ode to monoprix (or, grocery shopping in france)

The other night, I went to my friend Emily’s adorable apartment to make a delicious homemade meal. I showed up slightly later than I was supposed to, as per usual (alas), and it was first things first: off to the grocery store to purchase the necessary supplies!

Now onto that whole ode thing.

Let me preface this by sharing with you some helpful advice posted in my dorm lobby. They have a whole list of “abroad tips”, and one of them is: “Expect different. Abroad will be different, but remember that different does not mean inferior or worse.”

Okay, gotcha. I take this advice to heart, I really do. Sure, there are lots of things that are different–more different in more little ways than I ever imagined. But I’ve come to love and accept these cultural quirks as part of this marvelous life I have in France.

Well, most of the time.

I know this is negative. I know I should be embracing the culture. But I’m sorry. It just has to be said. French grocery stores, I’m sorry to say, are just plain inferior to American grocery stores. There’s really no getting around it.

I don’t want to rant, but I feel like you need some background to fully appreciate the situation. Admittedly, much of the whole inferiority issue probably has to do with the fact that many, even most Parisians do much of their shopping at markets, where the produce and food is fresher and of higher quality. I don’t blame them. But that doesn’t change the fact that when I go into my Carrefour City or Marche Franprix in one of the nicest areas of the city, I feel like I’m entering Save-a-Lot! in some godforsaken corner of nowhere. Really, they’re terribly organized (oh, OF COURSE I should have thought to look for the paper towels in the pet food aisle), always vaguely stinky (I blame the cheese), and there are, without fail, random boxes of food all over the place. Even if you manage to find what you’re looking for, it’s often difficult to find the price of an item (due to it being on the wrong shelf or just a blank price display) and entirely likely that whatever you want just isn’t in stock. When it comes time to check out, the lines are consistently horrendously long, there’s no such thing as express checkout, the cashiers get annoyed if you don’t have exact change (I really do try, but at some point, someone has to break my 20 euro bill so that everyone else can get their change), and you bag your own groceries, which, as you can only imagine, really helps keep the aforementioned Disney-length lines moving quickly. Inevitably, my apples, soup, and yogurt somehow become swallowed up by the massive pile of groceries of the person in front of me (who is still trying to finish packing their things up), and I’m left trying to grab my purchases and get out of there before even more groceries start getting thrown into the mix. It’s a certifiable nightmare.

Sorry for the negativity, because honestly, if the biggest thing I have to complain about is that the grocery stores aren’t quite up to par, I’d say things are going pretty well. This is totally a non-issue in the grand scheme of things. I just needed to give you an idea of the general Parisian grocery shopping experience so that you can fully appreciate what I have to tell you. Because in the midst of all that chaos and confusion, there is Monoprix.

Monoprix

Source (please note that the above image came from a website called “Survival Tips for Expats and Spouses”…I’m not making this stuff up, people)

Clearly a gleaming beacon of light for American expats in Paris, Monoprix is the closet thing France has to an American-style grocery store. It’s here that I’ll get off my soapbox (thanks for indulging me) and return to the story of dinner with Emily. A brand-spanking-new Monoprix just opened up near her apartment, so of course, it was there that we went to do our shopping for the evening. This Monoprix is giant and especially nice, and yes, I took pictures. Remember two months ago when I went snap-happy at the Kensington Whole Foods? Yeah, Monoprix is nice, but it’s not nearly that nice. Times have changed. How are the mighty fallen.

Still, it’s impressive. It felt like Target when I walked in!

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Monoprix has everything. Clothes, an impressive cosmetics section (Essie nail polish, ooh la la!), home goods, school supplies, and of course, groceries.

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They even have a wine section! I’m so there.

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They also have their own bakery, massive cheese, deli, prepared foods, and pastry counters with tantalizing displays, a large selection of fresh-looking produce that looks straight out of an upper-end American store (I wouldn’t go so far as to say Whole Foods quality…let’s not get carried away here), and–wait for it–SAMPLES. I about died when I saw this. Samples are not nearly so common as they are in the US, and, um, aren’t they one of the best parts of grocery shopping? Just me? Okay. Well, I think they’re great. Admittedly, I didn’t partake in these particular offerings, but I really, really appreciated the effort. Gold star for Monoprix.

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Aaaand another gold star for the charming, brightly-colored goats that greeted us when we walked in the door. Enchantée, monsieur.

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We happily spent twenty or so minutes just wandering around picking out dinner supplies. Everything was happily located in some logical place (side from one small snafu that involved tomato sauce being in two different parts of the store…CRISIS, ALERT THE AUTHORITIES). We knew what everything cost before we went to pay for it. When it was time to leave, the lines moved quickly. It was blissful. With a little imagination, it almost felt like home. I felt perfectly content and tres français as we made our way back to Emily’s with a baguette poking out of our giant grocery bag.

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The scenery wasn’t too bad, either.

In the dorm, my meals have to come from either a microwave or a toaster oven, so as you can image, my options are limited. It was incredibly nice to be able to actually cook for a change. We were starving and not wanting to do anything too complicated, so we just had pasta. And thus I present, the first ever installation of Cuisine avec Tess: I made pseudo-homemade sauce by sautéeing spinach, mushrooms, and onions and then pouring our pre-bought tomato sauce over that. Ooh, you fancy huh. Tastes homemade to me and my oh so discerning palate. Now all of you run out and emulate that complicated gourmet recipe STAT, I know you’re just dying to.

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My beautifully lit tomato sauce. Not my powdered mashed potatoes.

I will say, though, that when paired with crusty baguette with camembert, an amazing salad of romaine lettuce, pears, and bleu cheese, and some delicious cakey chocolate chip cookies made from some mix we’d happily come across at the grocery store, all was well. There was also a two-euro bottle of wine (or two) involved. When in France…. Because dinner in every country is improved by the presence of vino.

To really improve aesthetics/this gastronomical experience, we served everything up using disposable plates and bowls. Because no one actually wants to clean up after the yummy dinner…crisis averted. Now, feel free to enjoy my expert food photography.

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So, all that to say, if you ever find yourself in Paris and in need of groceries, GO TO MONOPRIX. Save yourself the negligible amount of grief that I am regularly subjected to when I’m too lazy and go to Carrefour City because it’s closest. My life…it’s rough.

I’ll finish this gem of a post with a photo of Emily’s ceiling…because I think it’s pretttyyyy and I’d like my bedroom ceiling to look like this. Working on it.

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One response to “ode to monoprix (or, grocery shopping in france)

  1. Maryann Vaughan

    When I see a POST from you…depending on my mood, I either sit down ikmmediately and read it l0 times…..or wait a bit and enjoy anticipating reading it “when I need it.” I’m still reading Atlas Shrugged, and enjoying every minute (HOUR) of it. I went and found the Sparks book you and I bought when I was going to read it about 2 years ago. Thanks……It makes me so happy that you are so happy. Love you lots. Amma

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