The Frogmarch

"I've got to pull up my stakes and roll, man." --Jean-Jacques Libris de Kerouac

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Things that cost less in France than in the US

Today's picture: A gas embranchement plate on the landing outside our apartment. Man, I love stuff like this: something utterly mundane that a long-dead someone took the time to design and make truly elegant--the cast beading, the serif font, the screw holes incorporated in the design. "Gaz Lyon" dates it to the early part of the last century, before all the local gas companies were centralized into Gaz de France. When nobody's looking I'm going to go out with a screwdriver and take one right off the wall (somebody else's wall, preferably) to use as a paperweight. A covered-in-toxic-lead-paint paperweight, but boy will it look sharp on my desk.

Anyway, a short list of relative bargains in France:

Wine.
You knew this would be top of the list, right? You can get a bottle of wine for under a euro here. You can get a pretty darn good bottle for under 3 (including a good selection at any corner store), and a superb one for under 10. Of course, the sky’s the limit. But it’s pretty cool to pick up a bottle, look at the town on the label, and say, “oh yeah, that’s just up the road a little. You hang a left at Villeneuve.”

Cheese. You knew this would be #2, right? The grocery stores here don’t have cheese sections; they have cheese aisles. The variety is astounding and the prices more than fair: a good-quality Camembert usually costs between 2 and 3 euros. Oh yeah, they also have the raw-milk cheeses that are illegal to sell in the US. Taste that? That’s not just raw-milk cheese, it’s the flavor of living life on the edge, my friend--the edge of the fast lane. I’m a rebel, a loner; I am mad, bad, and dangerous to know. I eat illegal cheese.

Coffee beans. I can’t explain this one, but good coffee--say, Ethiopian yirgacheffe--costs under 4 euros for 500g, about a pound. This doesn’t explain why approximately 3 milliliters of coffee served in a thimble with a handle costs 6 euros at Grande Café des Negociants.

Bread. The French are funny about bread, going back to 1789 and that whole “eat cake” thing. So there are all sorts of regulations to ensure that no French person ever has to go without bread. In cities, it is required for there to be a boulangerie for every square kilometer (in practice, there seem to be more than that, essentially one on every other block). Every one-horse village is required to have one as well. In addition, the price of bread is set by the government. Result? Fresh artisanal bread baked on-premises 20 minutes ago, under a buck.

Limonade. I’ve gotten hooked on this stuff since coming here. It’s not lemonade as we know it, of the Country Time/Wyler’s/neighborhood stand variety, but more like fizzy water with a hint of lemon--a more subdued Sprite, basically. Sublime with gin over ice on a hot day. The store brands cost .49 for a 2-liter.

Beer. The French don’t really do beer so much. Sure, you can always get Kronenbourg or Heineken, but I don’t think their hearts are really in it. You’d think that bordering the three greatest beer nations in the world (Germany, Belgium, England), France would be home to a wide selection--but no. Your typical Harris Teeter has a better selection than your typical French supermarket. There are a couple of places here to get a proper pint of Guinness, and there’s a specialty beer store over in the 3rd that carries Trappist Ales and the like--but only as singles, and usually 2 or 3 euros each. I haven’t found a place yet that sells six-packs of Newcastle, for example, and you can forget your American microbrews, even Sam Adams. So why does beer make this list? Because the brands the stores do carry are dirt-cheap: a sixer of Kronenbourg will set you back 1.99, Stella Artois (7.99 in the States) is only 3.19.

Child care. We found an English-speaking goalkeeper, er, nanny who comes once or twice a week to take Boog out to the park or for a tricycle ride when I’m at work. I feel a pang of guilt when I pay her…4 bucks an hour. You can apparently get a full-time au pair for little more per month than it costs to rent a parking space.

Things that cost more in France than in the US:
Every other damn thing you can think of.
$25 CDs! $15 paperbacks! $6 gas! $80 Converse Chuck Taylors! (Which, by the way, everyone between ages 15 and 30 is apparently required by law to own.) 90-cent stamps! $13 movie tickets! Electric bills I’m afraid to even open!

Boog and I went hiking in the Chartreuse (the front range of the Alps, just above Grenoble) yesterday, and I have a whole bunch of pictures to post...but I think I'll wait until we get our ADSL modem hooked up in another week or two. Stay tuned.

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