Need anything?

Exercise mats become carpet pads

We have some very kind readers of this blog. About once a month we’ll get an email from someone who has been following our adventures saying that they will be staying in or at least passing through Carcassonne and could we get together. Because it’s in the heart of town, we generally meet them at the 18th century fountain in the main square and then settle into one of the many surrounding sidewalk cafés for an espresso or a glass of local wine. It’s very rewarding to chat with someone who has sought out the information that we try to provide for Americans considering a move to France. One question that always pops up in advance of one of these get-togethers is “Can we bring you anything?” with the follow-up question in person over that coffee or wine being “Do you miss anything from the US?” After two years of living in France we can now say without hesitation, “No”.

Of course, getting to “No” was not an immediate achievement. After all, we’d landed in another country with not much more than a few suitcases of belongings and our dog, Heather. We already knew where the closest veterinarian was, but we’d only brought a few day’s worth of her food with us so obviously finding that was a priority. Who knew that garden centers generally provide the largest selection of pet supplies? Would they laugh when we asked in French for “wet dog food” and does it even exist here? The answer to that first part is “yes” in a good natured way and to the second part “yes” but not nearly as popular as bags of dry food called croquettes. I thought croquettes were what we had growing up deep-fried on Friday nights from the leftover roasted chicken from Sunday lunch. We had a lot to learn and we’re still not there.

So once we learned our way around town and knew where to start looking for things, we then had to figure out what to call them. The hardware store remains our toy shop even if we still don’t know the names of all the tools, fasteners, glues, paints, etc. Just the name of our in-town store, Carcassonne Caoutchouc, is hard enough to remember, let alone pronounce. One source that helps a lot is online shopping. If we can find something there and then print out the page it makes explaining to the salesperson in the store much easier. We prefer to buy as much as we can locally but even after a couple of years here we have to do some shopping via the Internet since there are a few items that fall under the phrase we’ve heard more than once in stores, “That doesn’t exist in France”.

Our supermarket’s shelves of “Products from elsewhere”

The most recent example of that is carpet padding. All of the floors in our house are covered with ceramic tile which is great for cleaning up spills and cool in the summer but doesn’t give you that warm and fuzzy feeling come winter time. We’d put down a couple of oriental rugs but they were still lacking that cushy touch. Numerous sources in the UK had exactly what we were looking for but no one would ship to France. A Scandinavian company that bills itself as  Europe’s largest carpet store doesn’t even stock any kind of padding. By chance we discovered those interlocking rubber floor panels for children’s playtime and we tweaked that search to finally uncover a version intended for gymnasium floors. No, they are not called carpet padding but Tapis de protection de sol en mousse sans BPA that we might think of as BPA-free foam floor protector. It DOES exist in France as long as you know what to ask for!

Just as dog food was the first thing we sought out for Heather, we went looking for people food, in the form of spices for us soon after we arrived. Last fall we wrote a post called Some Like it Hot that describes, thanks to our readers, why our spice shelves are now full and that from seeds we received we were able to can several jars of jalapeno peppers that grew on plants in our courtyard in the summer.

What else have people found room in their suitcases to bring with them for us? Right off hand I can think of a huge roll of plastic wrap with a built-in sliding cutter, heavy-duty resealable freezer bags, dental floss, dried black beans, giant Virginia Diner peanuts, whole grain rice and pasta, a ratcheting screwdriver, plus loose tea and teabags from England. To be fair, we’ve now found all but one of those locally or how to easily order them from within France or other countries bordering us. There are even several online stores here that specialize in food products from America if you just have to have that can of root beer, condensed tomato soup, or marshmallow fluff. We’ll be happy with the fresh bread, cheese, and wine from our neighborhood shops,  thank you!

11 thoughts on “Need anything?

  1. Bob, after 5 years, we’ve either found the product we’re looking for, found a replacement (which can be fun, as you note above), or do without. One thing we do miss is Mexican food. The “Old El Paso” kits and products are available – but there’s a reason why other Mexican food lines make fun of “Old El Paso” being from NY. So recently, we’ve started making our own from scratch – even concocting the enchilada sauce, and guacomole spices. Just wish we had a bigger freezer when we do. Oh, and we normally get a couple articles of clothing when we visit the US, since “Tall” sizes are rare. Although someone has told us to visit the Netherlands, since the average height there is 6’1”. Bon courage!

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    1. We have also made our own seasoning mixes to our taste. We have taller friends who go to Germany to buy their clothes and I picked up some things while I was in England a couple of weeks ago. My legs don’t even begin to fit into the skinny jeans that the folks wear here in France.


    2. Ha! I do the same with Mexican – it’s pretty easy to make from scratch. Although I still buy the Old El Paso corn tortillas. After 17 years in Europe 11 in Ireland and now 6 in France) we, too, have found substitutes for most things, and also eat French food quite happily. One thing I miss most of all – giant boxes of Arm & Hammer, for everything from laundry to cooking to cleaning and keeping the fridge smelling fresh!

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  2. Hey guys, I never thought that I would be saying anything remotely affectionate about Saran Wrap. I also learned that upholstery can be called “tissue”. We also discovered that those skinny jeans ( that are also “flood waters” are omnipresent,lol!

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  3. Always enjoy the blog and my husband and I have 18 months left to go before we leave the US. Our last trip to France in September we met a lovely couple from New Zealand living in Germany. I asked if they missed anything from home — Saran Wrap! (the Press and Seal kind) We sent them the biggest roll we could find — which of course the postage was more than the wrap — too funny! Again, thank you for your blog! We both look forward to it each week.

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