Rarely do things get marked down in Paris, except twice a year when stores have les soldes during dates specified by the govenment. But they do sometimes reduce the price of something by offering a promotion.

The difference is that during a sale, they mark something down.

A promotion is different: it’s when they reduce the price of something.


Got it?

Commonly, I find, that when something’s on promotion, when you get to the register it never rings up at the sale, um…or I mean, the promotion price.

For you coupon-clippers out there— sorry, there’s no coupons here.
But the supermarkets do send out fliers advertising specials on certain items. But very rarely is the item actually in stock. My beloved Powerball went on sale, or was it on promotion?…this week at Franprix supermarket.

Don’t bother clicking on the link. Their site’s been non-functional depuis 2002. It advises “Patience!!!”

(You think? Anyone who’s willing to wait 5 years for a major business in one of the top cities in the world to put up a web site certainly needs un peu de patience.)

When I went, there my Powerballs sat on the shelf but with no special price was attached. (I’m sure there’s a joke there, but after the last post, I’m not touching it.) The other four items, which were advertised on sale in the flier, which were on my list, weren’t in stock at all. Still, with my odds, it was my lucky day that there was at least one of them.

And anyone who lives here knows that even if it is in stock, when you arrive at the register it will invariably ring up at full price and you can forget that they’ll believe you that it’s actually on sale. Nor will they call over someone to verify if you’re right. Perhaps that’s why they don’t have coupons; even in this country built on a solid foundation of massive amount of paperwork, a coupon would be irrefutable proof that you were entitled to a discount.

(Which is probably why they don’t put price stickers or stamps on individual items nor do they ever have copies of the flier in the store.)

Recently at my Monoprix supermarket, I got into a tiff with the terribly-disinterested cashier. So I went over to the orange juice aisle and pulled the big paper sign off the display with the sale price in large red letters when the cashier refused to believe me that my orange juice was 10 centimesoff.

I know…they’re pretty scanty with the discounts.
I suppose it wasn’t worth getting my DIMs in a knot over 10 centimes, but after all, I am my mother’s son. (Even though she probably didn’t wear DIMs)

But it wasn’t just the principle: if there’s anything I’ve learned living here is that no one respects you unless you fully assert yourself and if you just stand there waiting for your turn, you won’t get served. Or worse.

Take the lady who weaseled her way in front of me in line last week at Ladurée, pretending to blend in the others ahead waiting their turn.

When I pointed out to her that she just slid in front of me, she replied, “Oh Monsieur…I thought you were just looking!”

Excuse me?

“Yes,” I said, “I’m standing in the middle of this long line, and we’re all here—just looking.”

Nice try.

End of the end of the line, lady.

Anyhow. Back at Monoprix they did call over the manager, who you can always spot by their rayon suits and the microphones they carry to broadcast things to buy over the store’s loudspeakers. He made a big fuss about it and scolded me for pulling down the sign. But when I asked why they simply don’t enter the right prices in the register in the first place (or, God forbid, believe the customer), he just shrugged and told me, “That’s not my job.”

Then he went back and sat down on the stool in the corner to watch people shop.

So what the food companies do here to get around the supermarkets that fail to put the correct price into their computers and cashiers who never believe you, is to give you 15% extra instead. I’m not sure where that number comes from, or if there’s any special significance to it, but it’s always 15%.

It’s never 10%…never 20%.

It’s always 15%.

And it doesn’t seem like a very efficient thing to do, since I would imagine orange juice bottling plants for example, have to recalibrate all their equipment for filling the bottles and re-design the packaging and shipping containers to compensate for the taller or wider bottles.

Probably I should give up trying to find a bargain around here.
After all, I’m happy doing the majority of my shopping at the outdoor market. If I could only get someone there to carry dishwashing tablets, then I’d be all set. But instead, I naively keep reading the promotional fliers the supermarkets send me, under the pretense that it’s improving my French vocabulary, but also giving me false hope that there’s actually a bargain for me out there.

The trouble is, the chances of that happening are perhaps, say…only 15%.

Never miss a post!


  • March 9, 2007 11:20am

    They should make a blood orange version of that drink and call it “Tang-Froid”. ;)

  • March 9, 2007 11:25am

    Ooooh, the frustration, it BURNS.

  • Bob
    March 9, 2007 12:23pm

    It has been my experience that once a French website (or part of it) goes down, you can forget about it ever being fixed.

  • Connie
    March 9, 2007 1:44pm

    Make sure you take in the flyer next time . That will fix them!

  • Linda H.
    March 9, 2007 1:59pm

    There are many drawbacks to the American Midwest, but the grocery clerks will take your word for it and ring up the discount price without demanding evidence, and sometimes they even keep extra copies of the flier’s coupons at their register in order to give the customer the discount.

  • March 9, 2007 2:33pm

    My BF is the king of coupons–over $400 worth of groceries for, like, $104. His head would simply explode at the thought of a grocery store that did not accept coupons!

    I can’t wait to show him your post. Let the explosions begin!

  • Henriette
    March 9, 2007 2:44pm

    There is nothing I hate more than Monoprix in Montpellier!!!

    There where days when I all I could think of was Michael Douglas in Falling Down…Say no more!;-)

  • March 9, 2007 3:12pm

    Robert: They do have blood orange juice, as a matter of fact!…

    Krooie: What a great bf, but Ick. Sounds like it’s gonna be messy around there soon enought. (Don’t try to flush anything down the toilet either, fyi…)

    Bob: Well, it’s only been since 2005. So I’d give them a few more years before I’d pass any judgements ; )

    Luisa: Better see a doctor for that burning sensation before your trip to LA next week. Would hate to see you miss that Zankou chicken with garlic sauce.

