To Market, To Market!

Let’s play spot the difference. What is the difference between these two photos?



Well, yes, there’s a little old lady in the top photo but that’s not the answer.

Guess again.

And no, it’s got nothing to do with my love of endives that you can spot in the forefront of the bottom photo.

It’s the plastic bags.

As of January 2016, you will not be able to get a plastic bag at the market.

As part of a wider movement already being implemented in supermarkets and chain stores designed to reduce wastage, plastic bags are being entirely phased out.

There seems to be some confusion about when exactly the ban will come into place and what exactly it will entail.

This is what we know:

Not content with banishing the thicker bags at the check-out, in October 2014, the Assemblée Nationale voted to get rid of the thin plastic bags found at fruit and vegetable counters. Billions are used (12 billion per year apparently¹) and then immediately thrown away each year.

The plastic bags are to be replaced by more eco-friendly versions, made of organic matter which are then supposed to be recycled in compost heaps. (However, I think I am the only person of this city of 2 million who does her own composting!² I would love to know how many other people would also be able to do this…)

It’s not even like you’ll be able to buy a bag for 5, 10 or 50 cents. Plastic bags are being completely done away with.

We’re going to start seeing more and more paper bags from now on. However, there is some resistance to these too, given that they also need to be recycled.

Where it starts getting complicated:

In Sept 2015, Ouest France stated that the new law is to take effect on 1st January 2017. I wonder if this is a typo?³

There are worries that paper bags are not as strong as their plastic counterparts. Have you ever tried putting a melon or pineapple in a paper bag?! Even a kilo of apples? We potentially stand to waste a lot more food should the bag rip.

There is also talk that this plastic bag measure will apply at the fish counter too. Let me just say, if there’s one thing that I’ll draw the line at…. I ain’t hauling any salmon straight over my shoulder!

Imagine you’re at your local Franprix or Carrefour. Instead of buying your fruit and vegetables loose, you will probably favour buying your vegetables in a pre-packed bag now because it will be easier than fishing around for a loose potato at the bottom of your handbag. Supermarkets are the biggest source of waste, both in terms of alimentary waste – which they’ve been told to crack down on – and packaging. Why are they not being told to sell more of their fresh produce en vrac / loose?

Anyway, rant over. What this all boils down to is: if you’re a local, don’t forget your caddie or shopping panier when you go to stock up on spuds. If you’re a short-termer or tourist in Paris, it may be a little bit harder but you’ll have to consecrate a tote bag or something similar for transporting your veggies.

The “Parisian market experience” will also irrevocably change. The days of “servez-vous, monsieur, madame, servez-vous!” will soon be behind us.

¹ Ségolène Royale, Minster for Ecology – quoted in Le Figaro, 2014.

² You compost too??! 🙂

³ Link to Ouest France article here.

Le Marché aux Puces de Saint Ouen with Discover Walks


It’s rare that I’ll be standing outside a McDonald’s at 10.45 on a Saturday morning. On this occasion, coming at the end of a full week of fun birthday festivities, the smell of greasy oil was almost enough to turn my stomach. However, the reason for standing there on this particular morning was to meet our Discover Walks guide for a tour around the flea markets of Saint Ouen.

I had tried to venture into the Marché aux Puces once before, with a group of friends shortly after arriving in Paris in 2011. Despite having tried as best we could to read about the different markets online, the five of us ended up, after just thirty minutes, stressed, overwhelmed and LOST!

This time, it was a dream. Our guide took us round the Marché Vernaison, Marché Dauphine, Marché Paul Bert and Marché Jules Vallès. We covered furniture, antiques, silver, vintage posters, old newspapers, designer clothes and everything in between. The two hours flew by.


At the end, he shakes our hand, says goodbye and leaves us to retrace our steps back to whatever may have caught our eye during the tour. (In my case, it was a coffee and a lamb sandwich!)

More personable than professional, it was like having your friend show you round town. An inexpensive orientation to an area that is otherwise very difficult to navigate as a first-timer and we learnt some interesting titbits along the way.

In contemporary French language, if you are going through a rather dodgy and unsafe area, you might hear someone say: “wow, mais c’est le zone!” I had always thought that it was some kind of abbreviation for “war zone” but it turns out that “the zone” actually refers to the stretch of land between the Boulevard des Marechaux and the Peripherique, which was (and still is rather) a No Man’s Land.

Having someone who knows their way around, who can keep you out of trouble and steer you in the right direction is invaluable.


One of the really curious facts of history that we learnt was that up until March 2014, Saint Ouen was run by a Communist local government. It’s for that reason that this area is known as the ceinture rouge (red belt) and it’s also why this area has not had the same real-estate development boom that other suburbs of Paris have been experiencing recently. The idea of ploughing any profits from building projects straight back into the public purse was rather discouraging, to put it lightly, to any private investors.

Thank you Discover Walks for giving me the the opportunity to do something that in the four years that I’ve been in Paris, I hadn’t done myself.

To check out their website and book this tour for yourself, the link’s here.

P.S. For more photos of the markets, that’s this way.