Le Dernier Mot: Supermarket Help

Le Dernier Mot: Supermarket Help

In the Aldi parking lot, my husband and I are scrambling for change, specifically a €1 coin, to unlock a shopping cart. Suddenly, Jean- Marc smiles and says nonchalantly: “une pièce de cinquante centimes ça marche aussi…”

Wait. What? A 50-cent piece will also work? Why has this never occurred to me in all the years I’ve lived in France? I’ve been here long enough to remember using francs as tokens. Come to think of it, a franc coin might work because, apparemment, other-sized coins seem to. So why has my husband never shared this tip?

A weekly routine

Well, for one, we don’t often shop together. I do the grocery run with my mom – every Monday morning to be exact. And we are rarely prepared for the cart conundrum. Just like we’re never ready for the mad dash of bagging our groceries at the end of yet another frenzied foray into the French supermarché.

For my expat mom and me it’s the same weekly drill: “Oh no! Have you brought a euro for the chariot?”
“The what?”
“The cart…”
“No, and you?” Saperlipopette! To complicate things, we need two coins as we are each doing our own shopping (Mom lives on the ground floor of our house, in her own studio). And off we go on a wild goose chase, The Hunt for the Elusive Jeton. (Sounds like an exotic Alpine creature but un jeton is simply the name for the plastic token that shoppers are expected to produce the moment they arrive at the store. I can tell you, even the French endure that head-slapping moment when Mince! J’ai oublié une pièce pour le caddie!

If you’re lucky, you may find a cart with a broken chain or one with a shiny euro in it, forgotten by the previous shopper. Youpi! But most often you’ve got to go into the store and wait in line for a token. And it’s no token of appreciation the cashier is handing you. Not when her job is to move shoppers out the door top chrono. Although la caissière appears patient, her speedy gestures scream Allez! Allez! I swear she has a whip, only every time I look up she is smiling, comme si de rien n’était.

© Kristin Espinasse

I really hate the rush-rush antics at French supermarkets. Franchement, rushing has a way of slowing me down. I get discombobulated, extremely inefficient, as lost as a key.

Actually, that reminds me of the only other shopping cart hack I am aware of… Did you know you can use the back of une clé to unlock a cart? But you have to first free the key from the trousseau and I’m not sure what’s more annoying, that, or having to wait in line for a jeton. On the upside, it wouldn’t be a long wait thanks to our whip-cracking caissière. Allez! Allez!

Kristin Espinasse is the author of Words in a French Life, Blossoming in Provence and the French Word-A-Day blog.

French vocabulary

LE SUPERMARCHÉ = supermarket
LE CHARIOT = grocery cart
SAPERLIPOPETTE! = goodness me!
UN JETON = plastic token, chip

MINCE!= darn!
YOUPI! = yay!
TOP CHRONO = in record time
LA CAISSIÈRE = cashier
ALLEZ! ALLEZ!= hurry up!
COMME SI DE RIEN N’ÉTAIT = as if nothing had happened
UNE CLÉ = key
LE TROUSSEAU = key ring

From France Today magazine

Lead photo credit : © Kristin Espinasse

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The American-born author and photographer lives with her French husband, Jean-Marc, and their two children on a vineyard and olive farm near Bandol in Provence. She's the author of "Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language from the South of France" and runs the French Word-a-Day blog and newsletter.

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  • Marie-Simone Pavlovich
    2023-11-09 12:48:14
    Marie-Simone Pavlovich
    Bonjour Madame! Que je vous dise que j'ai beaucoup aimé votre article qui parlait de votre expérience au supermarché. Ça m'a fait revivre mes journées françaises ... qui me manquent beaucoup. Surtout après avoir lu votre article, car je pouvais tout voir et imaginer ces caissières toujours bourrues et qui jugent tous les gens qui défilent. Ah oui! Je les vois très bien grâce à votre récit très alerte et amusant avec ses expressions exquises, comme saperlipopette! que je n'avais pas entendue depuis longtemps. C'était un vrai plaisir de faire votre connaissance. J'essayerai de ne pas manquer le prochain numéro! Bien à vous, Marie-Simone (J'habite à Evanston, une banlieue de Chicago)


  •  Katherine Albrecht
    2023-11-08 07:13:19
    Katherine Albrecht
    Kristin, this was a GREAT missive about the caddies at the French supermarches! I don't remember ever having to use a jeton when I lived there so many years ago, and your tale made me smile big time. I definitely felt all of your frustrations. But thank you so much for letting us all know how to have work-arounds. Making sure to have a 50 centimes piece or a round key is genius! What great solutions! Merci!!


  •  Lori Spitzeri
    2023-11-08 05:45:58
    Lori Spitzeri
    Great article - I did not know "saperlipopette" so a big thanks! I could send you 1FF pieces LOL. I have a changepurse full over here in the US. Lori S in PA (US)


  •  supermarket near me open
    2023-11-03 11:09:09
    supermarket near me open
    very informative posts