first floor, it took me about an hour to find the few things I needed (and could carry). Laundry detergent had several offerings, including one meant especially for washing black clothes—to keep the black from fading, as far as I could understand. You would think New Yorkers would have happened on such a thing long ago. Next, there were two entire aisles devoted to le petit dejeuner (breakfast), and mais oui, I needed breakfast food! We know the Bonne Maman brand in the States, of course—that’s the brand of jam my husband used to eat when we still ate toast at home—but here in France, Bonne Maman seems to dominate the entire breakfast market. Jams, yogurts, madeleines, rectangular boxes of something sort of muffin-shaped that oozes chocolate or strawberry when you plunge your fork into it. I just managed to steer myself away from the bread, which I'd prefer to buy at a boulangerie anyway, opting instead for a package of granola and a few yogurts. I don’t generally like yogurt, but among the enormous selection there were some that appealed, whether because of the adorable little jars they were in or the flavors—myrtle, for example. I’ve heard of myrtle, but I have no idea what it actually is. They had the Dannons and the Yoplaits, too, but who would buy those over these exotic flavors packed in the most appealing ways?
The milk section was overwhelming, if only because I couldn’t understand all the different labels. All I really wanted was a pint or quart of 1% or 2%, but these milks had no percentages. I suppose I’ll find out what I got when I drink tomorrow morning’s coffee. I also bought eggs, and was delighted to find you could buy them in quantities of four, six, a dozen, etc. I bought a carton of four—“en plein air,” which I assume means free-range?—although it’s a bit disconcerting to find them not refrigerated as they are at home. I’m thinking this must be a good thing. I’ve never been so amused while buying sugar before either, but I had some wonderful choices here before deciding upon the “Daddy” brand of bio (organic) petit pure cane cubes.
I also had tissues on my list, but while I found the aisle with paper towels and the aisle with toilet paper, tissues were nowhere to be found. Also, my mini fridge has a smell I’d rather not smell and I searched everywhere for a box of baking soda to stick in there, but I couldn’t even find an aisle that sold flour, not to mention baking soda. I could have asked, but I had no idea how to say baking soda in French.
At the register at last, one of my yogurts wouldn’t scan and they asked me to go back and get another—which of course meant remembering where I got it. This took a few minutes, naturally, and all I could think of was the line of people behind me, how they must be cursing me, but when I returned as quickly as I could with my little yogurt, no one looked at me with any particular animosity as I squeezed past them up to the front. When finally I was all paid up, I stood there waiting for the cashier to put my groceries in a bag or to give me the bags to pack myself. I looked at him quizzically and asked for des sacs. He informed me a bag cost 20 centimes, and I inwardly applauded the idea that the French need to bring their own bags for grocery shopping. So sure, d’accord, I gave him 20 centimes and he handed me a thin paper shopping bag better suited to carrying a few pieces of light clothing, not laundry detergent and milk and little glass jars of yogurt! But what could I do? I packed the bag with all my purchases and held it in my arms, my hands supporting the bottom. I had only a few blocks to walk…
...and then the 55 steps up the dizzying, escargot shell of a stairway. Mission accomplished, although the moment I placed the bag down outside my door to get out my ancient key, the milk broke through the bottom and rolled toward the stairs. I caught it just in time, and then carried the items in my arms to the kitchen.
I didn’t know it then, but I wasn’t done food shopping for the day. If you didn’t read it loud and clear in my previous post, it is HOT here, and my brilliant brainstorm for escaping the heat today was going to un grand magasin, Galeries Lafayette, because it has air conditioning and because today is one of the final days of les soldes. Les soldes are the big sales that happen just twice a year in Paris, and the savings can be huge. I capitalized on this, buying a summer dress that normally sells for 175 euros for only 52 euros! An added benefit is that Galeries Lafayette is a truly gorgeous store and there are certainly worse ways to spend an afternoon than strolling under the mosaic and gilt dome.
But back to the food shopping…
Across the street from the department store, Galeries Lafayette has an épicerie with gourmet foods and restaurants galore—for a foodie like me, pure ecstasy! Upstairs: everything from gourmet eclairs and macarons and glace (ice cream) to dunes of Indian spices and dim sum and charcuterie enough to feed a village, maybe two. Downstairs: several different types of small restaurants and groceries. Now that I thought about it, shouldn’t I get some fresh French butter (again, the choices were mind-boggling) and a baguette and some cheese? Oh, but also, there’s a guy standing by a machine who squeezes oranges into a bottle for you on the spot. Oui, s’il vous plait!
Maybe because this was a high end store, they gave me bags to put my purchases in, at no charge. And on the way out, you know I just had to choose one of those extremely fancy (et tres cher!) éclairs. I chose la fraise (strawberry) because it was just so beautiful. So beautiful, I’m not quite sure how I can bring myself to bite into it and spoil it. I’m already thinking of the next time I go, though, because a caramel sea salt éclair is much too tempting to ignore.
Phew! By the time I arrived home, it was past six p.m. (18:00) and the apartment was broiling. But my mini fridge is completely jammed now. In addition to everything else I’ve mentioned, I also have in there fresh cherries and peaches I bought at the marché des enfants rouges yesterday, a container of tomato-mozzarella salad, herbed olives from Provence, a couple of bottles of Badoit, a three-pack of Aperol spritz and a plastic, vacuum-sealed bag of rosé I tasted at a store yesterday. Thank goodness the eggs don’t have to get in there, too!
P.S. I went to a café to write this post. I ordered a fancy cool drink called Le Parfum, comprised of orange juice, pineapple juice, lime, grenadine and something else I forget, but it was delicious. I finished it in about 20 minutes, but I’ve been at the café two hours. This is one of many reasons I love Paris.