…you get excited when you find a supermarket open on Sundays

Living in Paris you quickly learn that Sundays are rest days.  Largely thanks to the ever-present unions, trading on Sundays is for the most part banned in France.  Some people also cite respect for “traditional” family values as justifying the ban on trade, which makes some sense.  But it is damned annoying when it’s Sunday night, you have run out of toilet paper and all you have in the fridge is a mouldy piece of comté.

In any event, this explains the eerie silence in the streets of Paris on Sunday mornings.   Sundays in Paris are left for nursing hangovers, brunching, wandering, catching up with friends, sitting en terrasse, footing, going to expos and that wonderful gallic tradition of Sunday night ciné.  Even I’ll admit that, despite the inconvenience, it’s nice that Sundays are left for family, friends and downtime.

That said, some areas of Paris have eluded the ban on trade, e.g., the marais, the historic Jewish quarter and super trendy place to be seen.  It is largely business as usual in the marais on Sundays, the sabbath having passed.  On top of that, the streets are pedestrianised.  This means the marais is always buzzing with people out for their Sunday balade, eating falafel sandwiches (on that note, if you find yourself in the rue des rosiers and tempted to join the queue for a falafel, go directly to Miznon in rue des écouffes, see below if in doubt) and admiring the over-priced (yet totally worth it, boyfriend, if you are reading) clothes at Sandro, maje and Claudie Pierlot.

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Poisson doré at Miznon.  Hell. Yes.

Although the  French government passed a law last year allowing further exceptions to the ban on Sunday trade (part of the Loi Macron, named after the French Minister for Finance, Emmanuel Macron, who proposed the law), finding a decent supermarket open on a Sunday remains damned near impossible.

Hence our excitement when the supermarket downstairs recently put up this sign:

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Who would have thought one little piece of paper could change so much?

This was a game changer.  Not only was the franprix open on Sunday, it was open on Sunday evening until 20h.  No more going to the overpriced alimentation générale  (the equivalent to a general store, or a milk bar for the Australian readers) to get toothpaste for the week.  No more staring down the barrel of Monday morning with no breakfast goods.  First world problems, certes, but little things that make the Sunday night blues that bit more bearable.

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…you find yourself saying “Oh là là”

It’s one of the biggest clichés about the French.  In addition to wearing Breton stripes (which happens surprisingly frequently), riding bikes carrying baguettes (which happens more often that you’d expect) and wearing berets (which almost never happens), any caricature of the French will inevitably involve letting out an oh-so sing song “Oh là là“.   The best thing about this cliché is that it’s actually true.  Living in Paris you hear it at least once a day, probably more, and after a while you find yourself saying it almost as much.

It comes in many different forms and its beauty is that it’s used by all – women, men and kids alike.

There is the “traditional” method, most known to foreigners and often (though not exclusively) used by women, which is the prim and proper “Oh là là“.  This is used to express admiration, almost in the same way we anglophone girls of a certain age use the phrase “Oh my god”.  For example, you show someone your new ring and they say “Oh là là c’est trop jolie !” (“Oh my god it’s so pretty!”).   It is high, light and happy.  This is a good “Oh là là”.

Then there is the bad “Oh là là“.  Perhaps predictably, the French often employ the bad “Oh là là”, used more in the sense “Oh my god that’s freaking annoying” (“Oh là là ça me saoûle !”).  For example: a car burns through a pedestrian crossing nearly knocking you over or just doesn’t stop to let you cross the road generally; a biker rings their bell at you (don’t they know it’s OK for me to do it when I’m on a bike, but not them?); someone cuts you off in the cojean line; the cashier at the supermarket tells you “je ferme ma caisse moi” (“I’m closing my till”) even though the queues are huge; you have to wait more than 3 minutes for a metro (“Oh là là – 4 minutes” ?!); people start getting into the metro before letting you out; the metro driver says the train will be stopping for a moment for the “régulation du trafic“, etc.  This “Oh là là”  (or even “Ho là là”) is low, baritone and disapproving, often muttered under your breath.  I use it a lot. (Note to self: I should really stop taking the metro).

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Standard morning commute on Line 8 (photo credit: Le Bonbon)

Then there is the pièce de la résistance (which, incidentally, is not something the French say.  Go figure.) – the “Oh là là là là là là“.  Yes that’s right.  Six ““‘s – no more, no less – in quick succession.    This is bad.   This is very bad.  Not to be bandied around lightly – this is reserved for those head-in-hands, all hope is lost kind of moments which, again perhaps unsurprisingly, happen in Paris more often than you think.

This is used when the French miss a crucial goal in the (soccer/rugby/other ball sport);
when you get halfway home from CDG and realize the cab driver doesn’t take carte blue; when you are told the musée will take no more entries for the day even though you’ve already spent an hour in line; when the sandwich guy (that’s him below) at the Marché des Enfants Rouges says there’s no more parsley so he cannot make the sandwich you want (he will only make a sandwich if he has ALL the necessary ingredients, or else he would not do it justice.  Begrudging respect for the principle, but I want my damned sandwich); when your downstairs neighbours come home at 6am and start testing their sub-woofer sound system; when you spend half an hour on the phone listening to crappy music waiting to be connected to someone at [insert name of French administrative body here] and then the line just cuts out.

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Chez Alain Miam Miam nearing the end of his parsley stock

These are the moments when “Oh là là là là là là” is really the only way you can express your frustration/anger/hanger (hunger + anger).  It is satisfying.  If you live in Paris long enough, it will become your reflex.  And that’s when you’ll know you’re turning Parisian.