When I first arrived in this barren land called France back in 2002, they didn't sell Oreos. Don't even get me started on cream cheese. And Starbucks had yet to open its first branch on French soil. Since then, things have changed (for the bettah!). We can now get all of the above products fairly easily. And though there is no Starbucks in my neck of the woods, you can buy the iced coffees in the supermarket now.
But the gap between the US and France is still wide. There are sadly some things still lacking on my supermarket shelves that make me sigh and miss Wal-Mart and Target so badly. So, as a follow-up to my recent post of things you can only find in France or Europe, here's a frustrating list of things that are few and far between in the land of camembert.
1. Mega boxes of medication. I bought this a few years ago in the States, at Sam's to be exact. It came in a two-pack. Two bottles containing 500 generic ibuprofen tablets. I still haven't even put a dent in them. In France you cannot, for the moment, just hop down to the supermarket and pick up generic meds. They can only be bought in pharmacies and in much smaller quantities. (This might be a good thing since with the quanitity of painkillers I take, I might be working on an ulcer.) Generics only recently got popular here, by the way.
2. Cheap contact lens solution. When my family is coming to visit me and ask me if I need anything, I often tell them to bring this. It is so much cheaper in the US, compared to the dozen euros for one bottle of Bausch and Lomb in France. I had one opthamologist tell me if I bought the cheap stuff on the bottom shelf in the supermarket it would hurt my eyes in the long-run. Besides, I generally only find this stuff in the pharmacy here anyway. Go, Wal-Mart Equate brand!
3. Molasses. Don't tell anybody, but one of my students in the food industry gave me this bottle. I made him and his team a gingerbread cake with part of it. And they were amazed that people actually made recipes with what for the French is considered a "waste" product. I have yet to find it in stores here but someone said health food stores carry it.
4. Vanilla extract. It's hard to find the real thing here. In France they sell sucre vanillé, which is a little bag of sugar that has been soaked or stored with vanilla. But I don't find it nearly as flavorful as what my mom brought me last Christmas in her suitcase.
5. Affordable chocolate chips. Although I was a bit surprised to see how the prices had gone up the last time I was back, it's still cheaper to get a big bag there than in France. For some reason the bags they sell here are little bitty, as if to tell people not to make too many and watch their weight. I have yet to try the self-serve bins with chips in some supermarkets. Then and only then will I tell my mom I'm good in the chip department. Thank heaves for her care packages all these years!
6. Affordable baking soda. You can find it here, but it seems pricey when I know it's dirt cheap in the US. Another thing that throws me off is that here it seems to be exclusively for cleaning and is often found in the cleaning products aisle or next to salt and vinegar. It's rather unheard of to use it in recipes here.
7. Oodles of cake mixes! The French do have ready-made cake mixes, but perhaps it's their penchant for home-made or the presence of bakeries on every corner that makes the baking aisle seem so small in my eyes. So on a trip to the UK a few weeks back I picked up this carrot cake mix. Like the package says, "Love Betty!" She sure helps us busy moms out!
8. Frosting! What goes better with your cake mix than some ready-made frosting. They might sell some here but it's rather limited in terms of flavors and is often quite a small package. Again, maybe they are encouraging us to make our own? This particular can came from my friend Elsie who had a friend buy it for her in the UK (frosting smuggling ring!).
9. Cheap peanut butter. You can find it but sometimes the prices seem outrageous. €3.12 for 340grams (12 oz.) whereas this US one contains more than twice as much (794 grams/28 oz.) at basically the same price. I'm not a huge peanut butter fan but I think I'd be paying through the nose if I were.
10. Cheap bubble bath. Another thing I asked my dad to bring last time was bubble bath. For some strange reason I can't find it much around here. Or if I do it's in small quanitities or in a decorative bottle and thus more expensive. Don't French kids take bubble baths? And shower gel just doesn't foam up as much. Believe me, I've tried.
So what do you have trouble finding where you live? Even in the same country there can be regional differences in product distribution.
A special shout-out to my family and friends who made this post possible through their care packages and gifts and suitcases filled with Wal-Mart goodies!