Wandering the neighborhood at night, but totally staying out of trouble

You can't read the caption, but it says "special machine for couettes."  "La couette" turns out to be a quilt; it can also mean "pony tail."
You can’t read the caption, but it says “special machine for couettes.” I was a little worried that the scary-looking guys inside this laundromat were going to come outside and beat me up for taking their pictures, so you can imagine my surprise when I got home and learned that “une couette” turns out to be a quilt; it can also mean “pony tail.”

During the summer time, it stays light really late in Paris.  The sun didn’t set until around 10 PM in June, and I tend to go to sleep early, so I never really saw my own neighborhood in the dark.  Now that it’s December, the days are quite short, so when I went outside early yesterday evening for a stroll, I saw the entire neighborhood lit up, for the first time.  With the electric signs shining in all of the storefronts, I noticed places that had never caught my attention before–even within a block or two of my apartment!  Zipf’s Law strikes during an evening stroll as often as it does any other time–here are some pictures of signs with words that I had to look up.  Scroll down for the full range of words that I just didn’t know.

You've gotta love a country where the news kiosk by the taxi stop advertises a philosophy magazine, right?  "Subir" has a bunch meanings related to suffering (probably the intended sense in a philosophy magazine), putting up with, dealing with, undergoing, and enduring.
You’ve gotta love a country where the news kiosk by the taxi stop advertises a philosophy magazine, right? “Subir” has a bunch meanings related to suffering (probably the intended sense in a philosophy magazine), putting up with, dealing with, undergoing, and enduring.
2014-11-29 19.02.54
Two words here: la remise, which can mean a number of things, but in this is “discount, reduction”; and effectuer, which is to make, perform, or carry out. I bought a lamp here, which required me to ask the word for “lightbulb”–it turns out to be “ampoule.”
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“Raquer” is “to pay,” or colloquially, “to cough up.”
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“Oser” is “to dare.” If it has a complement, it will be a verb in the infinitive–there doesn’t seem to be a preposition.

Why supporting traditional French shopping is in your own best interest

The traditional French store is a little mom-and-pop operation.  A French neighborhood will have a boulangerie, where you get your bread; a patisserie, where you buy your pastries; a fromagerie, for cheese; a fruit and vegetable stand; a wine shop; a butcher…you get the idea.  Parisian kitchens are pretty small, without much storage space, so you go grocery-shopping pretty frequently, and make lots of small purchases at the local shops.

As in most places, the supermarket appeared quite a while ago in France.  In Paris, it’s most often a Monoprix.  You can find pretty much everything you need there, and not just food, but clothes, school supplies, on and on.  I go to the Monoprix once or twice a week, as there are a few things that I don’t know where else to buy–the giant 0.78 kilo jars of Nutella, for instance, or giant jars of cassoulet.  It’s convenient in terms of having everything under one roof, but: it is a miserable experience.  Shopping in a Parisian supermarket is a blood sport: you stand in line at the deli counter (if that’s the right word for the part of the store where you buy deli meats, but also grilled cuttlefish, duck Spam, blood sausages…and let’s agree to forget the time that I almost found myself in the middle of a fight in the deli line, when I suddenly realized that the British tourist for whom I was mindlessly translating was deliberately egging on a pissed-off French family man), you shuffle with hordes of other people through the coffee aisle, and finally…endless, endless lines for the cash register.  I now know why Parisians always look so glum–they’re exhausted from standing in line at the Monoprix.

There’s a way out of the hell of supermarket checkout lines: shop at the little mom-and-pop specialty stores that dot your neighborhood.  Go to my little fruit and vegetable stand across the street, where the seller will ask you when you’re going to eat his produce and then give you an assortment of more- and less-ripe things meant to last until you come visit her again.  (Sorry for the gender confusion–they’re a couple, and I’m too scatter-brained from sleep deprivation to fix this.)  Walk to the next subway stop to go to the cheese shop, where you can ask for a recommendation of a seasonal cheese and be offered a taste of something in season from a guy who actually does know what cheeses are in season.  Go to the little bakery on the corner, where the lady at the counter will very kindly correct your pronunciation of champêtre at no extra charge.  As soon as I figure out where else to buy giant things of Nutella and cassoulet-in-a-jar, I’ll be done with Monoprix for good.

Some words that came up in the course of buying my very in-season beaufort:

jadis: formerly; in olden days; long ago.  Fabriqué en Savoie et en Haute-Savoie, le beaufort est un fromage de garde, dont l’origine historique est liée aux grandes difficultés de communication qui caractérisaient jadis les régions montagneuses durant l’hiver.  (Note that no one has ever been able to tell me what a fromage de garde is.)

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