French adapt markets to suit some American tastes

Tuesday, December 3, 2002

TRIAUCOURT EN ARGONNE, France -- Along with the rainy weather in France, the cold, frigid air has become its bedfellow. Rarely does the temperature climb out of the hole of 8 degrees -- but that's in Centigrade! The Fahrenheit equivalent is in the area of 46.4 degrees. Okay, so that's the exact conversion!

This is actually the closest that I have lived to a large body of water, in this case, the Atlantic Ocean. It still feels a little strange to say that when I am about the farthest I can be away from the ocean and still be in France. But when the country is the size of Texas and I'm used to a country the size of, well, the United States, it is easy to become bewildered and confused; so I try to stray away from thinking in size and distances and conversions of metric to "standard" (though the measurements are only standard to the U.S.).

Though my knowledge of French verbs and nouns has vastly grown beyond my wildest hopes and dreams, my sentence structure tends to be a little on the bland side. So I went to the bookstore in Bar-le-Duc and purchased a French grammar book. The only downside is that it is in French, so I find myself spending the first read-through of a rule deciphering and translating as best I can. The language is confusing to say the least, and my French friends agree! They have told me on many occasions that English is in fact easier to learn than French would be for them, though I can't imagine how they can make that type of statement when they've been speaking French since they could speak. But I will take their word for it.

E-mail has been a blessing to me. I can't imagine how exchange students ever made it through their stays without this technology. I suppose this says something about our changing culture and its dependency on technology, but I, for one, am pleased with this dependency. Though the Internet is not as widespread to the public in Europe as it is in the states, the high schools have free access provided by the government. So, on mornings before classes start, you can usually find me in La Salle d'Internet checking up on everything from e-mail from my family and friends to keeping up with the happenings in Southeast Missouri by way of the semissourian.com Web site.

Similarities and differences

Grocery stores in France have become more and more prevalent to accommodate the changing lifestyles of the everyday French person. Back in the days when grocery stores were few and far between, a person would go to specialty stores to pick up the needs for the week. One stop at the butcher (la boucherie) for fresh bacon and ham, the bread store (la boulangerie) for the classic baguettes, the cheese store (la crémerie) for all types of French cheeses, and so on until all bases were covered. Now with the seemingly unceasing influence of the North American lifestyle, grocery stores are slowly becoming the norm and taking over the market. Pun intended.

Though grocery stores in France seem to model their counterparts in America, some of the products still seem strange in the way that they are packaged -- milk, for example. My first visit to the Super-marché was fairly ordinary. That was until I came to the dairy products. Mixed in with the rows and rows of yogurts and puddings, I had expected to find nice, large, plastic jugs of milk ranging from whole milk to skim milk and from white milk to chocolate milk. But try as I did, searching high and low, no milk could be found. What strange country was this that milk wasn't in the dairy section!? Oh, how wrong was I! The milk was in the dairy section, just not the refrigerated part. And it wasn't in the plastic jugs either; no, it was in plastic covered cardboard cartons that harkened back to the "good ol' days" -- at least to me -- of individual juice drinks. You know, the ones with the flexi-straw that was too small to get any decent sized portion with. As I drew closer to this oddity -- looking more and more foreign every moment I stared unbelievingly at the pyramid of cardboarded milk -- I saw in at least seven different languages the message: "REFRIGERATE AFTER OPENING AND CONSUME IN 3 DAYS."

But my experience with milk doesn't end at the grocery store, oh no. My family doesn't buy this milk. Instead, they have a friend who owns dairy cows. I think you all can see where this is heading.

Not only do grocery stores carry food and personal products, but most are like a cross between a Schnucks and a K-Mart. Almost everything can be found at this one-stop shop. Now, a whole corner of my host mother's favorite grocery store has been converted into the North Pole, and has been since halfway through November! Without a holiday like Thanksgiving to usher in the Christmas season -- the pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock so many years ago just don't seem to hold an endearing place in the hearts of the French -- it's more of a guess-and-check method on when to put out Christmas merchandise. I have also seen three houses that are in the "Christmas spirit" and have their twinkling lights ablaze as soon as the sun sets.

Well, time for dinner, so I suppose I will leave you to your day. I have just been informed that we are having duck liver with pasta.

So, bon appetite avec votre cuisine américain!

Dane Lincoln is a 2002 graduate of Central High School who is studying abroad through the Rotary International student exchange program.

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