Marché Madness

Every place I live I end up having a complicated relationship with the local supermarket, and in France it’s no different. In fact, I think it’s amplified by my expectations about the quality of food here, and complicated by all the small outdoor markets that sell higher quality food, at higher prices. I’d like to support the small owners and their stuff is better but often lower prices and convenience win out, so there’s guilt mixed in there too.

In Brooklyn there was Key Food, the first supermarket I ever hated. Messy, crowded, with their own sad, low-priced line of products and impatient, nasty cashiers. Worst of all was the dreaded parking lot on McGuinness Boulevard and the metal bars that made it impossible to take the shopping cart out to your car. With a toddler in tow I could never figure out which was better: leave the shopping unattended in the cart, take the kid and get in the car and drive back around, hoping the stuff would still be there, or drag it one bag at a time, holding onto the kid with the other hand? Eventually she was old enough to help carry the bags to the car, and grew to hate Key Food as much as I did.

When we moved to Nashville I thought we’d have it made. This was suburban living – free and easy parking, spacious aisles, low prices. But I quickly developed Kroger Rage. It wasn’t the cashiers, because they’d installed the self-serve checkouts so you’d rarely encounter an actual employee of the store. And when you did it was “Why, what’s the problem, hon?” or “I am truly blessed!” (This in response to someone having exact change for a purchase.) No, it was the customers – slovenly groups of three to seven people in horrible light blue Nashville Titans sportswear. Or even worse, the music biz brigade with their impossibly good grooming and constant cellphone use (“So I said to him, you gotta get that thing remastered. Hey, they’ve got a special on the honey roast turkey breast. Anyway…if Tim and Faith cut it, uh, yeah can I get some of those jalapeno poppers please, and…” ) Remember cellphones? It seems like a lifetime ago.

Cleveland was a whole other brand of misery, but like a lot of things Cleveland the Giant Eagle ended up winning a strange little place in my heart. The cashiers were indifferent, the other customers surly and defensive. But there was this sweet guy who collected the carts. He’d always get a big smile on his face when he saw me and say “My friend, my friend!” Some days it was the only human contact I’d have.

So our local supermarché here is the ATAC. At first I was pretty excited to have one within walking distance. And the novelty of all the different products – so many cheeses! Look at that magazine section! Cheap wine! kept me entertained for a while. But there’s no escaping the fact that ATAC is merely an outpost of the huge Auchan chain, and a dowdy country cousin at best. At worst it’s a probable dumping ground for produce that wouldn’t make it in a bigger town.

The local markets are good for special occasions or when visitors come but the prices have gotten very high. So for decent meat and produce, we’ve been traveling to the Intermarché about thirty minutes away by car. Not so bad until you consider the store closing hours in France. 12 to 3 every afternoon and then 7 PM onward. Except Intermarché which closes inexplicably at 11:45. This means having the forethought to look at the clock by 11 AM and say, “shit, we’d better get to the store.” Which inevitably doesn’t happen so we’re off on foot to the ATAC (which is inexplicably open until 12:15, except when it’s not.)

Most of our ATAC anger has been focused on a certain cashier who is so pinched and unpleasant that we started calling her Rat Face. It got so I would do anything possible to avoid her scorn. If there was a guy at her caisse with a bottle of wine, some oranges and a jar of cassoulet, and a woman with two weeks worth of frozen food, canned goods, cookies, and clothing for the entire family at the other cash register, I would commit myself to waiting ten minutes for the other cashier and let Rat Face stand by herself staring into space, rather than have her cold claw of a hand throwing change at me in a shorter amount of time.

But there was good news a few weeks back. A new Intermarché had opened, just a short ten minute drive away! We were so excited, knowing our quality of life would improve without the daily grind of a visit to ATAC.

But this new Intermarché sucks. It must be the Siberia of Intermarchés, where they send all the butchers who can’t cut it, and the cashiers who’ve been broken by having to deal with too many expats.

So it’s back to the ATAC. But Rat Face is gone. I don’t know why, but I kind of miss her.

