Judging by some of the conversations on expat ‘gosh aren’t I clever for living in France’ websites I could get the impression that I live in the only part of the country which has actually discovered retail. I’m not sure what everyone else out there is doing – trading chickens and cheese for wool which they then turn into humble homespun garments, presumably. That sort of palaver is probably very authentic and I’ve no doubt it nets you bags of Sunday supplement lifestyle points, but personally I really can’t be bothered, so I usually just go to shops.
Not that I enter such temples of Mammon very often, mind you, never really having got to grips with the idea that shopping is some kind of leisure activity rather than just a way of acquiring stuff you need. If you want to wander round a place looking at the objects contained therein and saying ‘ooh look at that’, wouldn’t a museum be a better bet? The building itself is likely to be more impressive, the objects are probably genuinely interesting and with any luck there should be a nice garden with ducks.
Seriously, the Chatêau de Vizille is going to make for a much more enjoyable Saturday afternoon than Carrefour. And they’re both a better bet than sitting at home surfing the web looking for UK retailers willing to charge you an arm and a leg to send you stuff which was probably made in China anyway.
Brits with a France habit used to spend weeks after they came back from their Dordogne gîtes droning on at anyone willing to listen about how marvellous French supermarkets were and how you could buy absolutely everything in them. As if most of these people didn’t already have pretty much absolutely everything anyway. They’ve stopped doing it recently, I’ve noticed, possibly because the only shop in the UK these days is Tesco, so obviously you can now get everything there, if only because otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get it at all.
It’s an odd phenomenon, though, that people who have finally sacked Blighty off altogether and gone to live in that Dordogne gîte suddenly cease to rave about France and take to moaning about all the things they can’t buy, swapping lists of overpriced English grocery stores and importing industrial quantities of curry sauce. You can make curry, you know – Indians do it all the time. Mind you, it’s true that buying women’s clothes can be a bit of a project if you aren’t stick thin with as much bosom as Twiggy. I might have had a problem myself if it wasn’t for the fact that my sartorial development never got past the hoody-and-jeans with boots stage.
For me though, the main problem with shopping in France is the same one I have with shopping everywhere else. It requires me to go into shops. Shops, what’s more, in either an urban environment or one of those futuristic indoor places with 50 football pitches worth of multi storey car park, three branches of McDonalds and that piped music which makes you want to kill someone after you’ve been there for five minutes. I don’t know why I bother in the first place, because I never get the time to buy anything before I have to go home and lie down in a darkened room.
In fact, if it weren’t for the internet I’d probably be walking around all year in board boots and ski gear, since you don’t have to go near any sort of metropolis for those. As it is I manage to look more or less appropriate for most of the time mainly courtesy of eBay. Not through lack of choice, you understand, but because I am a pikey with skewed spending priorities and an expensive books-and-ski-gear habit.