French stuff to buy
December 4, 2010 8:25 AM   Subscribe

What should I buy while I'm in France?

I'm looking for things I should buy while I'm in France because of a significant price difference (USD and Euros), options (more colors styles, etc), availability, or difference in ingredients. I have a French bank account and I am here until April so I can also order things online. I'm not interested in wine, and I already eat a fair amount of cheese, but if there is something that really blew your mind I would try it. Depends on the item, but probably a max budget of about 100 euros.

An example might be: Drink coke-a-cola because it's sugar and not HFCS. Or buy "this French brand" because the mark up in USA is 200%

Bonus points for providing me a brand/ company where I should buy a stripey shirt or beret.

(Things I'm not looking for are: "I found this cool shop when I was in Montmartre 5 years ago- it had some stuff I had never seen before.")

I'm female, in my early twenties and lean toward classic looks though I can be pretty outrageous too. Back in the states I'm in NJ/NYC fairly often so I am used to having a large selection in shopping.

I looked through as many past threads as I could but I don't think this question was asked before- there's so many france tags though I could have missed one
posted by raccoon409 to Shopping (25 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
If you like frangrance and cosmetics, there are tons of brands you can't get in the USA.

My beloved Chanel No. 22, once available in drugstores, can now only be purchased in not merely Chanel stores, but select Chanel stores.
posted by jgirl at 8:52 AM on December 4, 2010

I know you said no wine, but you didn't say no cider! Seriously, the cider in Normandy is to die for and it makes for a great gift when you come back home as well. I can attest to its unique taste and incredible zest. Just drive by any of the apple orchards throughout Normandy and you'll experience something new and exciting!
posted by analogue at 8:54 AM on December 4, 2010

Belgian beer is quite a bit cheaper in France (Leffe 750ml bottles for €2 or so).
posted by proj at 9:03 AM on December 4, 2010

I would stock up on nice notebooks and notepads (Rhodia, Clairefontaine and Oxford). However, I don't know how easy/cheap those are in the U.S. If you are in Paris, I suggest visiting Gibert Jeune, for instance (my favourite papeterie closed down last year, so Gibert Jeune is now my go-to place).

Baguettes and croissants, for sure. At least enjoy them while you are there (those things I stocked up on my waistline, unfortunately, but they were worth it). More food-related things: galettes de sarrasin (I used not to care for them until I found one that stunned me -- maigret de canard fume, plum jam & chevre), magret de canard, croque monsieur.

I am not into that 99% cacau thing, so I think Real Chocolat is the best chocolate ever (you may have to order online depending where you are in France:

Maybe you should look into books in French, French records and/or films if you fancy them?

Camper for long-lasting shoes (if on sale). And also Damart for winter underclothes, socks, etc, if you going to endure freezing winters. Oh, yes, I would advise waiting for the soldes in January to buy clothes.

[Note: All this is from the perspective of what I would not find in Brazil. I have yet to find decent croissants anywhere but in France; but the rest you may or may be able not find in the U.S., but I really can't tell. :)]
posted by natalinha at 9:12 AM on December 4, 2010

This sounds kind of dumb but the prunes I've gotten at the markets in Provence are amazing. I hate Sunsweet whatever prunes I get here in the states. In the states they are dry, but in Provence, they are delicate and sticky and sweet. They really remind me of the description of the Apple of Youth in a Neil Gaiman edited book of short stories. But, like a prune.

Also, olive oil, specifically Castellas, is maybe US$20 there but they sell it at Williams Sonoma for US$70.
posted by spec80 at 9:15 AM on December 4, 2010

Seconding the cosmetics and fragrances. My very favourite is Aimez-Moi by Caron, which you can only buy in a Caron store in France (though I did hear unconfirmed rumours you could get it at Harrods now). Most Caron perfumes are lovely. French lingerie is the best. Stock up on it if you can. I also love French fountain pens and writing instruments in general. And there's this awesome stuff that is essentially a paste of marron glace that comes in a can, and if you mix it with creme fraiche (which is also best when bought in France) it's ridiculously delicious.