8 thoughts on “Marché Madness

  1. Rosie

    Country Intermarchés are quite awful. The problem is that everyone in the country grows their own vegetables, and if it is a vegetable that they cant grow, they dont recognise it and so dont know what to do with it. Either way, veggies are always incredibly ancient.By the way, your tale of Cleveland has reminded me of the high point in my career – as a backing singer with “Max and the Broadway metal Choir”, we had to sing a chorus which went “We call his penis Cleveland cos no-one ever goes there, You know we wont be hanging around!” Ah Those were the days…I always quite liked Cleveland myself.

  2. xyy

    UGH!! Key Food!! Just the worst. Gristedes is pretty awful too. No room, dirty, disgusting meat…the one near the apartment we used to live in literally had birds flying around in it…My new hate is directed at CostCo, which I recently had to join because their eyeglasses are less expensive…incredibly fat people pushing multiple giant shopping carts filled with piles of giant-sized frozen foods…hoards of people hovering around little tables so then get a taste of the tiny sample kielbasa with a toothpick stuck in it. The worst is the “food court” where entire families of overweight, uh, families stuffing down crappy pizzas and giant sized Cokes…it’s depressing, it’s their outlet for family entertainment. I just don’t know where you would store a 50 gallon jar of olives….

  3. Le Tigre

    ATAC is awful! There’s one in particular here which just smells so bad I can’t believe it hasn’t been closed. It smells like rotten food and it has infected the whole of the shopping complex that it’s housed it, the stench is truly awful. We go to Auchun or Cora, which we have to drive to, but it’s worth it to get away from the stench!

  4. amy

    Those lyrics made me laugh out loud Rosie. Hilarous. I want to find out more about the show…xyy, don’t tell me there’s a Costco in Brooklyn now? You’re right, it makes Key Food/Gristedes look charming. Those huge stores depress the hell out of me.le Tigre now you have me curious about Cora!

  5. julie

    Hey, I’m from Cleveland and we always get a bad rap. I now live 30 miles south of Cleveland and I am missing Cleveland grocery stores…That’s pretty sad, huh? I’m Jewish and you try getting matzo around here at this time of the year. The employees look at you like you’re speaking a foreign language.

  6. Sherry ~ Cherie ~ ms. herbes de provence

    This was an interesting post!! I know none of these supermarkets but I suppose every city has it’s good and bad ones..I’m with you on those metal bars though Amy — I know it’s to keep their carts “in” but tell me how you can be blocks from the store and one of those carts has escaped!!!

  7. Michele

    Amy, Love this tour through your world of supermarkets! Ah… you live such an interesting life, yet, there you are – as I am – spending so much time having to deal with this sort of daily drudgery. Like you, sometimes the only people I come in contact with during a day may be the grocery workers, so what a shame you’d have to deal with Rat Face! I guess I’m not alone in assigning nicknames to grocery workers, except my biggest grocery nemesis hasn’t received quite as a creative a name as your rodenty cashier. I simply refer to him as “the mean deli guy”. Every time I need to pick up roasted chicken at the deli, I sweat. He’s that mean!On my last visit to France, I did appreciate the markets compared to ours. The one I went to in Roanne, the cashiers got to sit while I had to mark down my prices and bag; where as, my cashiers have to stand all day. And I thought they had a smart way to deal with stolen carts with the returned coin method. Anyway, loved your tour through all your markets, and the music industry calls you overheard in Nashville sound not much different than LA. I have a lot of friends there in Nashville, somehow I didn’t imagine the industry calls in the market. I always picture dark clubs with sawdust on the floor, skinny country-rockers in faded jeans and good music. But, uh, it sounds like home.

  8. amy

    Julie, I know, Cleveland really is a secret that must be experienced to be understood. But oh those winters, I didn’t know weather could have such an effect on me. I hope it’s less grey/snowy a little further south?Yes Sherry when and how do those carts manage to escape? Michele I have to give my boyfriend credit for coming up with “Rat Face”, who we actually spotted again yesterday! She’s been relegated to the little kiosk for fuel customers. I wonder if she’s happier sitting alone outside?And you’re right about Nashville – it is sort of like Hollywood in that networking way. And there always seems to be an amazing band of musicians playing in some dark little bar somewhere…

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