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!