It’s impossible to live in Paris without doing le shopping at some point. My neighbourhood in Montmartre has a supermarket on every corner, so it seems only right that I should acquaint myself with a few.
I don’t mind admitting that I loathe shopping. That shopping is, for some people, a leisure activity shocks, appalls and amazes me. As far as I’m concerned, Marx got it wrong. Forget religion. Shopping is the opiate of the masses. We go to work to be able to buy a load of rubbish that we’ve been convinced we need. The more we shop, the more we have to work. On that basis, shopping for fun is fundamentally flawed. I feel sorry for people who buy into it, if you’ll pardon the pun. Food shopping, on the other hand, is different.
Within a ten minute stroll of Rue Ordener there are 2 Monoprix, 2 Franprix, 1 Lidl, a Carrefour (and no, I don’t pronounce it like that) along with an assortment of independent shops. Before I arrived in Paris, I did a spot of supermarket research. Carrefour promises a bargain at out of town malls. Monoprix and Franprix, owned by the same company, have been compared to Waitrose or Booths if you’re lucky enough to live north of Watford. Lidl, on the other hand, received much less favourable reviews.
An unlucky star
“If you’re shopping in Lidl, you were born under a very unlucky star.” was the misplaced witticism of one reviewer. Mais non, say I. I love Lidl and my local in Montmartre is no exception. Granted, my first visit was something akin to being hit over the head with a very heavy shovel. An angry woman was arguing bitterly with the overwrought cashier over a cucumber, unfortunately with my limited French I cannot enlighten you as to why (it looked like a fine cuke to me). There was, I’m sorry to say, an over abundance of shoving, pushing and sweating. In full on Wall Street style, a middle aged, bespectacled manager bellowed orders, addressing all male employees as ‘Boy’ irrespective of their age. Tempers were not at their best on one of the hottest days of the year. Undeterred, I resolved to return much earlier in the day next time.
Are we all just le shopping snobs?
Call me cheap, but I will shop anywhere. I remember a conversation with a friend at least 10 years ago that still irks me. She casually referred to “People who have to shop at Lidl.” during our exchange. Have to? “Seriously? Have you tried their chocolate?” was the only response I was quick enough to make. I think I made my point. The conversation left me feeling, really, really sorry for her in the same way that I feel sympathy towards those shopping is for ‘fun’ people. She doesn’t know what she’s missing.
The closest supermarket to me on Rue Ordener is Monoprix, but at the moment their air conditioning is broken. I don’t know about you, but in a heatwave, le shopping provides me with the perfect excuse to enjoy prolific air conditioning at my leisure. There’s nothing quite like dawdling in the chiller section, with that faux “I just can’t choose” expression when you’re sweating for France, England, or both. Until it’s fixed, my sham loyalty belongs to Franprix, Lidl and the Indian man in the market who sells every single thing conceivable for less that 10 euros.
Le shopping deja queue
Undiscouraged by my first taste of Lidl, early Monday morning, I headed off again along Rue Ruisseau, or Stream Street. On this particular morning, there was, in fact, a stream gushing along the gutter (one of Paris’s heatwave management strategies). You can imagine my surprise when I arrived at Lidl to discover a queue. That’s right, they were queuing to get in. Unlucky star? I think not. Should you need any further evidence that these people were born under an auspicious star, rotating in the sunshine above them was a giant heart.
I walked around the block to help get my steps up to 10,000 and give Lidl chance to open, not least because I didn’t rate my chances if I was caught in a scrum. It turns out that queue was for the weekly ‘offers’. There was a palpable frisson blocking the aisle around a basket of fake Birkenstock sandals with rainbow coloured platform soles.
Shop and search
Was it quieter? Yes. Was the manager still barking garçon instead of a real name at anyone unlucky enough to be caught in her field of vision? Unfortunately, yes but no one was arguing over cucumbers.
With space to peruse the uncluttered aisles, one of the main differences I noticed this time is the portable shopping trolley, or the ‘shopper’ if you will. Customers whizzed around the store, flinging item after item into their shoppers. At first, I wondered if I was witness to some sort of en masse shop lifting, or covert flash mob price protest. There is no way that would happen in the UK, security would be on top of you like a ton of bricks. Even Franprix has a parking lot for portable shoppers to prevent over zealous ‘accumulation’. But Lidl? They take a different approach. You simply get to the checkout, empty your shopper, and open it up for the cashier who pokes their head inside to ensure it’s empty. Nobody was remotely perturbed by this informal shop, stop and search. I dare say the UK police force could learn a thing or two from this approach.
Finally, should I need to persuade you further regarding the lucky star of Lidl, I’ll leave you with this. Where else can you find a shop that sells cotton buds complete with Eiffel Tower packaging?