French Language Blog

5 Things you Need to Know About Shopping in France Posted by on Dec 1, 2014 in Uncategorized, Vocabulary

In honor of this Cyber Monday and recent Black Friday, here are some important facts and terms to make your shopping trip in France easy and stress-free.

  1.  Unlike in the United States, sales in France are state-run. That means that companies don’t regulate their own storewide sales to get rid of old inventory before the new shipments come in, but that each store must follow a state-run schedule. There are two of these sale periods in France – called la periode des soldes — that run once in mid-summer and once before the winter holidays. These sales normally last five to six weeks each and only get better as the weeks go on. Sometimes you can find 70-80% discounts on nice items in the last week or so of les soldes.
  1. In general, shops do not open on Sundays, although there have been some recent changes to this traditional French law. However, shops are allowed to open on Sundays during the Christmas holidays and some supermarkets, or supermarchés are allowed to open on Sunday mornings so that people can buy needed food items. In 2009, a controversial bill passed the French parliament stating that shops located in main tourist areas in large French cities were allowed to stay open on Sundays.
  1. While there are almost no stores that are open 24/7 even in Paris (and unlike in New York) there are always 24-hour pharmacies open in large French towns. These pharmacies are called pharmacies de garde and will show that they are open by the traditional lit green cross. Unlike in the United States, you cannot buy any medicine (whether Tylenol, called paracetamol or doliprane, or prescribed antibiotics) outside of the pharmacy. Pharmacists are well-trained and even have a large selection of homeopathic medicines available for only several Euros each.
  1. One of the best ways to shop in France is in the traditional markets. Each village and district usually hosts at least one market, or marché, per week where you can buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and fish, and even prepared food, toys, and clothes. These markets run throughout the year and savvy French consumers will buy all their produce and fresh meats, cheeses, and fish there for the whole week, because it is so cheap. There are also covered markets, or les marchés couverts, which take place in permanent structures dedicated to market trade. These are also called les halles and, in Paris, the section called Les Halles is the central market place in the capital that traditionally dates from about 1183 AD.
  1. Of course, you can’t shop effectively in France without knowing some important vocabulary. Here are some terms you will likely need to know during your shopping trip:
  • épicerie – grocery store
  • boulangerie – bakery
  • patisserie – pastry shop
  • boucherie – butcher shop
  • un tabac – tobacco shop, normally part of a bar where you can also buy lottery tickets, phone recharges, and metro cards
  • Librarie – book store
  • friperie (slang) – second-hand clothes shop
  • Je cherche… — I’m looking for…
  • Je aimerais/je voudrais… — I would like…
  • Ça coûte combien? – How much does it cost?
  • Je vais le prendre – I’ll take it
  • J’aimerais payer par carte… — I’d like to pay by card
  • J’aimerais payer en éspeces… — I’d like to pay in cash
  • Est-ce que je peux l’essayer s’il vous plait… — Could I try it on, please?

Do you dream of shopping in France? What would you buy? Are there any other French shopping terms you would like to learn?

Happy shopping! Faites des bons achats!

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About the Author: Elizabeth Schmermund

Bonjour tout le monde! I'm a freelance writer, doctoral student, mom, and Francophile. I'm excited to share some of my experiences living in France, as well as the cultural nuances that I've learned being married to a Frenchman, with all of you. To find out more about me, feel free to check out my website at A la prochaine!


  1. Bruce:

    Je pense que “Ça coûte combine ?” n’est pas correct. Il devrait étre “Ca coute combien ?”

    • Elizabeth Schmermund:

      @Bruce Vous êtes correct, Bruce! Merci de m’avoir montrée cette coquille.