Monthly Archives: March 2009

Authentic France Travel Tip # 27: A Survival Guide to Grocery Shopping in France

Grocery shopping in France can be a sublime experience. I know that as for me I could very happily move into the dairy aisle of our local E.Leclerc in Beaune tomorrow.

Nevertheless, like many things in France grocery shopping is different than back home.

Below I will share the four cardinal rules for grocery shopping in France. After you master these, all that will be left for you to do is drool and enjoy.

Rule #1: Shopping Carts Are Not Free

You will need a euro, 50 centimes coin, or a plastic jeton which are free on request at the grocery stores to plug into the shopping carts. Only then will you be allowed to take one.

At the beginning of your trip go to the customer service desk in any grocery store and ask for five (cinq) jetons. This should do for your trip, unless you are like Franck and keep losing them. You are given them back when you return the shopping cart.

I try to keep a supply of jetons in each of our gites, but like adaptor plugs these items often go AWOL.

Free baskets are available in the store, but they are small and get full and heavy very quickly. Did I mention the dairy aisle???

Rule #2: Weigh Your Fruit and Vegetables

You’re not alone if you forget to do this. I regularly arrive at the cash resister without weighing my fruit and get yelled at by the cashier. This is because when grocery shopping I am very often in a dreamworld of my own, often induced by the the little plastic cups of chocolate liegois I have just ogled in the dairy aisle.

However, you will find a handy set of digital scales in the fruit and vegetable section of any decent sized French grocery store. They are not there for entertainment purposes.

You put your fruit and veg – and please don’t mix your Golden and Gala apples – in a plastic bag, press the button with the handy photo of the type of fruit or veg you have in your plastic bag, and the scale spits out an adhesive price ticket. You stick this on your fruit / veg bag. Repeat as necessary. This may actually earn you a smile from the cashier (but not necessarily, see below).

Rule #3: Grocery Stores in France Do Not Supply Grocery Bags, Or Grocery Baggers

To save France from an invasion of discarded plastic grocery bags – as you may have noticed, the French struggle with the “put garbage in a garbage can” concept – all large grocery stores in France do not supply grocery bags. However, they do sell recyclable grocery bags which you can buy and then bring with you every time you do a grocery trip.

Another option is to buy a classic market bag at a local market and use that as your grocery bag.

Of course if you are like me you will have fifty grocery bags in your basement and yet still forget one every time you go grocery shopping. This means driving home with produce rolling around in your trunk. As far as I’m concerned, this is perfectly acceptable.

It is no secret the French have a lot of style, and their grocery bags are no exception. The recyclable grocery bags are often really cool looking, like the Pop Art one above and below I recently bought on yet another grocery trip where I forgot my bags. They make great and seriously inexpensive (under a Euro) souvenirs.

Franck worked as a grocery store bag boy when he was in University, but this concept has gone the way of the dinosaures in France. You are expected to bag your groceries yourself, and très vite!
Rule #4: Don’t Expect Service With A Smile

Grocery store cashiers are poorly paid and saddled with a stressful, repetitive job. As far as the French are concerned, it would be downright inhumane to expect them to act cheerful to boot.

If the grocery store personnel smile at you, consider it sincere (maybe you, unlike me, have remembered to weigh your apples and bring your bags). If they scowl and yell at you, don’t take it personally – it is their right.

***”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Okay…Un Petit Hint

I guess I was being a bit of a toughie, so here’a a good hint. It was located in something that was on the route of the Nuits-Saint-Georges 10K and Half-marathon race on March 21st.

Also, this is what the underside of its roof looks like;

Frenchitude Lesson #28 : Tell Your Kids "Non!"

Bon d’accord. Admittedly Clémentine and I are having a bit of a rough time with this one at the moment.

I tell her “non” about…gee, I don’t know…a HUNDRED TIMES in any given day.

Examples:

Non, don’t empty the garbage can!

Non, don’t eat that shard of glass!
Non, don’t pull that armoire down on yourself!
Non, don’t pull all the books off the bookshelf!
Non, don’t throw rolls of toilet paper into the full bathtub!

And, a favorite at the moment, “Non, don’t sit in the drawer!

Like most French parents, I generally dispense with the second part of the phrase and end up chanting a chorus that sounds something like this; “non, non, non, non, non, non, NON!”

It’s not that I have any problem with Clem sitting in her favorite drawer per se. I’m sure it’s most comfy, and as a matter of fact this favored activity has restored my faith in the durability of IKEA furniture.

The problem is getting out of the drawer. Turns out this is a hazardous business for a 14 month old. Half the attempts end in Clem slipping and slamming her forehead against the Portuguese tile floor. In fact, I am seriously contemplating a return of The Helmet.

That’s why the photos are blurred. I was snapping them as I was racing in (chanting my non! non! non! mantra) to swoop her out of harms way.

When I was back in Canada with Charlotte and Camille five years ago I noticed that most mothers would accompany “no” with long winded, breathy explanations.