    Henriette: I just wish they’d get their act together. In their defense, supermarket checkers I think are pretty badly paid around here. And I don’t think the customers treat them all that well either.

    (Except me, of course, unless they overcharge me for something, mais oui…)

    Linda: All my checkers in the US even knew my name, and asked what recipes I was testing when I did my shopping.

  • Lorna
    March 9, 2007 4:43pm

    I was out in the middle of nowhere in China, with a horde of French tourists…standing in line for the bathroom.

    One ‘madame’ ran in front of me acting like she was stupid. I exclaimed loudly ‘Madame, je suis prochain!!’

    She was so dumbfounded that someone in the country spoke French…probably thought I was German or Jewish….she actually stood frozen in the middle of the bathroom floor…and I proceeded into the loo.

  • Jke
    March 9, 2007 4:51pm

    I am nearly speechless. This is the first time I have read about Dave shopping in a supermarket.

    I shall sleep better tonight: I am not wanton for shopping at supermarkets.
    I may not even be wanton for checking their flyers for sales first and only then deciding what to cook.

    Dave, don’t worry about your reputation, though. The mention of Ladurée and outdoor markets reassures me as much as reading about Monoprix does.

  • Vicky
    March 10, 2007 12:57am

    LOL – I’m an economist and the French (and European) laws surrounding ‘soldes’ versus ‘promotions’ are kinda interesting…and of course intended to protect consumers (through the determined struggle of bureaucrats who supervise the whole thing) as well as protect firms from cut-throat competition that would lead to the disappearance of small businesses. This is the key reason that ‘soldes’ can only be held during two legislated periods of the year (although there are endless ‘promotions’ and ‘prix réduits’).

    But, you’ll notice that even during the ‘soldes’, there are lots of ‘réductions de prix’. Indeed, unless things have changed substantively since I law taught a seminar on this topic, the law says that a firm cannot advertise something as being ‘en solde’ unless it is being sold at no more than what it cost the firm to acquire the good. In other words, if the store mark-up is 100%, then anything being sold for less than 50% then it will be a ‘réduction de prix’ or ‘promotion’. Also, firms must show the original price as well as the new price, because otherwise firms would cheat customers by suggesting that there was a special new price, when they were actually not making any reduction at all (a problem with North American firms, who now put things on ‘special offer’, rather than advertising a reduction in price the way they used to). I actually kind of like the system; and it *does* mean that when something is ‘soldé’, that the price is FANTASTIC (if you can get to the store fast enough, and are prepared to do elbow battle with aggressive customers in battle mode).

    All this to say that the law regulates prices pretty carefully, but you can add 15% extra without getting into the same sort of troubles. Which is one of the reasons that there is so much ‘quantity competition’, despite the complications of re-calibrating machines ;-)

    And with respect to the cashiers, not only are they paid minimum wage, but the hours of those working at my local Monoprix absolutely stink: they work 6 days a week, every week, for about six hours a day, rather than getting longer work days and getting two days off a week. But I have found that, by trying to always goto the same cashier, I now have excellent service. As with everything in France, it always comes down to needing to invest time and effort in building relationships!

  • March 10, 2007 1:32am

    Vicky: Thanks for the explanation. And yes, I’m glad les soldes are there to protect the small businesses, which is why Paris is not rife with chain stores. Someone told me cashiers in France had a really high rate of suicide since they get treated so shabbily, but I haven’t found any numbers to back that up (and to be honest, don’t really want to know…if you know what I mean.)

    But a big YES to getting to know people here. Folks who visit don’t realize how important it is. A new Franprix just opened in my neighborhood and I’m already a favorite since I actually joke around with the cashiers (although the manager has a bad habit of standing in the corner and picking his nose!)

    Lorna: You are my hero! It’s pretty amazing the nerve, but it’s also quite satisfying pushing back.

    Jke: If I could avoid the supermarkets here, I would. But there’s still a few necessities of life all in one place, like dishwashing detergent and toilet paper.

    …even though my toilet’s been out of commission for a few days.

  • Lu
    March 10, 2007 7:20am

    David, I’m still reading you ALL the time, but rarely commenting (not quite lurking). This post was hilarious. I guess it helps that I’ve shopped in a Monoprix, with my limited French, that I can absolutely envision the scenario. And, really — what can you say about grocery store clerks who get to SIT on the job? They likely don’t end their days with, “My dogs are killing me!!”

  • March 11, 2007 10:20am

    is that really what one would say, ‘je suis prochain’? or was she more shocked that you didn’t use ‘prochaine’?? (okay, the 2nd question is obnoxious — especially coming from someone who honestly doesn’t know the answer to the first)

  • March 11, 2007 10:40am

    dddg: I think she was simply shocked someone said something in the first place (at least they always act that way…)

    I know I do when I get busted when cutting in line. After all, who’s more important than me!?

  • March 11, 2007 7:07pm

    Hi David, your Lauduree story reminds me when I went to Pierre Herme last Nov. A guy in back of me kept trying to cut (What? Do I look invisible?), and I had to block my way in front of him. After getting inside the store, I was so wowed that I couldn’t decide what the heck I wanted. I sheepishly told the counter guy to help the man behind me first.

    I finally got the chocolate genoise with chocolate cream, caramelized nuts and chocolate sheets. It was delicious. Best cake of my life.