One thing that may not spring to mind when thinking about moving to France are the subtle differences in shopping practices between France and your home country. Here are just a few of the differences you might come across.
Shopping for Clothes and Homeware in France
From haute couture to haute cuisine, France’s reputation for excellence endures. There are plenty of opportunities to find top quality purchases and even some bargains. From Paris to Montpellier, Nantes, Toulouse and Bordeaux – France’s cities offer unique shopping experiences.
Take Bordeaux, for example; rue Sainte Catherine boasts the longest shopping street in Europe, with the northern section being devoted to fashionable major French shopping chains and the southern part having a greater concentration of restaurants. Shop ‘til you drop!
“Les grands surfaces” are advancing throughout the country, and times are changing. Out of town shopping and factory outlets are very popular, and there are many bargains to be had.
You might even be tempted to purchase second-hand clothes and homeware – France has a great selection of vide greniers (car boot sales) and brocantes (antiques fairs), as well as online marketplaces such as Leboncoin.
Find out more about buying second-hand or ‘a l’occasion’ in France.
Supermarkets in France
At French supermarkets, you may notice a slightly different layout to what you are used to in your own country. You will certainly notice the vast array of fresh and seasonal produce on display.
Bring your own shopping bag – if you are only in need of a few items, you can even place them into your shopping bag as you peruse the aisles. This is a common practice in France, with no need to worry about a security guard questioning you as long as you place everything on the checkout and pay for it, of course!
Supermarkets in rural France, even when busy, generally still have plenty of space for their shoppers, and checkouts are usually a fairly serene experience. The consumer is not subjected to the same pressures to hurry up and move on. Certainly not outside of the cities.
In many supermarkets, shopping can still be paid for by French cheque (you will need a form of identification), as well as by cash or bank card.
Everyday supermarket shopping experiences are indeed slightly different. For example, you may not be able to buy your stamps from the supermarket checkout – you must go to La Poste or the Tabac for that.
Cash back at the supermarket checkout? Maybe. Some supermarkets have introduced this practice, but it is not common practice, and there are limits as to how much you may receive.
If your head is beginning to hurt, forget about buying your pain-killing tablets in the supermarket as you currently won’t find them in there; head to the pharmacy instead!
Most supermarkets do not carry stock, so when an item is not on the shelf, it has generally sold out. If you see a bargain, buy it there and then. It is not advisable to plan to return at a later date – it simply may not be available. So, if you see it and need it, buy it!
See our guide to shopping at the supermarket in France.
DIY and Hardware stores
France has a large variety of DIY depots and hardware stores that include national chains such as Brico-Cash, Brico Marché and Tridome, along with much bigger regional super-stores, including Castorama and Leroy Merlin
Some DIY stores are now open during the lunchtime period and are often very quiet at these times, so it can be a smart time to shop (just be sure to check that they are open!)
Do remember your local quincaillerie (hardware store) too. The owner is likely to know many local tradespeople and may be willing to offer basic advice. You can pick up anything from screws, drill bits, toilet flushes etc. to larger items, and it may well save you a longer trip to the nearest town, depending on where you live.
Read our guide to DIY and hardware stores in France.
Food Shopping in France
When it comes to food, France is renowned for its fresh, local produce, and if you want to shop like a local, you should look to shop outside of the supermarket too.
The baguette has been a quintessential part of French life since the 18th century, and you will often see queues outside the very best boulangeries on a daily basis. Croissants and pastries can sell out every morning. It is possible to pre-order with your local baker to avoid disappointment, and if you see a loaf you would like slicing, ask for ‘tranché, s’il vous plait’, and your baker will pop it in a bread-slicing machine and bag it for you.
A little-known tip is that you can ask your baker if they will sell you raw dough – this is amazing for home-cooked pizza bases. It’s normally much healthier and costs less than the ‘ready-to-roll out’ factory-made alternatives.
If you are not one for the daily baguette run, then one idea is to buy your baguettes in bulk, chop them up into sandwich-sized pieces and freeze them.
Many people come to France for that slower, more traditional way of life – especially in the countryside. It is fair to say that small businesses everywhere need support more than ever. By shopping locally, it is possible to support local families and communities. It also may well reduce food miles and be good for the environment too.
