Almost fisticuffs at la caisse rapide

Or how a simple shopping trip can turn into a drama.

Up in town yesterday while waiting to meet a friend, we went into the hypermarket to buy half a dozen items.

To wit:

6 kilos (aka 13.25 lbs, or almost 1 stone) of sunflower seeds

2 kilos of sugar

12 toilet rolls

6 litres of milk

1 large jar of coffee

1 pack of 10 small batteries

Plus an impulse buy of 1 small bottle of smoke-flavoured olive oil


The winter sales are on at the moment, so the place was heaving.

There are about 30 check-out counters, of which 5 were in operation. The remainder were fermé.  As you might expect, there were long queues of heaped trolleys at the few open check-outs. But no matter, there are two ‘quick’ DIY areas. For one of them you have to use a self-operated scanner that you carry around while you shop. I’ve never used one, wrangling a handbag and shopping list are as much as I can manage.

The other ‘quick’ check-out is a cluster of weighing points where you scan items over a piece of glass, and a robotic voice orders you to place them on the counter, and when you’ve scanned them all you can prod a screen and make payment. It’s generally a simple operation, and there’s a lady who sits at the exit on a sort of podium to watch for any ‘oversights’ and helps when things go wrong.

We were cheerfully wheeling our trolley (or as it’s called here, caddie) towards the first machine when the podium-lady called out ‘No caddies in here.’ She was perfectly pleasant, and came over to say we couldn’t pass through the ‘quick’ check-out with a trolley, so she suggested we went to the nearest normal check-out. Which was fermé.


Naughty caddie

Resignedly I turned the trolley to join a queue, but TOH had other ideas. He was not going to stand in a long queue. What we would do was pile the shopping into one of the smaller plastic trolleys that you can drag around and which are permitted in the ‘quick’ section, pass our items through the scanner, push the empty forbidden trolley to the exit 5 feet away, where it would wait while we scanned and paid, and we would then pile our goods into the forbidden trolley, leaving the plastic trolley behind – you can’t take a plastic trolley out through ANY exit.


Good caddie


“Non!” cried the podium-lady. We could not push the trolley to the exit. It was forbidden. It was not her decision, but the store’s policy. Simultaneously a loud altercation broke out from a French gentleman who found himself in the same predicament. It was ridiculous, he yelled, he was a customer and he would take his trolley through; just let anybody try to stop him.

Security was called.

While the Frenchman shouted, waved his arms and stamped his feet and made a formal complaint against the store, I prepared to scan our articles and TOH determinedly pushed the trolley towards the exit, where the podium-lady placed herself as an obstruction.

No, she said, he couldn’t push his trolley through that exit. He had to walk all through the store, right to the end, and push it out from there and back to where I would be waiting with a heap of shopping. He was livid, and that’s always a danger sign.

By now security had diverted its attention from the shouting Frenchman to my shouting TOH. Security and the podium-lady were talking in French, and TOH was shouting in English, and we’d been at the ‘quick’ check-out for nearly ten minutes without having yet scanned a single item.

Even under extreme provocation I will walk an extra mile to avoid confrontation, so I said calmly but sufficiently loudly to make certain they heard, “We will abandon the goods and go elsewhere.”

The security guard was apologetic, and said if we left the trolley in the store, he would return it to the car park later. But how, we asked, without it, will we be able to carry 8 kilos (18 lbs) of dry goods, 6 litres of milk, plus the toilet rolls and expensive oil back to the car?

Ah yes, he could see the problem, but he could also see the solution. HE would push the trolley through the forbidden exit while we scanned our purchases and put them back into the plastic trolley, dragged it through the exit and transferred the goods into the forbidden trolley.

And that’s what happened.

But not quite as smoothly as that.

When I scanned the second bag of sunflower seeds the screen locked and ordered me to summon the podium-lady. She pressed some buttons and I started again. Her intervention was required four times, and as the final item passed through, she prodded the “Pay now” button and went to deal with another angry customer.

But I wanted to claim the balance on my fidelity card and deduct it from the total payable. She hadn’t asked before pressing the “Pay now” button so I had to call her back for a fifth time to reset the machine.

At long last we could drag the overloaded plastic trolley past the podium-lady, who, to her great credit, had remained polite and helpful throughout and wished us farewell with a smile.

What was quite astonishing about this whole episode was that standing behind us were two ladies, each with a few items in their plastic trolleys. There are, I think, eight scanners, any of which would have been quicker than ours, but they stood there patiently. Maybe they were just enjoying the spectacle and storing it up for entertaining friends.








4 thoughts on “Almost fisticuffs at la caisse rapide

  1. Since we moved to France from the UK it’s shopping that shows the widest difference between the two countries.
    Less choice, higher prices, closed at lunch times, illogical product placement and haphazard price marking all go to making French shopping a long winded frustrating experience.
    Eventually we worked out the reason – French shops are there for the convenience of the staff, not the customer!
    Thank goodness for Amazon. I wanted an ébrancheur (“chain saw on a stick”) to help with pruning the trees and there was no choice locally. By buying on line I’ve saved time, petrol and about €30

    • You have discovered that in France the customer is always wrong! However that is s-l-o-w-l-y changing. When I first came here 19 years ago what is now SuperU was Atac, which became Stoc overnight, and then changed to Champion overnight, and later to Carrrefour overnight before it’s current SuperU ensign. The staff have remained unchanged, apart from those who have retired. In the Atac days I asked a rather surly person there if they would stock free-range eggs – at the time we didn’t have any chickens. He sneered and said there was no demand for such a thing, the battery eggs they sold were perfectly good and I could take them or leave them. When I asked if they sold porridge – flocons d’avoine – he said: “Madame, in France people don’t eat oats – they are fed to animals.” However, for some years now they have stocked both free-range eggs and porridge oats, and every time I take a box from the shelf I make a point of showing them to him and remarking how popular they are. 😉

      In Civray there is one shop who has always given us outstanding service, and that is Blanchard at Savigne. They are unfailingly polite and helpful.

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