I have a complicated history with grocery stores. Which is why, despite the fact that I like to go grocery shopping, I break into a sweat every time I go to a French grocery store. Let me paint a picture for you:
The first thing to know about French grocery stores is that the people who work there will not bag your groceries for you. I’m not talking about situations in the US where you start bagging your groceries to help out the cashier (and ultimately help yourself by speeding up the process). I’m talking about the fact that the cashiers scan all of your groceries and then sit quietly in their chairs (yes, they sit down in France) and wait (mostly) patiently while you throw you stuff into bags as fast as you can. Not even a “desóle” in sight. What if you’re 80 years old? What if you’ve got a broken leg? What if you’ve goat a baby in a stroller? No matter – YOU BAG THEM YOURSELF. ALL OF THEM.
And, by the way, you have to bring your own bags. No free bags here. If you don’t bring your own bags, you have to estimate how many you will need, get them on the way to the checkout, and pay for them once you are there. If you don’t bring a bag and you forget to buy a bag, your best bet is to put all the stuff you just bought into the bottom of your shirt, hike it up, and make it look like you just happened upon a strawberry patch and happened to pick a shirt full of strawberries. Except that, sadly, the stuff in you shirt looks more like mustard and toilet paper than strawberries. Word to the wise: remember your bags.
I’ve found that buying groceries here is almost like a game. Once people load their food up their on to the conveyor belt, they get all of their bags open and ready in their cart for the mad bagging scramble. I’ve even seen people come in pairs to the grocery store, like a relay team to bag at a faster pace. Not only will you get no bagging help from the cashier, you won’t even get a tissue to wipe the sweat off your brow as you frantically throw your bottle of window cleaner on top of you bananas. I’ve heard the lack of bagging help has something to do with the French labor laws. In other words, the cashiers are not ALLOWED to help you because lifting things (anything!) qualifies as a different type of job, so they’re not allowed to lift a finger.
Here is where my complicated history weaves in to this scene:
Every time I go to the grocery store, I feel like I’m having a flashback to my days of working at Stop & Shop – one of my most unpleasant and shortest-term jobs of all time. Every time I’m bagging groceries in France I suddenly wish that I paid attention during those “how to bag groceries” training videos from years ago. I guess I should be the first to admit that during my tenure at Stop & Shop, not only did I completely ignore the bagging videos, but I clearly didn’t pay attention during the video about weighing produce either. I eventually got fired from that job for resting my hand on the scale while weighing people’s produce. Somehow it never occurred to me that the weight of my hand would make such a big difference in the price of produce. The last straw for the management came when a woman complained about paying $42 for her bunch of bananas. Ooops.
Buy the way, you also have to weigh all your own produce in France in the produce aisle. It’s true. I am not even remotely kidding – in fact, I wish I was. If you don’t have pre-weighed produce at the checkout, you will not be allowed to buy the goods. And, let me give you a word of advice: whatever you do, don’t think you can run back really fast to the produce section while your stuff is on the conveyor belt, weigh your produce, get back to the checkout, pay for everything and THEN bag your groceries without pissing off people in line. It doesn’t work. Trust me on this one.