Blog Day 18 of 30: Supermarché

Hi again, folks. We’re now exactly 60% of the way through the 1000 words a day challenge, and I have to say I think I’ll miss them a bit once December rolls around. Seán mentioned yesterday that writing these daily is like homework, in that “you have a hard day at school, spend two hours getting home, sit down and get something to eat and then, right as you’re finally chilling, you remember you’ve got homework to do.” I see where he’s coming from. There have been a few times where I really just couldn’t/didn’t want to pencil in the hour or two it usually takes to remove all distractions, find something interesting to discuss, and then bash it out onto a Word document. It’s made all my days feel eerily similar, since there’s always been this core activity to schedule in somewhere no matter whether it’s the weekend or a 6am start for a whole day in a primary school, but on the whole I really am glad to be doing it. When there was no structure during the initial lockdown period earlier this year I found myself completely unravelling, waking up and going to bed at completely random times. Ironically enough, I’m finding that adding something compulsory and time-consuming to your day doesn’t just make your life more structured, it also means you end up a bit more productive in whatever other obligations you need to fulfil too.

Today, the 19th of November, is my 69th day in France. A true cause for celebration. I thought I’d commemorate this historic moment by discussing my favourite little niche of life in France that I’ve been enjoying more than any other since I upped sticks to Baguette Land just over two months ago: the local shop. Let’s get started.

Supermarkets are insane. Most of the unusual bits from my perspective can be attributed to some of the unique aspects of French culture, but they also have this weird obsession with supersizing and commercialising everything, a concept which seems to have been borrowed straight from the US. Here’s the bold advertisement on the front of my local grocery shop.

What’s clearly happened here is the advertising agency have gone: “RIGHT OK we need a punchy set of five bullet points to tell everyone what’s so great about the shop,” and then the interns have gone away and had a think but could only come up with three good reasons, but the boss has gone “NO I DON’T CARE WE NEED FIVE IT’S THE MAGIC ADVERTISING NUMBER”. The first three are grand:

All good things for a supermarket to be able to boast of. Then, however, it seems they’ve had to dig fairly deep for the last two:

Thanks, supermarket! Smiles and I like it are exactly what I’m looking for! Very cool! If the happy lady clinging on to the gigantic bag of groceries for dear life is a fan, then I am too. I’m sold.

Once you’ve been brainwashed by the magical marketing of the storefront sign, you walk in and can instantly see pretty clearly that the supermarket has been carefully divided up to reflect the locals’ priorities. You’ve got the massive wine shrine staring at you as soon as you enter with the dozens and dozens of fridges filled with cheese humming happily beside it, and then if you whip your binoculars out you might just be able to spot the tiny strip of actual practical household items hidden off in the opposite corner. In the shop down the road, Cheese outweighs all kitchen utensils and sanitary items combined by about 100 to 1. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

Each time you go to weigh your vegetables, you first have to navigate your way through this super complicated menu:

Apparently everything in the universe falls under two categories: Tomatoes, and not Tomatoes. It seems that the French are just as susceptible of falling into the classic trap of thinking tomatoes are vegetables rather than fruit, so the supermarkets have gone to the effort of putting in a whole separate menu just to avoid the problem, which I find really sweet for some reason. I respect their dedication to the categorisation of groceries.

There are so many other small tidbits of French supermarkets that I love. The entire aisle dedicated to Bonne Maman jam with France-exclusive special jars which have the labels etched onto the glass rather than printed on a sticker, and which provide preserves made from weird stuff like boysenberry and lingonberry and peach. The French equivalent to ‘Tesco Radio’ pumping classical music through the speakers, only for the annoying host to cut in halfway through the dramatic climax to despairingly remind us all of the half-price deal you get if you buy 4 whole watermelons, before throwing us back into the Debussy anthem again. The morbid curiosity of walking through the meat section and watching an old lady happily rummaging through the freezers in search of some lovely frozen Cow Tongue or Horse Fillet or Minced Rabbit. Obviously killing animals and eating them is just something we’ve all come to terms with throughout civilisation but seeing a close-up picture of a bloody, disembodied tongue with ‘TASTY!’ emblazoned in bright red writing on all four corners of the package still feels a bit weird, even after 69 days.

Of course, all that is absolutely not to say that French supermarkets aren’t fun. Feast your eyes on this image:

One Euro and 78 cents for a fully-sized bottle of wine. It’s not even on the bottom shelf. Even if it was, it’d still taste amazing. While I’d put this little quirk of French shops into the ‘fun’ category, I’m not sure if I’d stretch so far as to call it ‘good’. I’ve been resisting the temptation for almost 70 days now, but it’s certainly difficult to forget that there’s a quick way of giving yourself a life-ruining addiction for a low low price just five minutes round the corner.

Thoughts about self-destructive habits aside, France has been about as amazing as I could have expected given the context of the whole health crisis. I have a cursed apartment with posters of US collegiate tennis players pinned up on the walls and I need to sign a form every time I want to leave the house, but other than getting rid of Coronavirus I don’t think there’s anything I’d change. It’s certainly a different way of life to having thoughts of the next essay plaguing your head every two seconds and, to be honest, I could get used to it. :)

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Student currently writing 30 days of blogs for The Water Project. Here’s the link to donate: https://thewaterproject.org/community/profile/privilegedtohelp

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