While the markets are the fun place to shop, and supermarkets often conjure up visions of a ‘grudge’ shop, they cannot be avoided when you’re in a self-catering property or even as a great way to observe the local culture! The French have some of the best supermarkets in the world and the array of choice coupled with a language challenge can sometimes be quite daunting. In particular, the dairy sections are huge and many a visitor has bought the wrong item or walked away totally confused.

This short guide will help you to unravel those crazy sounding names and give you an insight into some of the mysteries of French life.

Food:

o Label Rouge – any product with this marking on its packaging is of superior quality (and often more expensive!). Basically, you can’t go wrong.

o Private Label / Own brand – like other countries in the world, French supermarkets are busy with aggressive Private Label programmes and providing product under their own name or their own labels. All French supermarkets follow a ‘three stage’ strategy – a lower level, cheaper, lower quality item under a different name to the supermarket (eg Bien Vu in Super U); a well priced product of good quality on a par with major brands always under the Supermarket name (eg U for Super U); and a higher priced, top quality product (eg Saveurs U for Super U). You are absolutely fine if you choose from either the mid or top level.

o Cheese aisles and the Delicatessen counter – the more commercial cheeses are all kept in the aisles. The cheeses you find at the delicatessen are those that you see at the markets. Commercial cheese in France is of a very high quality. The French would have it no other way.

o Charcuterie vs Market – many of the market stallholders buy their product from the supermarkets. The quality of meat products is excellent.

o Fresh produce vs Market – here we believe there is no comparison. The Markets win hands down every time because it is usually the producers who are at the markets while the supermarkets have a long supply chain.

o Meat, poultry terminology – In typical French style, everything is graded and segmented to an inch of its life. Fermier is from the farm – as well as plein air for free range. Poultry comes in various guises – poulet (60-80 day old chicken); volaille (fowl, slightly older female); Chapon (neutered rooster, usually at Christmas time and superb!); pintade (guinea fowl); coquelet (baby chicken – a cockerel); canard (duck). Meat – l’agneau (lamb up to 12 months old); mouton (mutton, a sheep older than 12 months); veaux (veal); boeuf or bovine (beef); lapin (rabbit); cheval (horse – very popular!); ane (donkey); porc (pork). Please note that the French are well known for eating every single part of an animal – some of the cuts/pieces may be a bit exotic. A tete is a head and pieds et paquets are, literally, feet and stomach ie tripe!

o Bakery vs Boulangerie – do not delay in the bread and bakery section! Part of the charm and taste of a French vacation is visiting the local bakery. No contest.

o Milk – you will notice the huge amount of space devoted to long life milk. The French do not drink milk in their coffee and use long life milk for their sauces and cooking. Fresh milk (ie pasteurized) is rare and a tiny bit of supermarket space is given to it – mainly for ex-pats. When you see it, pounce and buy more than you need immediately and freeze it!

o Cream – the only whipping cream that the French use is ‘le bombe’ – artificial, aerosol cream. Other cream is crème fraiche and dozens of varieties of it. Trial and error is all we can recommend.

o Fish – each supermarket prides itself that it has its own boats for fishing. Some supermarkets (eg Intermarche, Isle sur la Sorgue s which is a branch even have their own). Consequently, the fish is good and fresh. Being a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Friday is the best fish day.

o Washing up liquid Liquide Vaseille is what you are looking for – it comes in eco or bio or normal, commercial. If you are staying at a traditionally renovated property with concrete or stone sinks and basins, it is best to use the ‘bio’ product.

o Flour – you may be inspired to do some baking during your visit. Farine is flour and be guided by the pictures on the packets between cake, bread, or other types of flour. NB: The French do not have, use or stock Baking Powder!

o Mobile Phones – top up cards for ‘pay as you go’ (called mobicarte in France) are freely available at the supermarkets. If you need help in negotiating French prompts or a call centre, go to the telephone/electrical counter and find the youngest, most tattoo’d or pierced assistant and ask for assistance! They will always be the most helpful and all speak English.

o Hair Care – all shampoos have been formulated for local water conditions and we recommend to all visitors that they use local shampoo. All the major brands are here. However, the names! Choose your usual brand – eg L’Oreal – and then look for ‘fortifiant shampooing’ and ‘aprés shampooing fortifant’ (ie fortifying shampoo and conditioner).

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