Based in Birmingham, Alabama, forgotten regrets is a blog by suzanne, a nutrition scientist with a passion for food across the world. this blog chronicles her experience in bordeaux france with an exciting opportunity from the fulbright commission.

Buying only what I need

Shopping in France is completely different than my experience in the US.  Whenever possible when living in Birmingham, I try to do my shopping at Target, Publix, Costco, Trader Joe’s and/or Whole Foods before 10 am on either Saturday or Sunday.  It is generally a 2-3 hour experience as I have to drive to between 2 and 5 stores.  Why can’t one of them just carry everything I need?  My goal with the weekend extravaganza is to get all of the food, toiletry, cleaning, and other household supplies we need for the week so that I don’t have to go back to the store during the week and fight the traffic.  Keep in mind I only have a 10-15 minute drive to Target with traffic but that just seems awful to me during the week.  I really hate being in my car or any car for that matter.

This means that I have to figure out what staples we need and what meals I might want to cook for the week before I go to the store.  Planning the meals for the week is really hard for me.  I’m not what you would call a plan executer.  I can make plans and reorganize with the best of them but sticking to a plan is not really in my strength.  When I was younger (teens and twenties) I used to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning with the mantra...follow through, follow through, follow through.  I would bebop into school so energized because I was going to complete the items I “planned”.  It was a new day and I was going to change my unfinished ways.  And then I would sail through the day by doing whatever I felt like doing in the moment.  I would then wind up back in bed at night with the exact same list I had the night before and so would repeat the mantra.  As an adult, I have given up with the mantra as I have realized I am not going to follow through.

Regardless of my inability to complete daily tasks, I have always managed to move forward on my winding path and arrive at my big picture goals but the details of life (what to eat for dinner) often are pushed to the side.  All that to say, if I don’t hit the stores on the weekend with a small plan, my poor child will starve all week.  But it is so hard for me.  In Bordeaux, it is the exact opposite experience.  I go to at least 2-5 stores/markets every day.  Each one is within a 5 minute walk of my apartment and most take less than 2-3 minutes of shopping.  I decide what I  going to cook and then pop out to get the ingredients.  Oh no, we are out of butter.  No problem, the store is a 3 minute walk away.  I still probably spend 2-4 hours on shopping each week but it is in 10-15 minute chunks several times per day.

I have talked to my French colleagues about my love of daily shopping and one of them told me the French call this shopping for what you need.  What a concept!  Interestingly, this concept applies to more than just grocery shopping.  Contrary to the exported image of the French fashionista, the average French person keeps a fairly small wardrobe.  They accessorize with scarves, tights, and shawls but the basics remain the same.  

The closets are smaller here which I knew ahead of time so I only packed about 10 different outfits for the time we are here.  I continually ask myself “why do I have ten times that many outfits back in Birmingham?”.  Even before I left for France, I worked hard to reduce the number of clothes and shoes I am storing for a rainy day.  I live in a really tiny (by US standards) 1300 square foot 1940s era bungalow.  The closets are small and dark.  I am embarrassed to say that prior to moving to France, my stuff took up 3 of those tiny closets.  It was my goal to get down to one closet before moving and I made it down to 2, baby steps. 

After being in Bordeaux, I am even more motivated to reduce the amount of stuff I keep in Birmingham.  I am also trying to figure out a way to do less unenjoyable marathon shopping and more spur of the moment shopping.  There is a little Piggly Wiggly about 4 blocks from my house.  It doesn’t have everything I need but living in Bordeaux has taught me that it might just be enough.  

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