Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Zen and the art of grocery shopping

Today I would like to discuss one of my favorite activities—grocery shopping. I’m serious. Wandering the aisles of the local supermarket has always afforded me a peace of mind akin to that of a long stroll through a flower garden, or the silent contemplation of raked gravel. In college, when most of my fellow student-types were off engaging in more conventional forms of decompression, I could often be found lingering in the aisles of the local grocery store, collecting my thoughts while hunting for exotic sauces. Zen meditation or supermarket cruising—both do wonders for my sense of inner calm.

Land of food, France and its grocery kingdom were just waiting for my arrival. When I first moved here, I couldn’t get enough of grocery shopping—which was inconvenient considering I was living with a host family and had no refrigerator of my own, but that is beside the point. All I knew at the time was that in France the grapes looked different, the cucumbers looked different, the yogurt aisle was like something out of a dream ... and they had this crazy system where you weighed your own produce and printed out your own little labels with the prices right on them! How exciting! Now, many years later, I admit that the element of novelty has worn off (yeah, yeah, so the zucchini are round), but I still love to grocery shop.

The funny thing is that whereas in the beginning I celebrated all the new, strange and wondrous things that I could find and buy in French supermarkets (fromage blanc, for example, or liqueur de litchi, or pâtes d'Alsace...), today I get excited when I stumble across beloved “American” items that I had assumed I would never see on this side of the Atlantic. I’m thinking baby carrots; I’m thinking Special K; I’m thinking SMOOTHIES. Yes, after long years of bitterly lamenting their absence, my craving for pureed fruit drinks can at last be appeased—smoothies are now an accepted member of the French supermarket club. Thank you, Tropicana. In fact, smoothies have garnered quite a following in Paris. And what with the bagel bar that has recently sprung up next to my office, I feel nearly as though I’m at home in SoCal (well, kinda).

So my question now is: what on earth are smoothie shops like Jamba Juice and Surf City Squeeze waiting for? It is high time for them to go French. And before you get all up in my grill for advocating chain stores and industrial food and all that everyone loves to hate about America, I’d like to point out that this is no longer 1930 and France has so many of its own chain stores that no one bothers to do any hand-wringing over the presence of big, mean Starbucks anymore. Simply take a stroll along the Boulevard des Italiens in the center of Paris and THEN let’s discuss chain eateries. Or take a gander at the zones commerciales peppering the provinces. Honestly, France requires zero help from the US to go franchise. Hence my dream of opening a Bath and Body Works here and retiring at age 40, because believe me, all they need to do is tone down a bit of that cutesy barn look they have going and French women will be all over them. Witness Sephora, the Body Shop and Yves Rocher. Creams and lotions are of international interest. Much like round zucchini.

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