The Joy of French Market Shopping
Joie de vivre. Joy of living. Joy. I choose that word very intentionally. Take a moment and reflect on the word before you continue reading…
Do you really, truly understand what the joy of living means? I don’t think I did until I witnessed it first hand during my year and a half in France. And I’d postulate that most North Americans don’t understand it fully. In France, joie de vivre is absolutely core to their cultural identity. I’m going to attempt to describe it, how I have come to understand it here, but I believe that really truly embracing it as a lifestyle will be a lifelong journey.
The French do not take anything lightly. They are passionate and committed people to their core. They take both their vocations and their vacations extremely seriously. They have a true “work hard, play hard” attitude that, though we in North America play lip service to, they truly master. In France, to say that you “practise” something, be it rock climbing, cycling, music, theatre, gardening, etc., means that you are probably have a very high level of skill in that area. They take their hobbies extremely seriously and they are very talented at them. Many of the most extreme athletes and activities are French. Case in point: this, developed in France.
This passion extends to every area of their lives, including, of course, food. But it’s not quite as simple as that. The “Gastronomic meal of the French” is actually on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Read carefully: it’s not French cuisine, but the process of the meal itself. An excerpt reads: “The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature.” What a treasure. You can read more here.
One of my favorite memories of France is shopping at the Sunday morning market. This was so full of joy and pleasure, and a key ingredient in the French gastronomic meal.
In France mostly everything is closed on Sundays, except for the large weekly market. It fast became a habit of ours to walk down to the market under the raised railway tracks in Grenoble (Marché de l’Estacade) on Sunday mornings to do our weekly shopping. Now, France definitely has its awful mind-numbing big-box stores just like we do (CarreFour and Géant Casino to name a couple), but that is well balanced by the abundance of fresh open-air markets throughout the city and in mostly every village.
These markets have everything: produce, charcuterie, meat, cheese, wine, olives, preserves, fresh meals, flowers, handicrafts, and more. People wander slowly through the stalls, stopping as they like to take in the smells, admire the colors, “goûter” (taste) a sample, and make their purchases. Your lettuce is wrapped like a bouquet of flowers and everyone wishes you “bonne journée”. The pace is slow, the senses are heightened, and the attitude is light. People go there to enjoy, not just to shop. This is the joy of market shopping in France. And here is the key: we can and should strive to find joy in all the normality of life, just as the French create joy though something as mundane as the weekly shopping.
One of my joys, if you haven’t guessed already, is my garden, the harvest, the meals I prepare, and sitting down to enjoy my own “gastronomic meal of the French” with my family. Growing my own garden gives me the selection of variety, freshness of harvest, and joie de vivre that I found in the French markets, but in my own backyard. I look forward to continuing to share these joys with you in this blog!