6 Holiday Shopping Tips: How to shop in France

Shopping, that “all American sport” is one of those cultural obsessions we share with the French. Paris is one of the shopping meccas of the world

And, although it’s done differently, it’s something, especially at this time of year that both the French and the Americans do with gusto! Holiday Shopping. Whether you visit the Christmas markets, the shops, Paris or Provence, here are some great tips for how to pick up the best gift and also make the experience one to remember.

Here are some tips to make the most of your experience.

1. The French are more formal than Americans in their commercial encounters. Begin each transaction –indeed, each entry into an establishment, with a formal “bonjour”. Always say “merci” and “au revoir” as well. We Americans like to pop in and out of stores and, if we aren’t seriously considering a purchase we don’t like to “bother” the staff. The French see it differently. Whereas we might find it rude to ‘interrupt’, they find it rude not to say hello and goodbye.

2. Comment on the items for sale. Talk about them. Ask questions. Find out where they’re from, or how they’re made, or how to wear them etc. There’s a lot of merchant pride and there are a lot of small artisans and producers who take great pride in their work, and they will likely show you even more special things, once they see that you care about their craft. Plus, you’ll learn a little something and connect with someone. (Bliss always makes it  a point to introduce people to at least one artisan producer or craftsperson on our trips so people can learn about the product but more so, connect with a different person and culture –the raison d’être for travel!)

3. When you make a purchase in the United States, you hand the money to the merchant and they put the change back in your hands. In France, the money goes on the little tray in front of the register and the change gets put there as well for you to pick up. Rarely do you see a “hand to hand” transaction.

4. More than likely, if you buy something, you will be asked if it’s “a gift”. If it is, it will be charmingly and uniquely wrapped for you. It’s so great to return home and give a gift that not only is unique, but looks unique. So, if it’s a gift, by all means say so!

5. Remember to visit some of the smaller shops and boutiques, as well as window shopping (or as the French phrase translates –licking the windows!) the big named designer shops. So you can get a taste of the region and culture instead of the world popular market.

6. If you’re in the countryside —Provence, for example, find out what the specialty of that town is, and then visit those shops. If you’re in Sault, it’s Lavender. If you’re in other places it’s pottery or paint pigments or cherries or a particular type of cheese or candied fruit…You get the idea. Local is extremely significant in France. And local means a very small area. (Let me tell you a story. One evening I was sitting at a friend’s dinner table, in a small village in Provence. She had a fabulously delicious olive oil on the table. I complimented her on it and asked if it was local (almost rhetorically, because I assumed it would be). She said no. I was shocked and said, “really?” Her response was telling: “No, it’s not local, it’s from my grandfather’s tree.” Now, that’s really local!!!

Have a Blissful Holiday shopping experience! And write us if we can help!Wendy@blisstravels.com

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7 comments on “6 Holiday Shopping Tips: How to shop in France

  1. Very important information. We travelers can get off on the wrong foot just by ignoring the greeting that is customarily bestowed. And you definitely don’t want to miss the shopping in France – fantastic!

  2. megtraveling says:

    These are excellent tips! You have created a comprehensive guide that I’ll definitely use when I’m in France again (hopefully soon)!

  3. Hey, great tips. But I wonder about the #3: “Rarely do you see a hand-to-hand transsaction”. What’s with the behavior?

    • It’s just a different way of doing things. It’s a simple formality. It might seem less strange to you if you compare it to the exchange of things in a restaurant here. If you order a coffee and a dessert here, the server brings it and puts it down in front of you. You do not take it from her/his hand. And, when it’s time to pick up the dish, rarely (only if it’s too hard for the server to reach) do you hand the plate over to the server. They pick it up. So, it’s the same thing with money when you purchase a product –if there’s a register and it’s in a shop. It’s neither good nor bad. Just a different way of doing things!

  4. Barbara says:

    Subtle but important distinctions. I like the social courtesies and interaction. Even here in the states I like shopping to be a pleasant experience. It bothers me to enter local shops and shopkeepers don’t greet their customers. And the sweet gift wrapping – that’s icing on the cake. I hope to be shopping in France sometime in the next year. Happy Holidays to you!

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