I had to make an unexpected trip to the USA this week.
After trying so hard to get into my French life and gearing my family up for what is sure to be another adventure-filled year in gay Par-ee, this trip back to the land of the LARGE and PLENTY has really thrown me for a loop. I have found it difficult to concentrate and be productive. There is so much STUFF in America to get distracted by; it’s hard to focus. Is it any wonder that we hand out anti-anxiety and ADHD medication like candy on Halloween?
I do love the fact that in France, there still appears to be some restraint, and maybe even a sense of national pride in the idea that LESS is more. In general, in France quality surpasses quantity, and I find there are a good many Frenchies committed to this idea.
Here are a few of the larger things I have encountered in the last week in America and the smaller counterparts I enjoy in France:
No. 20: Smaller Shops & Les Petites Boutiques Familiales
For those of you who live in the USA or have visited, I have one word for you: Costco.
For those of you who have never been to America, an explanation: Costco Wholesale Corporation is a membership-only warehouse club that provides a wide selection of merchandise; it is the second largest retailer in the United States, the seventh largest retailer in the world and the largest membership warehouse club chain in the United States. (Wikipedia)
…and, you can buy everything and anything there…in very LARGE quantities.
I know the megastores are convenient and cheap, but it is such a pleasure (albeit sometimes a pain) to live somewhere where the mom and pop and artisan stores are still thriving right around the corner. Yes, sometimes you have to go to six or seven shops in one day just to get everything you need for a dinner party, but for me it is much more satisfying to frequent these small shops than to shop in a warehouse or strip mall.
No. 21: Product Packaging
With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, I suppose I could finish a 3 lbs (1.4 kg) bag of fresh cranberries, if I had the time (and American oven) to make cranberry bread for my whole apartment building.
And, look at this, Costco has even taken on the French Macaron, and prepackaged an entire pound of these artisanal French cookies…imagine the money I could save as macarons are 2 euros ($3) a pop in Paris. What would Ladurée say?
No 22: Fewer Choices
As my trip was last-minute and I needed to quickly pack a small carry-on, I forgot to bring some of my toiletries. So, my first stop was the “small” local grocery store. All I needed was shampoo. Once I finally tracked down the shampoo aisle, I froze. I stared. I panicked. My breath sped up. There was so much frickin’ shampoo! I almost lost my nerve.
It only took me 30 minutes to decide, and I’m happy to report, I do have clean hair now, but choosing wasn’t easy.
No 23: Fewer Sales
After staying in the USA for more than a week, I realized how much sales drive our consumer culture and influence my personal shopping habits. Returning to this always-a-sale craze, I now understand how much this phenomenon contributes to our country’s economy (and debt).
In France les soldes (the sales) are few and far between. In fact they are state-regulated and are held only twice a year, mid-June and early January. They last for around six weeks and prices are continually slashed over the weeks, ending with the dregs being sold for as low as 90 percent off regular prices. I usually go shopping once or twice during these 6-week periods, and come away with one or two precious finds.
In contrast, in America something is always on sale, and often at a pretty steeply discounted rate. I am not sure if it was my anxious state of mind due to the unexpected nature of my visit back, but my sales-shock, drove me to purchase (and then return) things I really had no room or need for back in Paris. (Thank goodness for carry-on luggage restrictions!) Still, it did get me thinking about how sales contribute to America’s insatiable desire to own and consume.
All in all, I find that the less-is-more mentality in France makes me very happy. I’m glad to be constantly reminded that quality is so much more important than quantity.
j’adore edamame: I love edamame (soybeans)
les petites boutiques familiales: mom and pop stores
les soldes: the sales