10 things you’ll be hard pressed to find in Paris

People like moronic lists don’t they? Here’s a list of ten things you’ll be hard pressed to find in Paris:

1. Charity shops

I’ve no idea why there are no charity shops in Paris, in fact I’ve never seen one in France come to think of it. I hope it has nothing to do with France being an uncharitable nation (that can’t be the reason can it?) so just how people dispose of their unwanted bri-nylon shirts and well-thumbed Jilly Cooper novels here I couldn’t be sure. There are places where you can pick up cheap vintage threads – I can think of a couple of excellent shops in the Marais where I’ve bought chemises of distinction for as little as €5 – and le marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen is the mightiest flea market you’re ever likely to get lost in though the gear there is pricier than your local Scope or Sue Ryder. Maybe when the economy finally goes down le chiottes as it keeps threatening to do then we’ll see a few emerge across the city. People will be poorer but it’ll give old people something to do.

2. Ready meals

I’m not saying there aren’t any ready meals in Paris, but I’ve never eaten one and I’ve never seen anyone else eat one either. There isn’t a ready meal culture, and it may come as a surprise too that there’s no self-righteous, proselytising tosspot TV chef equivalent telling everyone what they can and can’t ingest, and actually living in a country where Jamie Oliver doesn’t dictate government policy somehow seems the sane way to go when you’ve detached yourself for a while and are merely observing from afar. Not having a preaching cockspanner with a fat tongue breathing down your neck doesn’t mean everyone eats healthily though – there are more nasty McDonalds “restaurants” in France per square kilometre than anywhere outside of the US. But if you’re just popping out for a Pot Noodle then you’ll go Robert Falcon Scott AWOL I’m afraid. There are ready meal dishes in fridges as far as I’m aware but the ones I’ve seen actually look edible and they’re more expensive also. There is a shop called Picard which is like a posh Iceland. This shop would be rammed with aggressive warlords in England.

3. Milk

If you want milk then buy some cheese. I gave up ordering milk in my coffee very quickly because I got bored of people looking at me like I was an idiot. Nothing marks you out as a tourist more than café au lait.

4. Your local shop

I kind of miss my local shop. There are shops – of course there are shops – there’s an alimentation generale right near my house where the shopkeeper calls Claire “ma copine” because he knows how much it annoys me. But the one stop shop where you could buy a bottle of Lucozade, a bag of crisps and a chocolate bar (the breakfast holy trinity) as well as a paper and a packet of fags doesn’t really exist. You have to get them all in separate places although you can get a coffee, buy some smokes and put a bet on all in the same place – which would have been heaven if I still smoked.

5. God

God doesn’t hold much sway in France any more. He has his moments though.


6. The Burka

It’s a political hot potato, catch!

7. Fags on a Sunday

Despite being a secular country, France is contradictory in that it upholds plenty of Roman Catholic holidays (there seem to be hundreds of these) and Sundays are still sacrosanct. In Essex this latter fact is demonstrated by men washing their cars, whereas in Paris they close the road by the Seine so people can roller-skate across it with Beats by Dre wrapped around their noggins, and the authorities shut most of the shops for some reason, most annoyingly the ones that sell cigarettes. When I still smoked this drove me mad, though I soon twigged that you could still get them at big train stations like Gare du Nord or Gare de l’Est. If you’re out in the sticks then you’re fucked.

8. Celebrities.

There aren’t many celebrities in France, and I should know because I spot them all the time in London, whereas in Paris I had to content myself the other day with being starstruck by the Isabelle Adjani Bateaux Mouche floating down the Seine. The other vague possibility could be that I don’t spot any of them because I don’t know who any of them are aside from Francois Hollande and that chap from Rapido. I do somehow see Nicolas Godin from Air everywhere I go mind you.

9. Nandos

It’s a really bad place to go if you’re a vegetarian but I still love Nandos and I know that makes me a hypocrite, and just this morning I was actually craving a Nandos veggie burger and chips. The next time I find myself in one which will no doubt be at Christmas I’m going to have to resist the temptation to chop out a line of Peri-Peri sauce and hoover it up with one of their drinking straws.

10. TVs in pubs and bars

Hoorah! If you want to watch telly watch it at home mate. Although I did walk past The Frog and Rosbif on Rue Saint Denis the other day and noticed three depressed avoirdupois Anglo Saxon males staring up from their beer at The One Show with the sound down. The Frog and Rosbif often reminds me why I left England when I walk past it.

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5 Responses to 10 things you’ll be hard pressed to find in Paris

  1. annebillson says:

    I can help you with the first two…

    1) Charity shops. Try Emmaüs: http://www.evous.fr/Les-Emmaus-a-Paris,1181458.html which helps the homeless. Every time I moved house, I would get rid of a lot of stuff (clothes, accessories, small household items or items of of furniture) there, and it was all for a good cause. There was a shop in Rue de Charonne, near where I lived, but I think there are lots of others.

    Or if it’s cheap(er) designerwear you’re after, try the achat-vente boutiques, which are all over the place. People take their unwanted clothes in; if they’re sold, they get some money, or credit to spend in the shop. I offloaded A LOT of clothes and accessories this way, and got a small but not-to-be-sneezed-at amount back for them.

    2) Ready meals. Sounds like you haven’t discovered Picard – the French frozen food chain, which has shops all over the place in Paris. They’re brilliant, and do a wide range of Microwaveable ready meals. Throughout the last decade, as the price of formerly cheap supermarkets like Monoprix and Franprix rose, so Picard’s prices seemed increasingly reasonable. And the food is GOOD.

  2. annebillson says:

    oops sorry, just seen you do mention Picard. Anyhow, just to reiterate – they’re good, but not at all posh. I live in Brussels now, and was overjoyed when Picard opened a few branches here about six months ago. I was so happy!

  3. annebillson says:

    A propos de fast food – another thing that shouldn’t be overlooked in Paris is the kebab shops. They are not like the kebab shops in London (I don’t know about the US) – they are GOOD; don’t forget they’re catering to French palates, so they couldn’t get away with serving rubbish. I’m not wild about kebabs, but used to get a brilliant mixed grill for under ten euros, and their “assiettes” of grilled meat, chips and salad are always good value, non-greasy, and quite nutritious.

  4. jeres says:

    Thanks for the tip about Emmaüs, I’ll check it out. And thanks for the advice. I’m a sanctimonious vegetarian so will probably give the kebab place a wide berth but otherwise much appreciated and apologies it took a while to get back. Did you move from Paris to Brussels? I love Brussels, even more since watching the Jonathan Meades documentary about Belgium.

  5. annebillson says:

    Yes, I moved a couple of years ago. Like a lot of freelance journalists, I found my income slashed in half due to the recession and/or newspapers struggling with new technology, and at the same time Paris was getting massively expensive – property prices are now more than twice what they were a decade ago, so I thought I’d move rather than wait passively to get into debt. Brussels is expensive too, but – crucially – rents are still quite reasonable.

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