Oh, and cheese. Eat cheese every day, and try as many kinds as possible. With fresh baguette. Damn, now I'm starving and jealous! Enjoy your time there.
posted by Go Banana at 9:51 AM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My partner's aunt brought us a bag of Haribo Tagada when she cam back from France. We were sad when the last one had been consumed.
posted by woodjockey at 9:54 AM on December 4, 2010

Scope out antique, thrift, and consignment shops, too!
posted by jgirl at 9:58 AM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: I don't know if you speak (read) French, but stuff like Livres de Poche - super cheap in France, and readily available, but not at all available or cheap elsewhere. Obviously, this only applies if you intend to continue to read French (and if you do so already).
posted by djgh at 10:16 AM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: If you're in need of good-quality basics, the French brand Petit Bateau has a lot of plain-colored tees for around 15 or 18 euros. They just started carrying Petit Bateau in the US (at upscale boutiques and department stores like Saks), and are selling the same tees for about $70.
posted by mademoiselle pamplemousse at 10:19 AM on December 4, 2010

The French have absolutely beautiful and very classy table-wear and linens. These are not cheap, but you would pay double or triple the amount in New York - if you could get stuff of this quality.
I bought an arts-y PVC-coated round tablecloth in France, 10 years ago - it has been wonderful quality, has totally changed the look of my living/dining room and has been admired by everyone who visits. The French have little kitchen/house-wear boutiques, or you could visit a department store.
posted by Susurration at 10:42 AM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: I'm pretty sure I'm here n France for the same reason you are, although I haven't done much shopping here other than for food.

Here's a blog post on exactly this question by David Lebovitz: 10 Things to Bring Back from your Trip to Paris. I especially agree with Le Puy lentils and fleur de sel.

Chestnut things are fun, like the Pâte de Marrons mentioned above and chestnut jam. I have some chestnut honey as well, which is a bit strong but definitely different from honey in North America. Even the miel toutes fleurs I have has a stronger flavour than home.
posted by carolr at 10:52 AM on December 4, 2010 [3 favorites]

Do you have any interest in spirits/cocktails? Or friends who do? Some stuff from Europe never makes it into the USA for lack of distributors, or, if it makes it in, is still hard to find in the USA. Other items might be cheaper in France than the USA.

I would try to bring back Amer Picon, Crème Yvette, Marie Brizard Apry, Swedish Punsch, Batavia Arrack, maybe some of the more obscure/rare/interesting bitters, absinthe, and amaro brands for friends if I were going to France.

Oh, and they've got Havana Club rum there, don't they? :)
posted by kathryn at 10:59 AM on December 4, 2010

Opinel knives, which are carbon steel (they will rust if poorly cared for). I see no analog in the USA. Anent knives, use caution when buying Laguiole knives - it is an appellation, not a manufacturer, and quality's all over the place.

Fleur de sel is a marvelous idea.

If you like rough-lump sugar (not precise cubes), La Perruche is available for 1€30 for a 500g packet. That same packet is about $10 at Draeger's.

Soap. There is something about French soap: it is kind to skin, it gets out things that American soap doesn't and it lasts a long time. Le Petit Marseillais is a national brand, available cheaply, and it is trustworthy. I am less sure about the manufacturer of those enormous cubes of brown, lavender-scented soap, but those are a fixture in our luggage coming back.

Tomato coulis. I've found nothing like this in the USA and if you get used to using it, substitutes won't do (I'm not an adaptable cook, so more creative people might do better at this).

Wine glasses. A number of smallish shapes exist that I don't find in the USA. If you are doing any touring in Languedoc, Faugères has the best ones in my opinion. I have not found these online, BTW.
posted by jet_silver at 11:15 AM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would stock up on nice notebooks and notepads

Yep: the French are serious about their stationery. Also lotions and potions, and kitchen/household items lavender linen water, linen tea towels, home fragrances (Roger et Gallet, etc.)

On that note, I like Papiers d'Armenie, which are comparatively expensive when bought in the US, but sold pretty cheaply in French pharmacies. Likewise, Teisseire syrups, though they're bulky to bring back. And Antésite, if anise or licorice are to your taste. I'd also be tempted to buy the high-end yogurts that are sold in ceramic pots and bring the pots back.

Perhaps a set of Duralex glasses? The Picardie range has fairly wide distribution in the US; the Gigogne range, not so much.