Of course, you can buy baguettes in the supermarket too, along with a range of different bread. If you are looking for an industrial white, sliced loaf, check the ingredients as many may be sweeter than you may be used to. They may also deteriorate more quickly than you might be used to too as there may be fewer additives.
Rurally, the larger supermarkets in bigger towns usually stock pitta bread, English-style muffins and a greater range of bread that you may have become used to in your home country. However, naan bread and world foods may be harder to come by. Baking your own is a great way to overcome this if you feel the need, and there are many websites with easy-to-follow recipes.
It is always a great idea for meat-eaters to befriend local butchers and a good tip is to watch the locals and see where they shop (or ask your neighbours for a recommendation)
Meat is often hung longer in France, and meat cuts do differ from other countries – particularly the UK. Some butchers are aware of English cuts and may accommodate your needs if you ask nicely. They are usually really happy to explain the alternative cut and to tell you how to cook it.
There are some great dishes to explore, from slow-cooked ‘pot au feu’, which provides you with a soup starter from the cooking juices and a meat and vegetable main course (similar to slow-cooked brisket) to a beautiful ‘filet de boeuf en croute’.
Pork is usually very reasonably priced in France. As in any country, higher animal welfare standards and organic produce will command a premium. Increasingly, consumers want to know where their meat comes from and how it has been kept. It is possible to find local farmers in France who sell to the public, and you can see the animals for yourself.
In larger, more cosmopolitan cities, many dietary requirements are catered for, ‘pas de problème’.
In the countryside, however, supermarkets stock what may be considered by some to be a comparatively limited range of ready-made vegan foods. This is slowly evolving, and you will often find more range at your local bio stores (Biocoop and Biomonde are popular options).
With such great seasonal produce in France, there is plenty of inspiration for amazing vegan meals.
When eating out, it may be advisable to ring ahead to check the menu. Many chefs are happy to adapt their menu to individual needs where possible. There are also some useful websites in order to find a suitable restaurant, and it may be worth asking for local recommendations via specialist Facebook pages for the area in which you live. The Veggie Table and Happy Cow are good resources if you are looking to find vegetarian and vegan restaurants.
French markets or marchés
For some of us, markets may be synonymous with a bargain. This is not necessarily the case here in France. Markets are for quality produce and are often home for artisan producers with real savoir-faire.
Weekly or daily markets are a celebration of local and national products. Surely, no French market is complete without a cheese stall, and there is often a stunning array for cheese lovers. Ask to sample pressed, soft or blue cheeses from cow’s, sheep or goat’s milk. Never be afraid to ask for a smaller piece to buy.
Honey from local, registered beekeepers comes in different harvests, colours, flavours and textures.
Fruit and vegetables are seasonal, and during strawberry season, it is not uncommon to come across a dozen or more different varieties on sale—each with its own distinctive perfume and flavour.
Heritage carrots, tomatoes and ‘wonky’ veg are commonplace in France. Some vegetables still have mud from the field that morning and not a jot of plastic wrap in sight.
At the larger rural markets, you may find a knife sharpening service, haberdashery stalls where you may be able to have your sewing machine fixed, and many other sights now uncommon elsewhere.
Markets are a cultural experience and a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Indeed, in many larger cities, try ‘Les Halles’. These are indoor markets combining the sale of fresh, local seasonal produce with restaurants and cafes.
See our guide to French markets.
French Shop Opening Times and Lunchtime Closures
Many shops close between 12 or 12.30pm and 2pm or 2.30pm for lunch, so do try to plan your day accordingly, although some shops are beginning to buck this tradition. Smaller shops may even close for longer over lunch, so it always pays to double-check. Most supermarkets, aside from those in some smaller towns and villages, remain open at lunchtime.
It is an ideal time to stop for lunch yourself at one of the fabulous restaurants this country has to offer with lunchtime set menus and ‘dish of the day’ two or three-course meals being a fraction of the price of an evening meal equivalent.
See our guide to French opening hours.
In short, France is a shopper’s paradise whether you are searching for high fashion in the Champs Elysees in Paris or a bygone experience in the markets of the rural and beautiful Charente. There is something for everyone!