Shopping in France


Shopping in France can be interesting, time consuming and hair pulling. Although it's more and more similar to shopping in other countries, there are still differences that you have to be aware of when you arrive in France. Opening hours and the kinds of shops you'll be going to may differ from those you are used to. Always check the hours of stores and shops as they can vary. In most small villages, shops are open all day Tuesday through Saturday all day from 8:00 or 8:30AM until 7:30 or 8:00PM EXCEPT during lunch time: 12:30-2:00 or 3:00 or even 4:00PM. Many village food-related shops (as opposed to those in the city) are open Sunday morning. There is a definite relationship between being open on Sunday morning and being closed on Mondays. Bakeries have all sorts of hours. Some post offices and the large hardware store chain, Castorama, close for lunch. Some shops even close for the entire month of August! So in all cases, be aware.

Large commercial shopping centers (CENTRES COMMERCIALS) are open Monday through (continued) Saturday without a lunch break, but are closed on Sundays. They usually open at 9:00AM and close at 9:00 or 10:00PM. This makes them the place to go for last minute shopping after 8:00PM. Watch out, as winding your way through these giant "hypermarkets" is rarely a speedy affair. When going to a supermarket or hypermarket, always remember to have a one €uro piece ready. The French have an efficient method for assuring the return of shopping carts; you deposit one €uro in a slot to free your cart from the chain and when you bring it back and reconnect the chain, your one €uro is returned to you.

Your French shopping adventure should be fun. Don't worry about your language ability or lack thereof. Many French people either understand and/or speak a little English and shopkeepers, especially in the Southwest of France, are quite sympathetic and patient with foreigners. Remember, poor French is more useful than good English. Just keep your sense of humor!

Note: a "CENTRE COMMERCIAL" is always 'anchored' by a huge supermarket or "HYPERMARCHÉ".


You will find these all over France and Europe in general. Almost every village seems to have one, one morning a week. The village markets tend to sell produce, cheese, and meats (look for the farmers' wives selling farm-fresh poultry and eggs).

Shopping Tips and Vocabulary

If you don't understand, say "C'EST COMBIEN?" ("How much is it?") or "ECRIVEZ-LE, S'IL VOUS PLAÎT" ("Write it, please"). If you want 1 lb., ask for CINQ CENT GRAMMES (500 GRAMS) or "UNE LIVRE" - if you feel that your butcher is sympathetic and you really want to follow your American/British recipe, you can ask for QUATRE-CENT CINQUANTE GRAMMES (450 grams - an American pound is actually equivalent to 454 grams). If you are buying fruit or vegetables, the vendor may ask you "COMBIEN?" meaning, "How many (or how much) do you want?"

You will find many new foods that you may have never seen before, both fresh and prepared. It is fun to try them! There are wonderful varieties of cheese and PÂTÉ - in most shops they'll be glad to let you taste a little bit (especially cheese) - just say "EST-CE QUE JE PEUX GOÛTER?" ("Can I taste?") French wines are also a pleasure - there's a wide variety available in the hypermarkets but you can also go to the local cave for more service. Try visiting some of the vineyards in the nearby wine regions if you really want to "discover" French wine. A DÉGUSTATION is an invitation to sample.

There are, of course, many differences in shopping. For one thing, the shopper usually does his or her own bagging. The bags are small and plastic. If they don't give you enough just ask for "DES SACS, S'IL VOUS PLAÎT" (bags are also called POCHES in the Southwest - this means 'pockets' and is a fairly accurate description of their size!). At Leclerk supermarkets or farmers' market shopping you'll need to bring your own bag or, better yet, a basket. Save your egg cartons from the supermarket if you want farm-fresh eggs - if not, they'll give them to you in a brown paper bag and you'll probably break half of them before you get home.

Methods of payment may be different from your home country as debit cards and machine-written checks are common in the larger stores here.


Visitors can obtain a refund of 13% - 18% for goods bought in France. However, residents of the EEC or those holding work permits in France are not eligible.

The total purchase or purchases, with the exception of food, must equal 300 €uros or more from one store but can be made over a period of up to 6 months. Keep all receipts.

The shop will fill out all of the necessary forms for the refund, but you must show your passport. You pay the sales tax and once the store has proof that you have left the country with the goods (form stamped by the customs officials at the airport DÉTAXE office and mailed back to the store by you) they will send you back your un-cashed French check, a check written by the store, or will deposit the refund in your French bank account, or that of a friend if you have given them the necessary information. If you are to receive your reimbursement by deposit on a French bank account, it is suggested that you make a photocopy of your receipt and mail it to the friend whose bank account is to receive the refund. Sometimes the store will need a reminder to issue the refund.

Make sure to leave extra time at the airport if you are having such forms stamped, as customs officials may ask you to show them the goods being exported.


Shopping in France can be a pleasant experience if you do like the French - develop a rapport with your vendors and shopkeepers.

You'll find greetings like "BONJOUR MADAME (or MONSIEUR)" and "BONNE JOURNÉE" ("have a nice day," on leaving) really make a difference.

When you say "S'IL VOUS PLAÎT, JE NE COMPRENDS PAS" ("excuse me, I don't understand") the shopkeepers will be quite understanding and very helpful.

These little phrases will help make your visit more enjoyable:

AVEC CECI? And what else?

AVEC ÇA? What would you like with this?

C'EST TOUT, MERCI. That's all, thanks.

NE TOUCHEZ PAS. Don't touch

JE PEUX VOUS AIDER? Can I help you?

VOUS CHERCHEZ QUELQUE CHOSE? Are you looking for something in particular?

JE REGARDE, MERCI. I'm just looking, thanks.

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