Outside your budget, but perhaps worth considering: the baseline quality for clothing seems a bit higher, especially for someone in OP's age range.
posted by holgate at 11:58 AM on December 4, 2010

foie gras!
posted by uauage at 12:31 PM on December 4, 2010

Art. Either fine art (paintings, drawings, etc) or decorative art (furniture, jewelry, tableware). There's a world of things, particularly antique things, that are simply not available in the States. Les Puces out at Clignancourt is the supermall for this kind of stuff but quite expensive, you can find interesting things and better deals in shops in town, too. But mostly it's a matter of finding something you like, so start out at the flea market.
posted by Nelson at 1:12 PM on December 4, 2010

I've never regretted buying that little bottle (vial?) of Cedar oil when I visited the Louvre in 1995. Still have some left, smells just like Notre Dame.
posted by bricksNmortar at 2:36 PM on December 4, 2010

Fouchon has a ton of cool little things--crystallized mimosa blossoms. Tea is another great thing to bring back. Also, all those antibiotics that you can buy over the counter. L'Occitane is practically a drugstore brand there, too.
Even if you don't sew, fabric by the yard is pretty wonderful. Also, ribbons, buttons, etc.

And the perfect white blouse at Anne Fontaine.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:43 PM on December 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by Leah at 4:01 PM on December 4, 2010

I'll second the cidre. And I could die for a good pain chocolat amandes right now.
posted by kjell at 7:04 PM on December 4, 2010

Best answer: I lived in Digne Les Bains, in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence for a year and fell in love with certain items. They changed my cooking life forever.

Fleur de sel is fantastic. You won't want to use Morton's ever again.

I also recommend getting quality herbs de provence. It's ridiculously cheap in France and often has just enough rosemary and lavender. I use it constantly: ratatouille, roasted veggies and potatoes, grilled meat and grilled tomatoes. Roast Chickens.

Lavender field honey is glorious. There's a citrus finish. Just scrumptious. It makes a fantastic glaze on poultry.

Seconding what was mentioned above: olive oil, chestnut pastes and Opinel knives. I'd add olives to that too.

Opinel knives are perfect for Saucisson sec. Saucisson sec. Saucisson sec. There's a version with hazelnuts. Fantastic.

Chevre and fig jam on a baguette is divine.

I also love the ceramic garlic graters, like these, but very inexpensive in France. Grate some garlic, add some olive oil right on it and dip the baguette.

If you like anise, there is Pastis. Drink some while you play Pétanque. Pétanque balls are absurdly expensive in the states. I would've bought them there had I known.

Not eating-wise: French lavender oil is the best in the world. Don't get to much, it degrades after about a year. I also love the wonderfully loud table cloths from Provence. Instantly makes a kitchen cheerful. I'd also recommend charming Santons. They are tiny terra cotta "saints." They're a traditional Catalan/Provencal Christmas decorations.

I'm a little jealous. Have fun!
posted by montaigneisright at 4:38 AM on December 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: fountain pens & ink! I LOVE them, they write so smooth, but they're crazy expensive to get in North America and hard to find.

and you can get these white & blue pens that look like barbershop poles that erase and rewrite over fountain pen ink. they're great too!
posted by custard heart at 8:55 AM on December 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Things that are 'unavailable' outside metropolitan France may be things that are not as high-end. For example: it's easy to find a $1000 bottle of champagne in Minneapolis, impossible to get a bottle of Get 27 mint liqueur. There's a limited but constant demand for the super expensive stuff; the more everyday stuff is actually the stuff that could be more "special" to have, because nobody bothers to ship it around the world.

You can have an astounding variety of things shipped to you via, too, by the way. You may want to compare there before loading your bags with stuff for the return trip home.
posted by gimonca at 12:17 PM on December 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the great answers. I'm in Normandy so I've been enjoying the cider and will continue to do so for some time :)
I actually picked up some Fleur de sel for some stocking stuffers yesterday and I'll be working my way through other suggestions while I'm here. If anything else comes to mind, please chime in (again).
posted by raccoon409 at 1:02 PM on December 9, 2010

« Older Minimalist winter shoes for men?   |   While her stitches are knitting Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.