Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Supermarket Sweep

When shopping in a foreign country there's more than just the exchange rate to take into account. In your native country you know just from the name of a supermarket what sort of price range it fits into as well as how expansive their product ranges are. When going abroad however, this all changes. I have only seen one Tesco in my time in France and that was in Calais to make the Brits feel at home when they realise they've forgotten their beach towels! In France the main supermarches are Carrefour, Monoprix and Super U although there are many others including smaller regional brands. I have created the following table to give you a rough guide to how French supermarches and British supermarkets compare in price ranges:

Cora (or Match are the smaller branches) regional to the East of France / Carrefour
Super U (other names including the trademark 'U' for smaller and bigger branches)
Intermarché (has bought out the 3 Musquateers which are now dwindling)
Auchan (smaller branches known as Atac)
Lidl and Aldi
Lidl (Aldi has not spread to France but is found in Germany)

When going to do your shopping or faire du cours you may also see signs for a hypermarche. This is merely a large supermarche. In my experience so far however, hypermarches are more akin to the supermarket sizes we are used to in Britain. This is mainly due to the fact that the supermarket way of shopping is still in the relatively early stages in France. Going to the boulangerie in the morning for bread and to the market for vegetables and meat is still prominent in French culture.

So how do these shops differ inside apart from different brands and everything being in French?! Well as you would expect greater prominence is given to foods the French consume more of than we do, for instance cream, pastries, UHT milk and cheese. Fresh milk consists of a very small proportion of the dairy section ,not being the popular choice. Packaged sliced bread (like Hovis or Warburtons) also feature on the bottom shelf with only one or two choices. Freshly baked bread of a greater variety fills the bakery section alongside packaged cheap snacks such as pain au chocolats or brioche buns. There are also quality made (more expensive but definitely worth it) pastry and bread snacks too.

Cultural differences go further than the products though, but also to the way in which people shop. In many shops you are expected to weigh your fruit and veg at the designated stations and print scan tickets to go through the till. Also it is rare to find a supermarche which will provide you with disposable bags, so if you don't bring your own you either have to buy a bag for life or have difficulty carrying your shopping home!

So from language differences to currency exchange rates, UHT milk to cheap wine and cheese, there is a lot to take in when shopping abroad. The differences are not so difficult if you're only popping in for some sun-cream and a bottle of water. When moving abroad however and you have to navigate all these differences, suddenly buying your bathroom cleaner becomes a lot harder than expected. Some brands remain the same or at least their emblem does (Walkers crisps = Lays) which does help to guide you through this mine field, but be prepared for your normal shop to take you a great deal longer.

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