Grocery Shopping Like a French Person Is Overrated

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Pietro Karras/Stocksy)

Oh, the dream of living in Paris. When I’m vacationing in France I always make sure to stay in an apartment in a real neighborhood away from the selfie-snapping swarms, and every day I wake up to the most pleasurable of questions: What shall I eat today?

My first order of business when I arrive in my favorite city is to fill my temporary kitchen with the foods I dream of when I’m away. I grab as much stinky cheese, salted butter, charcuterie, strawberries, macarons, and white wine that my tiny kitchen can handle (and because of these kitchens’ petite scale, it doesn’t take much). I restock my favorite things daily.

Eventually one must rein oneself in; after all, there are so many bistros, sidewalk cafes, and temples of cuisine to visit. But the sheer joy found in shopping for all of these goodies is too much to pass up. Grocery shopping at home is a chore, a compulsory slog through a sterile supermarket blaring with packaged foodstuffs. Here, though? Wandering the homey clatter of the produce market, breathing in the glory of runny cheeses and ecstasy of fresh bread, selecting the flavor that speaks to you today from the jewelry case of macarons? Oh mon Dieu, do I ever have to go back home?

Unfortunately, yes. And as much as I’d like to replicate the dreamy French ideal of daily meanderings once back Stateside, it’s not gonna happen. And truth be told, that’s OK.

Why Grocery Shopping Like a French Person Doesn’t Work for Me at Home

On weekends when my husband and I have some extra time, we do try to shop the farmers market, the butcher, the baker I take my French friend to when she visits, and the grocer. But this isn’t Paris where these places are all a delightful stroll from one another. They’re in a typical American city where we need to drive from home to A to B to C to home, by which point Saturday is nearly over.

The truth is, my husband and I split a car and our urban neighborhood is a food desert. The only place I can walk to for food is a disreputable Family Dollar that sells frozen products and bags of chips. I’ve only gone in the utmost food emergency (i.e., we forgot a crucial ingredient and friends are en route for dinner) and always regretted it. The closest grocer is a fancy food hall in a shiny new hotel where broccoli costs six bucks. While there’s usually a farmers market every day of the week somewhere in town, it is probably a 15- or 20-minute drive. So are the butcher and the good bakery and the good wine and spirits shop. By the time I’d drive all over town to make the rounds, half my day would be gone and then when would I get my work done? Le sigh.

So we relegate grocery shopping to the weekend. We try our best to make a menu plan and a shopping list (or else end up eating out far too often), stick to a budget — we use the old-fashioned envelope plan — and load the car and come home and cram our goods for the week into our (French-inspired and greatly regretted) too-small fridge. Could it be any less sexy?

Nope. But come Monday after a day of my deadlines and flipping our Airbnb between guests and the travails of my husband’s job, we can sit down with a drink in our courtyard and relax for a few minutes. Then we can make the dinner we have ingredients and a plan for. And we can sit at the table and talk about the next time we can get to Paris.