French women are often stereotyped as being skinny or thin. Well, I know their secret(s). Discovering this secret was somewhat anticlimactic, though, because it is summed up in three boring words: the grocery store. Their trick to being thin has nothing to do with themselves but instead with the structure of French towns and where the grocery store is in relation to the city center.
It is important to first understand a major difference between American cities and French cities. In France, and elsewhere in Europe, there is a strong concept of a “centre-ville”…everything is at the center of the town. City life is very centripetal. For example, in old towns, streets are not built in blocks but, rather, all streets lead to the center. Looking at a map, the roads look like a spider’s web. Conversely, in America, city life is centrifugal…people flock to the suburbs for shopping, eating, and other commercial things.
Because of the centre-ville, it is almost impossible to drive to the grocery store, which is typically at the very center. If you live in the center, this is the grocery store you go to, and if you live in the center, you probably don’t have a car. Furthermore, even if you did have a car, the grocery store doesn’t have a parking lot.
Now that I have explained the centre-ville, I can tell you the secret(s).
French women walk to the grocery store and, consequently, carry their groceries all the way home.
Having to carry groceries all the way home, French women only buy what is necessary.
The French government passed a law banning all non-degradable plastic bags (http://www.endseurope.com/11124). Because of this, French women must buy a large, reusable bag from the grocery store. So, not only do they only buy what is necessary because they don’t want any extra weight to carry; they also only buy what is necessary because it all has to fit in their large, reusable bag. It’s not hard to make sure everything fits into your bag, however, because as you shop at the grocery store, you do not have the luxury of using enormous shopping carts (like the ones we have in the States). If you want a big cart, you have to pay for it (and I wouldn’t suggest doing this because it probably wouldn’t fit down the aisles anyway). So, shoppers are left with the option of carrying a shopping basket (which, because of the weight it accumulates on one’s arm, makes it very easy to only buy the minimum) or pushing a shopping cart designed for Polly Pocket (I’m not kidding).
One might think that this would result in French women’s making more trips to the grocery store in order to get the same amount of groceries as normal people. False. Going to the grocery store in France is like going to a Turkish bazaar, minus the bargaining. The hassle is just not worth multiple trips.
It all makes sense, right? I kind of like it this way. It makes me realize what grossly easy access to food we Americans have. Not that it’s bad to have easy access (I’m very grateful for it) and not that the French don’t have easy access…I mean, relatively, France is still one of the richest countries in the world. Nonetheless, it almost seems shocking to me now how many times I’ve filled my gargantuan shopping cart at Kroger or Wal-mart with pointless food, simply because I know that I can just roll it on out to my car, fill up the trunk, then take “trips” back and forth from my car to the door to my house which is maybe five feet away. Now, because of all of the effort I put into carrying my groceries all the way back to my house, I almost feel a little pride as I cook that which was so carefully chosen. There’s no harm in working for your food. It seems a little more natural that way. Plus, I feel healthier now because of all that effort.