Miles of Yaourt

In Paris, The Art of Travel Spring 2015, The Quotidian by Rose Gilroy1 Comment

I open the clear glass door and am met with a blast of cool, sterile air. The brilliant fluorescent light shines into my eyes as I try to make meaning out of the words in front of me. I see the tiny cylindrical containers stacked on top of each other stretch on in both directions. I’m overwhelmed, and search helplessly for something recognizable, but everything is a bit off. In the Francophone world Dannon is Danone and Greek is Greque. You cannot buy just one carton but a set of two, four, or eight. Some containers are ceramic; others are even made of glass. Shouldn’t yogurt be the same everywhere?

I let the door seal shut; clearly, this is going to take me a while so I might as well escape the cold while I try to figure out what to buy—so much for a quick trip to Carrefour. Since I can’t make sense of all the different options on my first day at the grocery store in Paris, I’m adventurous and buy a four pack of yogurt made from goat’s milk, but it tastes kind of weird when mixed with my muesli. On my next trip to the grocery store I try a simple yogurt “nature,” but it turns out to be liquid. It’s not for a couple weeks that I realize if I turn the corner there is another whole aisle of even more yogurt options, not to mention the department filled with dessert yogurts a couple of rows down. I long for my favorite Greek yogurt, my Fage Total 0% that I can find at every grocery, bodega, and drugstore in Manhattan. However, I eventually acclimate and after a few weeks decide on a yogurt I like, even though I have no idea what the label means: Yaourt brassé nature.

I’m typically a very quick grocery shopper—I know exactly what I want to buy and am an expert at weaving my way through the throngs of people at Whole Foods, Fairway, or Morton Williams to pick up my weekly groceries on a crowded evening after class. However, in Paris even simple activities like grocery shopping take me quite a while. I don’t have a preexisting map of the store in my head, and I’m not sure what products exist overseas. I speak French with relative fluency, but when it comes to labels describing cheese or yogurt in succinct colloquialisms I find myself rather lost.

However, even on my first trip to Carrefour in Paris I found myself lingering not only to figure out my yogurt conundrum, but also because I actually enjoy wandering by all the different foods. Sure, France really isn’t all that exotic, but few foods are exactly the same as in the U.S. And I know I’ve talked a lot about yogurt in this essay, but you have no idea how many different options there are here! I recently tried an almond flavored dessert yogurt and it was incredible! Once I leave Paris I know I’m going to end up missing my French yogurt. Last week I found a Fage and it didn’t taste nearly as good as I remembered.

I don’t only enjoy grocery shopping here because of the food, I also like the fact that when I go to Carrefour or Monoprix I feel like I really live a quotidian Parisian life. Studying abroad is a strange mix of being a tourist and a Parisian; I spend half my time checking off attractions on my Paris Top 10 list, and the other half going to school, grocery shopping, seeing movies, and watching Downton Abbey as if I really live here. Surprisingly, I’m realizing that I like the everyday activities just as much as the typical Paris attractions. Except perhaps the Eiffel Tower sparkling at night—no Carrefour or cool Sorbonne library can top that!


  1. Hi Rose! Your description of a French grocery store’s yogurt section was hilarious and so dead on. I studied abroad in Paris my freshman year and I remember on my first trip to Franprix asking myself how in the world do French people have so many types of yogurt. There is nothing like it in the world and I cannot put into words how anxious would I become upon approaching the yogurt section. I bought fromage blanc the first few weeks because it was the cheapest and it looked just like plain, normal yogurt. One of my friends later told me that it was actually cheese. I thought fromage being in the name was just a misnomer and was horrified to learn that I was eating a huge bowl of cheese for breakfast every morning. To be honest though, I still don’t really know what fromage blanc truly is! I can totally relate to you feeling like a tourist and a Parisian while abroad. I think that the NYU bubble definitely adds to that confusion. The only time I truly feel like a local is when I am by myself!

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