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.