Monday, July 10, 2006

Le Prix: The Price

Upon arriving in France, nearly a year ago, there were a lot of things that were "new" to us. Daily life was somewhat of an obstacle course, as we adjusted to new ways of doing things, different requirements, and cultural shifts. Just heading to the store could become the stuff of nightmares, as the things we were used to didn't exist here, and the brands that the French grew up with were all brand-new and unknown to us. And of course, there are the prices. Living in Paris doesn't come cheap.

But, after a few months, we started to know what we liked and what we didn't, and what to say, and what not to say, when to go, when to avoid the stores at all costs, and where we could find better deals.

Still, shopping in France is expensive. Twice a year, the soldes offer some bargains, but for the most part, things are just generally très cher when you live in Paris. If you've ever wondered why Parisians are so concerned with designers and brand names, I have a theory. When even the cheap, made-in-China stuff is expensive, people are willing to pay a bit more for the designer item. Why not?

Anyway, we looked forward to visiting our friend R in Germany, because we knew that we could ask for one very special trip, to the drugstore.

"Ooooh! Whoopie!" you say? Yeah, that's what I would have said, this time last year. But now things are very different indeed.

We walked into the DM store, and grabbed a basket. I had carefully rationed out our remaining toiletries, so we needed just about everything. R accompanied us around the store, reading the text for us, so we wouldn't get the wrong items. Dr. B and I were like two kids in a candy store! "Did you see that? Only 3 euros!" "Whoa, honey, I can afford shampoo, conditioner AND mousse!" We quickly loaded our basket, and as we headed to the caisse, I stopped by the fun-little-trial-size baskets, choosing a little metal tin of chamomile hand cream, for only 50 centimes. I also grabbed a bottle of nail polish remover, delighted that I wouldn't have to go unpolished for the rest of the summer--the 6 to 9 euros I would have had to spend on the 100 milliliter bottle in France was a measly 79 centimes in Germany.

All told, we paid about 25 euros for shampoo and conditioner (400 ml bottles!!!), 2 packages of "not barbed wire like the French version" dental floss, toothpaste, two toothbrushes, mousse, 2 kinds of deoderant, hand cream and nail polish remover. If we could have found that size of Pantene shampoo in France (which is impossible--a bottle there is only 200 ml--about 6 and a half ounces), it would have cost about the same, without all the other items. We were in heaven!

The day before, we had met R's boyfriend P in Metz, France. P was working there, in an orchestra, while R works in one in Germany, and they live half-way in between. P shops for certain less expensive items in France (mineral water, yogurt) and R buys the others in Germany. While watching football on TV in a local Irish pub, R and I were already thinking about dinner, and what to make when we got home. She mentioned that she'd like a cucumber for the salad, and since it was 7:15, we decided to walk to the local grocery store to buy one.

We arrived at 7:25, and the store closed at 7:30. Nonetheless, the entrance gates were chained shut and blocked by shopping carts. A security guard was posted at the entrance, just in case someone decided to scale the mountain of chariots and sneak inside for a quick purchase.

"Please, monsieur, I just need a cucumber. May I come in?"


"But, it's 7:25, you close in 5 minutes, and it's just one item. Just a cucumber, that's all."

"No. We're closed. No. No! We're closed!"

R and I left the store, keeping our eyes open for an Alimentation Générale (convenience store), with no luck. We were cuke-less.

"Man, he was rude," R said as we walked back to the pub. "What a jerk. I can't believe the way he spoke to us!"

"Oh, that's normal."

"Normal? That's so rude! How can that be normal?"

"He's just being French. I'm not surprised. That's what happens in the stores. You are nice to them, and if you're lucky, they won't be totally evil back to you. But don't count on it. Logic, reason, smiling, pleading, flirting--it won't work. And if it does, go to church and put a big bill in the offering plate, because you got very, very lucky."

"Wow. It's not like that in Germany or America," R continued. "Clerks are nice to you there. It must be just in France."

"Well, he was pretty decent, actually," I said. "If it were Paris, he would have said 'Ce n'est pas possible! Pas possible! It's not possible!!!' and he would have started yelling at us. You know, because 30 seconds for one cucumber would have inconvenienced him so very much."

I guess that's part of the price you pay.



At 3:08 PM, July 13, 2006, Anonymous Renée said...

Try living in London...


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