French grocery shopping and kitchens

So, I’ve been in France for a week now, and I’ve already noticed some distinct differences between the German and French grocery shopping experience, as well as the kitchens in which the food is stored and prepared in.

Here in France, people obviously love food. In some ways it is more similar to the American love of food than I would have thought. In our town there is a huge supermarket rivaling the biggest Wal-mart Supercenters in the US, complete with the now-obligatory sushi counter and anchoring a variety of the typical side businesses such as dry cleaner, bank, hair salon, etc. The aisles of groceries seem endless, and to my surprise a large portion of them are filled end-to-end with processed foods. From pre-packaged baked goods to single serving microwavable meals, the variety of processed foods possibly even exceeds that found in the US. It is France however, so there are also extensive wine, cheese and produce sections. My stereotyped expectations were, of course, primarily based on the idea of open-air markets selling whole, fresh foods, but my experiences in German grocery stores also led me to expect less of the processed, pre-packaged stuff. Yes, there were also supercenters in Germany, but nothing comparable to the American versions I was accustomed to. Further, there just wasn’t that much of a selection of processed foods — at least not a selection you wouldn’t be bored of after a week.

Supermarkets aside, France also has more to offer in the way of outdoor farmers’ markets. There is a market in our town six days a week. In my town in Germany, which was at least twice the size of my new French hometown, there was an open air market only three times a week. The French certainly seem to make it easy for daily grocery shoppers to find what they are looking for. Paradoxically, the refrigerator in our French apartment is twice the size of that in my German apartment — maybe to fit the vast array of cheeses a French person would want to have on hand? I’m not sure yet how to reconcile these differences; it could be that French people just enjoy eating and everything related to it more, whereas the Germans seem to take an “I eat to exist” sort of approach. Neither culture, however, seems to think that real ovens are important to have in rented apartments, and that I’m not sure I will ever be able to rationalize.

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