Before we left Paris, we wanted to make sure we had the necessary supplies for many impromptu pique-niques (yes, they really spell it that way) as we prepared to spend the next 5 weeks driving through France. When we were out shopping one day, I discovered the WalMart of France, a store called “Tati”. Even though it had been cold and rainy for some time, they had all their merchandise out for summer and it had been well picked over already. I guess the Parisians were anxious to get ready for their summer vacations which is understandable considering how long the winter seems to last. We easily found a small cooler and some freezer blocks. But finding plastic picnicware was a challenge. We managed to get the last two plastic cups, a package of small plates, and a couple of small knives. After searching in several other stores, we eventually acquired a small cutting board and napkins. At home we could have picked up these items in any one of a variety of stores very quickly and inexpensively.
This experience made me think about some differences in lifestyles between our two countries that one would only discover by spending more than a few days here and dealing with simple every day tasks. Where we are accustomed to having a wide choice of readily available paper and plastic products, the French seem to economize on these items. Typically, I would buy paper towels, napkins, tissue, and toilet paper for my household. Here all these paper goods are not necessarily available in every store. Paper towels and toilet paper, yes — napkins and tissue, not so much. And, anything made out of plastic is rare. Maybe they’re on the right track. They must certainly have less waste to dispose of than we do. Recycling is in place everywhere and you are expected to bring your own bag to most stores. We have just recently been required by law to do this in our city and I am just getting used to remembering my bags. I’m getting lots of practice in France.
The French value quality over quantity — a concept that used to exist in the US. Nowadays we are more concerned with the bottom line than customer satisfaction. French products are expensive and fuel prices are very high, but after some time here, you can’t help but think that you might actually be getting more for your money. Wines are excellent, even the cheapest ones. Roads are smooth and well-maintained, including those in the countryside.
In the end, we assembled a very respectable picnic set that will serve us well throughout our journey. Indeed, we have already put it to use a couple of times. Prior to our visit to the Musée d’Orsay, we had a picnic dinner on a bridge over the Seine. Today we stopped at one of many small picnic spots in the heart of the Burgundy countryside after our drive through several small medieval villages and a visit to the Abbey of Fontenay. It’s a lovely way to enjoy the country and we are looking forward to many more pique-nique stops.
An interesting side note: There is no open container law in France. You can enjoy a bottle of wine with your picnic without having to hide it or fear being caught with it and asked to throw it out. The French police themselves by making it socially clear that it’s not cool to get loud or out of hand in public. You know, a little bit of common sense and respect for your fellow man. What a concept!