The Price of Leeks and Endives

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Roucas Blanc, a hilly Marseille neighborhood that peers down at the Mediterranean, is a very desirable place to live. You find tall stone walls hiding private gardens, twisting narrow streets, steep public steps connecting dead ends. You see villas from the 19th century, a mixture of modest apartments and homes and contemporary residences designed to nab a sea-view from odd-shaped lots. During an exploratory walk in Roucas Blanc, we found Parc Valmer, a park of small terraces surrounded by trees with a blue water panorama on top. In a secluded nook a man sat on a park bench, his chest draped with a barber’s towel, and a woman cut his hair while he serenely read the newspaper.

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There’s a reason that laissez faire is a French expression. It was 7 PM and it was mostly an after-work crowd at the Monoprix supermarket on Rue du Rome. I waited my turn with my three items in a long line of ten or more. In France, everyone bags his own purchases, so the process takes a bit longer since each shopper must bag and then pay. I inched closer, passing the wine section —the most entertaining of all!—until I was third in line. A couple in their early 20s appeared and asked the customer in front of me if they could cut in since they only had a few things, in full view of a long line of customers many of whom also had only a few items. The answer was ça va—yes—and the couple cut in without one word from the line of shoppers.

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Even though the U.S. dollar is very weak at this time, there are certain items at the markets that cost noticeably less than at home. It’s an indicator of what people enjoy and purchase in greater quantity. Bargains in France? Try leeks, endives, arugula, beets, yoghurt, cheese, bread, wine, olive oil, and good quality chocolate bars.

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There are differences large and small between France and the United States. Here are some of the small ones:

  • Boulevards change names without changing direction.
  • More people smoke and wear black clothes.
  • Cars are parked anywhere there is not a barrier, including sidewalks and cross walks, and don’t seem to get ticketed.
  • Every pharmacy has a condom vending machines on the wall outside.
  • Most cars are small (although there are more SUVs than before) and have manual transmissions.
  • You see nudity on billboards and hear profanity on the radio.
  • All kinds of people use public transportation.
  • People sit in outdoor cafes when it’s very cold outside, in weather that a Californian—and possibly any American—would never, ever consider suitable for such an activity.
  • Curiously, people we meet and talk to for awhile ask us if we are cooking at home and if so, what are we cooking?
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2 Responses to “The Price of Leeks and Endives”

  1. Marguerite Says:

    There are others?!?!?! I have been in Marseille for almost a month and have yet to meet any other english speakers let alone Americans.

  2. veronique HIRBEC Says:

    Hi Rudy and Peggy !
    The way you see France and the French habits is very interesting… We are going through the same feelings and thourgh the same surprised feeling here about the USA !!! such as : Pharmacies selling cigarettes, all these vitamines drinks, (New York is very different of the rest of the United States, though, but we discoverd huge cars, and huge trucks in Utah !) But we are very pleased that nobody (almost) smoke here !! We are very, very pleased about it !!!! and people are much more polite and nice in shops, restaurants, buses and almost everywhere ! we have a different appreciation of things as beeing visiting…. I’ll also write a few stuffs like yours on my blog…. for fun ! but it is true that people cut the line of shoppers in France, and they don’t here, it’s very common in France… and it’s not the only nasty thing about it !!! there are so many differences !!!take care….

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