Hypermarkets and Headaches

We left the land of castles and kings, and arrived on Île-de-Ré this afternoon for a week of bicycle-riding, ocean-going and relaxation. And although the drive itself was quick and uneventful, getting to our final destination, however, was a little more stressful than expected.

We had to stop at a supermarket on the mainland before crossing the bridge to the island.  The thing is, the supermarket was actually a hypermarket.  Which means a huge store with a thousand different brands of the same item.  I’m scarcely exaggerating.  If you think there’s too much choice in U.S. supermarkets, you’ll quickly be disabused of that notion if you ever have the opportunity to shop at Carrefour, Auchan or Leclerc here in France.

Technically speaking these hypermarkets are more analogous to Costco or Sam’s Club as far as the range of items for sale is concerned.  But on the European side of the Atlantic you can actually buy food in packages small enough for one or two people, unlike in the U.S. warehouses where each package of food is large enough feed a small army.

This embarrassment of riches can lead to incredibly cranky moms, dads and kids, especially if they miss lunchtime at the cafés and have to resort to McDonald’s instead. Shameful, I know. Chloe was so appalled she refused to eat.  And as a result, she was doubly cranky in the store.

Check out the photo of the wine aisles at the top of this post.  Good thing there’s so much wine because choosing which bottles to buy is so overwhelming that, in order to recover, you need to drink several glasses after leaving the store. Immediately.

If you need to buy prepackaged ham for salads or sandwiches, there is an entire aisle devoted to prepackaged ham.  Both sides of the aisle are devoted to ham.  And within each category of ham (jambon de paris, jambon sec, jambon d’aoste, jambon de bayonne, jambon du pays…) there are several brands from which to choose.

Don’t even get me started on the cookie and chocolate aisles. They go to infinity and beyond, as Buzz Lightyear would say. I left the cookie selection up to the girls and I sadly discovered after dinner that the two packages they chose were variations on a single theme: jam-filled sugar cookies. No chocolate in sight. Why on god’s green earth they’d leave the store without chocolate cookies is beyond me.

Under the right circumstances, visiting a French hypermarket is a transformative experience. An orgy for the senses.  This was not one of those times.  But we have a few more hypermarkets to visit before our vacation comes to an end, so I do not despair.

After settling in and organizing the house, Chloe, Sophie and I walked to a local cafe while my husband worked, and I finally started to unwind. I took in the ocean breeze, listened to the sound of the buzzing insects and savored the smell of the hollyhock flowers, and suddenly, the hypermarket was reduced to nothing more than a distant memory.

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