Some mothers were even quite vocal about refusing to utter the word “no” to their child under any circumstances. The reasoning for this was generally that a child who heard “no” would be blinded to the myriad of possibilities in the universe.

I’m all for respecting different parenting styles, but the abolition of “no” always sounded not only impossible to me, but unwise.

The French attitude is very straight-froward. They figure that as children are, and should be, hearing frequent “nons” on their way through life, better they get used to the concept early.

The huge majority of French parents would never consider banning “non” from their parenting vocabulary. This is underpinned by the widespread belief in France that children are truly happier when they grow up with clearly defined boundaries. Failing to provide such boundaries is considered shirking one’s role as a parent.

I could natter on for hours to Clem, outlining exactly why I am concerned about The Drawer. She, however, would have no idea what I was going on about and would promptly get back in the drawer the minute my back was turned.

So I’m just starting with one word. Non. If I could just get her to understand and obey those three little letters that would be huge step in the right direction.

We’re not quite there yet, as you can see from the photo below.

Tant pis. At least we’re practising.

***Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Buisson or Bora Bora.

Vote : Gauche ou Droite?

The Beaune wine cellar project is rocketing its way towards completion. Right now Franck and his “gang” of friends / tradesmen-who-have-become-friends are working on moulding the stair railing.

A railing is a very necessary thing in a wine cellar. Trust me, after a true Burgundian winetasting going back up those stairs into the blinding sunlight can be confusing.


Now the line of our railing may look a little…well…wonky to you. However, the railing is not wavy because the metal worker was drunk, but so that future winetasters are forced to follow the line of the rail and consequently duck their heads so as not to bean themselves on the huge slabs of stone that make up the 13th Century ceiling.

But still, we have a dilemma.

I always just assumed the railing would go on the left hand side of the stairs going down into the cellar, to prevent people (okay, me) from plummeting off the side into the gravel after a few glasses of GevreyChambertin. Like this:


However, the railing gang say that the railing could also just as easily go on the right hand side closer to the wall. This way, right-handed people can grip it easily as they make there way down into Beaune’s wine-filled underworld. Like this:


Now I’m confused, and I don’t even have a winetasting to blame for it.

Au secours with your opinions please. Should the railing go on the right or left?

Authentic France Travel Tips #26: Take Part In A Wine-Related Run

Oui. That’s me sucking wind as I near the finish line for the Nuits-Saint-Georges 10k race through some of the most prestigious vineyards and winemaking villages in the world (i.e. RomanéeConti, VosneRomanée, Clos Vougeot).

And here’s my name in the official results in “Le Bien Publique“, our local newspaper. It is probably one of the first times in my life my name has ever graced the pages of the “Sports” section.

I was almost the last person in the 10K, but that’s perfectly okay. I wasn’t carried off and I still got a goody bag. And ask anyone who knows me – I have always liked goody bags.

Check out #913 at the bottom of the second photo.

And here is Franck, who completed his first half-marathon in 1 hour and 55 minutes (of course now he is saying he could have gone much faster…). Check out #807.

Not only did the goody bag contain an emblazoned race T-shirt, but it also included a bottle of local Aligoté. This race, like so many other races in Burgundy is all about celebrating wine which, as far as the French are concerned, is eminently compatible with running.

I ran the 10k with (far behind actually, but no matter) our friends Marc-Olivier and Martial. When we got out of the car in Nuits-Saint-Georges Marc-Olivier slapped his pocket.

Merde!” he cried.I know what I forgot. My cigarettes!”

You just have to love the French, don’t you?

There were many “rest stops” along the beautiful route through the vineyards. True to urban legend two of them served glasses of local white and red wine, as well as little cubes of the Burgundian specialty jambon perseillé, paté, and lots of other yummy treats.

One of the volunteers tending the stand in the gorgeous village of VosneRomanée strongly advised me to pick the wine over the water as it was a “proven anti-inflammatory.”

And of course we had a victor’s feast later on that evening, complete with escargots from a wonderful new specialty store we’ve discovered, and which I’ll be highlighting in the Spring edition of The Grape News.


And of course lots of cheese, and the bottles of wine we had earned.


And *ahem* just a few more.

I highly recommend for anyone who is remotely interested in running to think about taking part in one of these gorgeous and oh-so-very-French races. It is truly an experience not to be missed. Same goes for the celebration afterwards.

Franck is thinking about putting together one or more “Grape Trips” around the Beaune Wine Auction Marathon / Half – Marathon, and 10.6 k race in November, as well as the Nuits-Saint-Georges event in March next year.

If anyone wants any further info. just let us know. The victor’s spoils are well worth it!

Not to mention that Burgundy’s white wine really does seem to have miraculous anti-inflammatory properties…

***”Authentic France Travel Tips” are posted every Tuesday and give ideas for savvy travellers who want to experience the authentic side of France.

Frenchitude Lesson #27 : Food Is Worth Fighting For

The packing made me want to sit down in the middle of the floor and weep.

