Tag Archives: Carrefour

a wine trance

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When we were young, the kids in my family would wait impatiently for the Sears Catalog to arrive in the mail around the holiday season.  As soon as the catalog arrived, my mother would sit us down with pens and pads of paper to make our lists of all the things we would like for Christmas.

Isn’t that nice?

I know what you’re thinking right now…………you’re thinking, “Wow.  You must have had an incredibly generous Santa in your life.  You were SO lucky!”

Don’t be fooled by the first part of that story.  In fact, we spent hours, if not days (and maybe even weeks), writing down detailed descriptions of every toy we wanted.  We made columns.  We wrote prices.  We wrote code numbers.  And year after year, we were very optimistic.

And each Christmas morning, we would run downstairs with visions of mountains of toys from Santa/Sears piled underneath our tree.  And every year the big man let us down.  It wasn’t that we didn’t get fabulous things for Christmas, but we NEVER got a single thing that we had chosen from our hours of work with the Sears Catalogue.  Not once.

Now you know where I inherited the ability to subtly torture my children.

This fall in France, when I received a giant wine catalog in the mail, I was immediately transported back in time to my days with the Sears Catalog.  I quickly found myself circling things in the catalog and feeling hopeful.  Then I realized that at this point in life, I am my own Santa Claus.  So rather than sitting around hoping, I got in the car to attend the annual wine sale at our massive supermarket.

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I have very simple wine selection criteria.  I have only two requirements:  1) it must be under 5€,  and 2) it should have some sort of award seal on the bottle.  I know there are people who are much smarter than I am, and clearly there are those who know much more about wine than I do, so I choose to leave the big decisions to them.  If the smart wine judges give a decently priced bottle of wine an award, I buy the wine.

When I arrived at the wine sale, it was like a wonderland with crates of wine all over the massive center of the store.  I was wandering around in a daze as wine buyers in fancy suits and pointed shoes walked purposefully with their cellphones pressed to their ears.  Who were they buying wine for?  I have absolutely no idea, but I did my best to represent the low standard crowd with my wrinkled skirt and rounded shoes.

When it comes to buying things in France that I don’t know much about, I have developed one main strategy.  I find someone who looks like she (or he) knows what she is doing and I follow her around (at a safe distance) to see what she buys.  I am almost like an ape in that way, except I apply this tactic to decidedly un-apelike things like buying skin care products.  If there is a woman with really nice skin in the moisturizer aisle, you can bet that I’m trailing her.

I pulled out the dog-eared catalogue I had stuffed in my bag and I browsed nonchalantly while I waited to find someone to follow who was not wearing a suit.  Once I had identified my secret buying mentor, I walked slowly behind him watching what he was choosing.  In a few short minutes my cart seemed to be sufficiently full, and I deflected my buying mentor’s suspicious glances at me, by looking at my catalog whenever he turned around to give me the hairy eyeball.

After I finished loading up on wine, I walked by the bra section and I saw a familiar sight – French women grabbing handfuls of lacy bra and undies sets and tossing them into their carts like they were buying croissants.  Do they try them on?  No.  Do they fret about fit or comfort?  Apparently not, since this is a scene I have witnessed nearly every time I walk by the bra section.  And since I was living the spirit of France that day with a cart full of wine, I decided to toss in a few bras to top it off.

As I wandered back across the store, I go sidetracked by the home goods section (happens every time) and left my cart sitting in the middle of the dishware aisle.  After I was finished looking there, I went back to my cart and started pushing it to the other end of the store toward the checkout.

It wasn’t until I was nearly at the checkout that I heard a woman yelling behind me and I turned to look.  An elderly woman was hobbling quickly toward me.  She was saying something that I couldn’t exactly understand and I figured that she was speaking to the wrong person and began to turn around again.  That’s when I happened to glance down and I noticed that my cart was not filled with wine and bras, but rather with vacuum bags and yogurt.

I had accidentally taken the other woman’s cart and left the poor woman with a cart full of loot that appeared to be the weekly shopping trip for the brothel.

“Je suis très, très désolé, Madame.”

Sometimes I don’t get the language right, but I always know how to say “I’m sorry” correctly in French.  In fact, those are the words I speak the most on a daily basis.

As you now know, Santa really delivered this year – from a catalogue even!

For your added entertainment value, I thought I’d throw this in.  When we’re not buying wine, this is what we do in France for fun:

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a word of advice

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.