Tuesday, 19 October 2010


I guess some of you have heard of Shopping and F*cking, the play by Mark Ravenhill.  (Get to the back of the class anyone who thought it was one of Brylcreme Br*an's.  Now.  And stay there for the duration of this column.  And stop doing that with your eraser. Thank you.)

Anyway, if I can continue, it's about consumerism, and uses violence and sex to illustrate graphically the moral paucity to which modern society has been reduced.

There are a few retailers in Nice who would do well to employ a little violence and sex from time to time.  It might help them elevate the quality of their service to customers.

Here's why.

Shopping in Nice (as you well know, I'm not qualified to talk about the other thing, thanks for bringing it up) is unlike shopping anywhere else on the planet.  You have to steel yourself mentally before you set out, harness your emotions and gird your loins.  (That is, if you can lay your hands on your loin-girders.  No idea where to get them here, don't think Galeries Lafayette stock them.)  For shop assistants - I'm sure they'd all prefer to be known as Executive Directors of Luxurious Style Advice (even for loin-girders) - are not only haughty, not only rude, but many have been trained to regard any potential customer as a downright thief.

Take my local supermarket, Intermarche.  (Please, take it.)  It's 30 seconds up the road and it's very cheap (well, according to the definition of what 'very cheap' means around these parts).  Hence, I occasionally frequent it.  (If you can frequent something occasionally). At other times, when I'm not sometimes going somewhere a lot, I avoid it.  Why?  Because life is already short and I don't like losing the will to live.

Should you happen to have gone into the store having previously shopped elsewhere, you have to hand over your bag to the woman on reception, who gives you a peg with a number on it.  This either gives you your bag  back when you leave, or a nice plate of ham, egg and chips. (I've eaten in Sainsbury's restaurants, I haven't always been exotic).

Should you go into the store with an empty bag with which to carry home your purchases, the check-out assistant (always a woman) will stick her whole head into it to see if you've not tucked away 10 kilos of potatoes, which you are endeavouring to sneak out of the place without paying for.

This is, to be frank, completely ridiculous.  For one thing, I can take in a giant satchel, large enough for me to sleep in if I get stranded miles away from home because of the SWEARWORD STRIKES, with enough pockets to accommodate under separate cover each individual potato from that 10 kilos.  Nobody looks into my satchel.

For another thing, there are no fewer than 24 cameras positioned around the shop floor, pointed down every aisle, around every corner of the place, with live streaming displayed on V  E  R  Y   W  I  D  E television screens to amuse you when you're queuing for HOURS AND HOURS because the check-out woman is too busy sticking her whole head down people's trousers.  (That'll be next, you'll see).

For another another thing, there are ENORMOUS BURLY SECURITY GUARDS watching your every move.  One guy, who must be 6'5" (that's actually his height, but it could also refer to the width of his shoulders) is particularly scary.  Once, having discovered what I wanted wasn't upstairs, but downstairs in the household section, I tried to exit through the way in, by the vegetables.  He was on me like a shot, despite me being dressed for summer  (no jacket), a teensy little handbag which couldn't even contain a single potato chip, let alone 10 kilos of potatoes, and no shopping bag.

'WHERE ARE YOU GOING?!'   His head was very close to mine, despite mine being a full 4' closer to the ground than his was naturally.

I told him what I was looking for.

'IT'S DOWNSTAIRS!' he helpfully advised me.  'DON'T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!'

I didn't.  But nor do I go in there much any more.

(Another excellent reason for avoiding the place is the strange spectacle at public holidays.  And I do mean strange. I went in last Christmas to hear the most awful jingly Christmas music belting out from the speakers. I know all jingly Christmas music is awful, really I do, but this was of an awfulness only the French could inflict onto their thieves customers.   The 'music' was periodically interrupted by what sounded like a very drunk, over-the-hill comedian with a big nose (honestly, I could hear the big nose), burbling unintelligibly into a microphone with a deep bass voice, before manically laughing WITH THE MIC VOLUME TURNED UP TO DEAFENING.


Whilst I've always worked in the 'out there' arts and media, dear Reader, I'm actually, deep down, a woman of sensitive erm, sensibilites, and I had a fairly sheltered upbringing.  This horrible assault on the ears - I used to play the violin, I know what a horrible assault on the ears is - was already putting me off my shopping.  But I wasn't prepared for what was to come...

...for at the back of the store, adjacent to the fresh fish fridge (I hope I'm never asked to read this column out loud) stood the man (big nose, why didn't you believe me the first time?) with a microphone in his hand, wearing one of those suits which made him look like he was riding an ostrich.


Why, why why why why?????)

At heart, I'm a Monoprix girl.  Monoprix is a shop not unlike the Co-Op in the UK, but it's a bit of a more upmarket brand, especially when it comes to food.  Monoprix is owned by Galeries Lafayette, the very upmarket department store similar to House of Fraser in the UK.

But grocery shopping there has its own pitfalls.

In the store on Jean Medecin, the city's main shopping thoroughfare, you have to walk past the fish counter to gain access to the rest of the food hall. It's where the Mona Lisa fish are layed out for inspection.  What's a Mona Lisa fish?  It's one whose eyes follow you around whilst you're wandering up and down the aisles. You feel their gaze on the back of your neck - and when you turn around accusingly, sometimes you just manage to catch their eyeballs guiltily darting away.  

Favourite place to shop?  My local market in the streets where I live.  Set up every morning apart from Mondays, the produce is straight from the farms, vibrantly coloured, mis-shapen (so you know it's real) and cheap.  You just grab a plastic bowl, fill it up with whatever you fancy and hand it to the stall holder, who separates the items, weighs them and stashes them in a bag for you.  I've never been ripped off in change, and nobody is ever dressed as if they're riding an ostrich.  


Boyfriends to go sh*pping with (what did you think I was going to say???): 0

Ostrich Stock Cubes:  679

Money off coupons:  0  (It's a blog, for God's sake!)

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