I don’t think it’s an underestimation to say that going to huge foreign supermarkets is the absolute best thing about going on holiday. The beach is lovely, reading is wonderful, sleeping-in is fabulous, feeling the strength of your small mortal body as it takes you up a mountain using just its own singular might is great, but seriously – the supermarkets.
As you may have guessed, I am on holiday. I am sitting at a long French dining table that belongs to the parents of my friend Jen and yesterday I spent €150 in the big supermarket. Our flight was at 6.30am, meaning we had been up since 3.30am, and by the time we passed the big supermarket at 9.30am we had lapsed into exhausted silence. All we wanted to do was nap, but once the big supermarket was in our eyeline, naps were out of the question. Our energy was renewed by the goddamn sight of it, huge and red and dotted with bargain posters that we don’t understand. Who needs sleep when you can have a big French supermarket?
Would you ever, ever buy a tin of sardines at home, just because the packaging is charming and there’s an illustration of a mermaid on it? And because, I don’t know, it just feels French?
It’s not even about the food. OK, it’s a little about the food. But it’s also about it being day one of your holiday, and knowing that whatever you do from now until you go home is 100 per cent your time, your money, your leisure. Doing an outlandish holiday supermarket shop is the first decision in a long line of silly, week-long holiday decisions that are yours and yours alone to make. Spend eight quid on stone fruit. Buy too much cheese. Live your life, baby – this is your holiday.
1 “Are you sure we have enough ham?”
In this case, “ham” is a placeholder for any kind of packaged, cured meats. Serrano ham is ham, but cured beef is also ham. Strips of venison are ham. When you ask if you have enough ham, it might seem like a joke, but it is not a joke. You have seven different types of ham in your trolley, but somehow you fear there is not enough ham. You pick up a gold foil packet of exotic ham and you feel a thrill, a beating in your chest. You turn to your friend and say, illicitly, as though you were planning the murder of a prince, “Shall we get this ham, too?”
2 “Perhaps we need a hard cheese, too, to balance it out?”
No one ever refers to hard cheese as being part of a “balanced” meal, unless they are in a foreign supermarket. You have an armful of blue cheese, a fistful of goat’s cheese and your friend is weighing Brie. You feel guilty in the way that you sometimes feel guilty for showing favouritism with your mugs. You grab a comté, so the hard cheeses don’t feel left out.
3 “I think I’m just going to buy this, because it’s just cute.”
Would you ever, ever buy a tin of sardines at home, just because the packaging is charming and there’s an illustration of a mermaid on it? And because, I don’t know, it just feels French? Of course you wouldn’t, you silly cow, but that’s not going to stop you spending €2 and then forgetting about it entirely.
4 “Oh, my God! So many cherries!”
5 “Should we get real food, too – you know, in case?”
In case of what? We’re not going to actually cook here; we’re just going to put cheese on top of grapes on top of meat. We’re in the assembly game here, sister, not the cooking game. Cooking is what restaurants are for.
6 “I think I need handcream.”
No one needs handcream, not really. Handcream is a thing that comes in Christmas gift sets, not a thing you buy. But you want to stand in a French beauty aisle and rub things on your hands for 10 minutes, and it’s your holiday, so you have the right to do that.
7 “That’s in euros though, so…”
The moment anyone suggests that you are being somewhat lavish in buying this much food, remind them that the prices are in euros. You are entirely unaware of what the current sterling-to-euro conversion rate currently is, but whatever! It’s in euros!
8 “Do you want to get some normal-flavoured crisps, too?”
No, obviously not. I can have cheese and onion any time. I can have paprika-and-mojito-flavoured crisps practically never.
9 “Oh, my God! The wine! So cheap!”
It isn’t when you buy six bottles, but sure it is!
10 “Fuck it, we’re on holiday.”