With Ann Rickard
With Ann Rickard

Too much to remember at the French checkouts

FOR the past couple of months I've been shopping in French supermarkets.

In France. Where I go every year.

A place I love very much. Even though I get vexed doing the shopping.

The first foray into the supermarket each year is exciting, all that beautiful French food and enticing French products displayed under one tempting roof.

But while French supermarkets maybe pretty, they are problematic for the foreigner.

I'm not dwelling on the difficulty of reading labels - that's our fault for not practising our French - but it is super annoying when you arrive home with your shopping to find the washing powder you bought turns out to be pool chlorine.

(Don't even dream of going back the next day and trying to exchange it. That will bring problems so insurmountable you will lose the will to live.)

Forgetting to weigh and price your own fruit and vegetables, as is the rule in French supermarkets, can bring you undone at the check-out. Being admonished for this flouting of the rule - even if it is in a gorgeous language - is bad enough but being sent off in shame to weigh your veggies way down the back of the supermarket is a pain in the posterior.

As for forgetting to take le sac with you on every supermarket visit, well that's beyond frustrating even if it is your own fault. The French do not do plastic bags (a good thing) but if you forget le sac, (which we do on every visit) you are required to carry all your purchases out to the car in your arms.

French supermarket personnel sit down at their check-out stations, do not like to get up, do not believe in efficiency of movements, do not have to weigh anything, and do not pack your goods. .

Queues can grow so long they are almost back to the produce department at the back, yet the staff remain unruffled, agonisingly slow, often stopping completely for a chat with their check-out mate sitting in the next aisle.

And don't get me started on the complicated (to me) systems the French have of coupon collecting and the confusion and delays it causes at the point of payment, and let me not even tell you about the quaint habit some French people have of still paying by cheque.

Our biggest frustration came the day we found a check-out queue that wasn't ten kilometres long, rejoiced with a little skip, and lined up gleefully with our trolley.

Just as it came to our turn, a feisty old bloke with a walking stick and a loaded trolley came behind us, poked his stick in our backs, pushed past us and began to put his goods on the belt.

We were about to politely tell him to pee off but the check-out lady, shifted ever-so slightly in her chair and lazily pointed to a sign above our heads we hadn't noticed before. It showed cartoon figures of old people and pregnant ladies.

The French have a separate supermarket queue for the old and the pregnant. Really. They do.

Seeing as I could qualify for both if we were just going by appearances and forgetting logic, I contemplated challenging the old bloke by poking him in the back with my big belly.

But instead I silently cursed, waited my turn, got sent back to weigh my veggies, and then carried out my shopping in my arms.



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