Just in case you were wondering, here are the ingredients for insanity: one weekend in a friend of a friend’s chalet in the Jura, three daughters, three snow ensembles, assorted gloves, mittens, hats, scarves, and warm socks…

We were crazy to say we’d go. I thought to myself as I stuffed another recyclable grocery bag full of Germain family flotsam and jetsam. This is just not worth the grief.

And don’t even get me started on Clem’s paraphernalia; fold out baby bed and mattress, bottle warmer, mineral water, stuffies, the list goes on and on and on towards infinity.

I, unwisely as it turned out, started stuffing grocery bags full of our stuff in favour of suitcases. At the time I think I was hallucinating with exhaustion, because I remember calculating that five or six grocery bags should do the trick.

THIRTEEN overflowing grocery bags later, and I was theeeees close giving up. The thought of unpacking all these bags in the Jura, then repacking them and then unpacking them in two days times was enough to make me want to lie and say that I couldn’t possibly go because I had come down with a sudden case of the plague.

Of course I was delighted with the prospect of spending a weekend with my friends. Of course I thought it would be wonderful for the girls to play in the snow. But truth be told, the only thing that kept me from capitulating in the face of packing was the thought of Raclette.

You see, we had planned ahead of time to eat Raclette for dinner on Saturday night.

In case you are one of the poor souls who has not yet sampled the god’s vittals that is Raclette, it is the heady combination of all sorts of charcuterie and boiled potatoes, with melted Raclette cheese (and the Jura is like the Mecca of Raclette cheese) poured all over it.

As any French person will tell you, food is the most important aspect of planning any trip.

I have to admit it; the Raclette was the clincher. If it wasn’t for the prospect of a sublime Raclette, I would have thrown in the towel before we had even got out the door.

So, dreaming of Raclette, we shoved our three girls, fold out cot, two sleds, and thirteen grocery bags vomiting our stuff everywhere into our trunk, and hit the road.

Two and a half hours later we reached a road that had about three metres of snow piled up on either side. Our leader, Pascal, directed us into a little parking area that had been carved out of a snowbank.

We all got out and looked around us. Lots of snow. Lots of Ice. No path. No chalet. No lights. Nada.

Turns out the chalet was lost somewhere in the Jura night about 250 metres up the hill (which in turn, was covered with 3 metres of snow).

It was pitch dark.. It was 10:00 pm. I started to wonder how on earth our grocery bags would ever make it up intact to the chalet. If they ever found the chalet, that was.

This is what happened next.


Thank God our friend Martial is officially the best equipped person in the universe. He handily pulled out snowshoes and head lamps out of his trunk and the three guys kitted up to go and find the chalet.

I stayed in the heated car with the girls, calming myself with visions of Raclette.

Anyway, to make a long story short, by midnight we were all in the chalet, along with all of our stuff which the guys had pulled up the hill on rigged up sleds. There may be a few odds and sods of ours that will be found by the chalet owners when the snow melts, but by that point I really didn’t care.

The men hardly even cursed me at all for my totally unadapted packing technique (there’s French gallantry for you). As I was hauling myself up the hill and kept getting my legs stuck thigh deep in snow I just thought of Raclette. Beats palm trees any day.

And when we got into the lovely chalet, I checked out the kitchen first thing. Judging from the size of the pots & pans it looked more than promising.

Saturday morning dawned and we found ourselves in Paradise;

There’s the chalet up on the hill to the left. That was quite a climb. Thank God for the Raclette is all I can say.


Franck strapped on a pair of snowshoes to get down to the car to go on the daily baguette run (because even if you are snowbound, a French person needs their daily bread). Camille hitched a sled ride on his way back up.


We made a snow fort with the girls when the rest of the gang went skiing…we basically worked up an appetite for our Raclette.

And then the skiers came home and Raclette time drew near;


Martial made several kilos of potatoes and threw in a couple of saucisses de morteau for good measure.


We got the platters of charcuterie ready. Yum.


Pascal took care of the precious locally-bought cheese.


And then it was time…ahhhhhhhhh….all the packing and getting stuck in the snow and repacking and unpacking…


It was all worth it.

And you know what? The Raclette tasted even better because we had earned it.

***Frenchitude Fridays (French + Attitude = Frenchitude) give ideas for injecting a bit of frenchness into your life, whether you live in Grignan or Georgia.

Paradis…


No, I didn’t forget the “e”.

I’m talking about ParadisFrench style. When Spring springs here in Southern Burgundy, it really springs.

Paradis is my deck here at La Maison des Chaumes at the moment, which is South-facing and with a current temperature of well over 20 degrees Celsius.

I just finished my after-lunch coffee, accompanied by a chapter of an epic novel about Kate – a feisty redhead caught between two very different men – that was kindly bequeathed by one of my recent guests (merci, by the way).

It was a welcome break to my morning of getting bitten on the legs by Clem, and watching her stamp all over my cake pans.