If you walk down the streets of Paris, you’ll notice the endless supply of street cafés and bakeries. If you’re visiting for a week, it makes sense to go to several of these places every day to eat and drink coffee or tea. However, if you’re staying for an entire summer and living in an apartment, going out all the time is inconvenient. That’s where going grocery shopping comes in. At home in the United States, it’s normal to go to the supermarket every week and stock up on your favorite foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The same thing goes for people who live in Paris! Because of this, I made it a point to shop for groceries after I unpacked and settled into my IES Abroad apartment. The store I went to is similar to an American supermarket with a few important differences.
When you look at the items on the shelves, you will find that there are fewer things in plastic. France has been trying for a long time to sell fewer items with single-use plastics, so some items—such as peanut butter and nutella—that would be in a plastic container in the United States are in a glass jar in France. Don’t drop it! There are also no plastic bags at checkout. Customers either bring their own shopping bags or they can buy a tote bag for about one euro.
Looking around at all of the items, the brands are mostly different from the ones at American stores, but eventually I found everything I would expect back at home, even if it’s in a different part of the store than I thought it was. One thing that frustrated me at first was the fact that I couldn’t find a cart. Most of the people there had either a basket or they were putting items directly into their shopping bags that they carried. On my way out, I realized the solution for customers who didn’t want to carry things in their hands: At the front of the store, there was a row of forklift-like contraptions on wheels on which customers could mount a basket. I remembered that for next time.
Another difference concerns the eggs and milk. In American grocery stores, eggs are always refrigerated, but this is uncommon in Europe. In the French grocery store I went to, the eggs were in cartons alongside other pantry items. One thing to note is that French eggs have a natural protective coating around them that American eggs don’t have. On the first day, the staff at the IES Abroad center advised students to wash their hands after handling eggs.
Eventually, I found everything I needed, so I went to check out. In France, it’s normal to say “bonjour” when entering a store or bakery, and “au revoir” when leaving. The same applies to supermarkets when entering and exiting the checkout area. After greeting the cashier, he quickly rang up my items, and I had to bag my groceries just as quickly so as not to hold up the line. You can still pay with cash, but it is becoming less common, especially due to the pandemic. Most American credit cards work at French supermarkets, and it is often faster because no change is required.
In the U.S., I’ve always considered grocery shopping to be a chore, but in Paris, going to the supermarket is convenient; there is a Carrefour—a major French grocery chain—across the street from my apartment. There are other grocery stores in the area, as well. Fanprix is similar to Carrefour, but it has some specific items that Carrefour may not carry. There is also Monoprix, which is similar to Target in the United States. It offers general groceries in the same place as clothes and various household essentials. An important note is that French grocery stores do not carry medications. For those, you would need to go to a pharmacy, where American “over-the-counter” medications are only available behind the counter after talking to the pharmacist.
Grocery shopping in Paris is convenient and hassle-free as long as you know the differences between a French store and an American store. It’s a great solution for those staying more than a couple of weeks in Paris. I hope this article was helpful, and please reach out to me if you have any questions! My Instagram is @samk_618.
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Bonjour! My name is Sam Kornylak and I am from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I'm currently studying economics (with an environmental science minor) at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. After college, I hope to go into international development, so I obviously love learning about other parts of the world and the people and geography there. This summer, I will study abroad in Paris with IES Abroad, and I am looking forward to sharing that experience with others through the IES blog. I have a passion for writing (I'm a staff writer for The Daily Tar Heel), traveling, reading, and meeting new people, and these are all things I hope to do while I'm in France.