The Grocery Shopping Games

Lidl. So many things come to mind with just that one word. It is a blessing and a curse, and one that I visit on the regular since it’s only a 5 minute walk from my apartment.

Now, there are budget grocery stores and then there are budget grocery stores, and Lidl falls into the latter category. This is a great thing for us because pretty much everything is inexpensive comparatively, but this is a not so great thing for us because that means there’s no excuse not to go. Lidl is a bit like visiting the Louvre for residents of the great city of Paris- there are always epic lines and the crowd descends into chaos during peak time periods.

Which brings us to another French phenomenon- cutting in line. To the savvy Parisienne, line cutting is as much a French birth right as say, the perfect baguette. Why would I stand behind you when I could just as easily stand in front of you? While that logic does seem to make sense, I can’t quite figure out how more people don’t object across the board. I mean, we’d all get out of here more quickly if people just went through the motions, non? It happens everywhere from department stores to pastry counters, and most of the time people will let it slide. That is, everywhere but Lidl.

There, line cutters better be prepared to fight for it- those Hunger Games style food shoppers are not about to let you off easy. Plus just entering the general vicinity of a Lidl, a Lidl force field if you will, puts you into Katniss mode- everyone for themselves, get in, get out, complete the mission, try to survive. Your weapon of choice:

Lidl Shopping Carts

On more than one occasion, I’ve seen patrons with just a few items saunter up to the checkout counter from the exit and place their things in front of the cashier, thereby bypassing the football length lines that extend through every aisle day in, day out. The cashier could not care less and swipes whatever item is on the counter, regardless of which direction it originated. Customers next in line will often yell or offer a few choice words (learning a new language – Lidl style), but both the offender and the store clerk will simply shrug and continue on, completely unphased.

It’s a frequent occurrence, the French shrug. It rides the fine line between “Sorry, but…” and “F** you,” rather nicely, so you can’t really tell how you should approach the situation as the offended. Since my French still leaves much to be desired, I watch the commotions unfold, the scope of which is usually in direct correlation to the number of people currently occupying valuable line space (it’s either a) most of the general population of the 10th arrondissement or b) all of the general population of the 10th arrondissement).

But my chosen battlefield position (silently standing in line) has its challenges too, as somehow fellow shoppers think that the closer they are to me, or anyone for that matter, the faster they will approach their turn at the check out desk and finally, the finish line that is the outside world (read: freedom). Their mantra is more along the lines of ‘leave no space unfilled and let no cart blockade’ rather than ‘this is my personal space box.’ This little nugget of Frenchdom isn’t limited to the Lidls of the world either- breathing room is a hot commodity pretty much anywhere there’s a queue.

Lidl Candy in Paris

I oscillate between “Even if I had a bit more money, I’d still shop at Lidl,” to “Why would anyone come here if they didn’t have to?” Standard items such as paper towels, pasta and name brand candy can be found for far less than what a more civilized grocery store might charge and they have fun themed weeks which spice things up.

Last week for example, the theme was America, and while I couldn’t bring myself to add the “hamburger flavored” dnuts or the hot dogs in a glass jar to my shopping cart, I did score some peanut butter and the ever elusive microwave popcorn.

Lidl Hot Dog Sausages in Paris

We’ve learned some valuable lessons as we food shop our way through Paris. It’s an eat or be eaten game of extreme Super Market Sweep, and while I lack the gall to cut any French person any time soon, I will make sure that I am always uncomfortably close to the person in front of me. That, and I’m perfecting my shrug.