14 March 2008

Up up up goes the cost of living

With the rise in the price of oil and the decline in the value of the dollar, we are now paying $7.30 per U.S. gallon for diesel fuel at current exchange rates. That's €1.23 per liter, which is what SuperU was charging on Wednesday. If you go to a service station, you'll pay closer to $8.00 a gallon. A U.S. gallon is 3.79 liters.

A tulip that is taking its time to open up wide

Diesel fuel is still less expensive in France than gasoline (gas must be about $10.00 per gallon in U.S. terms) even though 70% of the cars sold here have diesel engines. When we arrived five years ago, diesel fuel was about €0.85/liter, or about $3.60 a gallon. So it has doubled.

Luckily, we don't drive much and don't need to. Let's not even talk about the cost of heating oil in dollar terms...

The neighbors' forsythia against their old tile roof

The prices of what are called produits de base — staples — at the supermarket have increased by anywhere from 25% to 50% recently. A liter of milk that was costing about 50¢ U.S. now costs $1.00. A kilogram of flour has gone from 40¢ to 75¢. Butter from $1.75 to $3.30 a pound.

About the only things that haven't gone sky-high are wine and fresh vegetables. I guess that's what we need to live on (and we do!). Meat prices haven't increased very much either, as far as I can tell. Of course, the gradual decline in the value of the dollar has made those prices increase as well, at least for people like us, who live on dollars.

La Renaudière
12 March 2008

If you have the time and the inclination to buy less expensive meats and vegetables when they are available and prepare your food from scratch, you can still live well and not spend a fortune. That's what we try to do. We hardly ever buy prepared food. Bread hasn't gone up much (at least in terms of euros; we pay 78 eurocents for a delivered baguette).

I have become a bargain shopper, that's for sure. I was always conscious of prices, even when we were both working in California and had good incomes. It seems silly to me to pay a higher price for something than it is worth. And what it is worth is the lowest price you can find, given good quality.

Rosemary in flower

The French Finance Minister, in an interview last week, said there wasn't much the government could do about rising prices except look for instances of gouging and stop those. That's probably true. The was a lot of laughter when the minister suggested that consumers should make sure they are taking advantage of competition — in other words, shopping in one store for things that are cheaper there, and going to other stores to get the best prices offered in them.

Most people who work for a living just don't have time to shop in three or four different supermarkets every week and spend that much mental energy on comparing prices. I am lucky, because I do have time to do that, and I have five grocery stores within three or four miles of the house. And no traffic to fight.

Muscaris, or grape hyacinths, in the front yard

SuperU in Saint-Aignan has nice produce and the best pork products. Intermarché over in Noyers has better beef and better prices on chicken, as well as pretty good produce. In both stores, you can buy produce in bulk, as much as you want, rather than in packages that contain more onions or garlic or whatever than you want to buy at one time.

Ed has the best milk at the best price, as well as good prices on cheese, ham, and other staples of our diet. The produce isn't generally that good, but now and then there are great specials on good fresh fruit and vegetables. Then there's Netto, another discount store that often has good specials, and Champion, which is kind of fallback option that I don't go to often.

Maybe somebody can identify this plant...

It's nice that we don't have a hypermarché, or superstore, like the ones they have in Amboise, Loches, Blois, and Tours. I think a super-sized store — for example, E. Leclerc, Carrefour, Auchan, Géant — might kill off the local competition. That's never a good thing. Besides, I like the scale of the smaller markets.

Prices at the outdoor markets are a little higher, but often the quality seems higher too. For local goat cheeses, the best fish, nice ham and sausages, and locally grown, seasonal produce like strawberries and asparagus in the springtime, the farmers' market is the place to go. You pay a small premium, but it's worth it.


  1. I think your mystery plant will probably be either a willow Salix sp or a dogwood Cornus sp, with those coloured withies.


  2. Yes, I was thinking a coppiced willow, but it's a bit hard to tell without some leaves!

    Prices: we've just had this year's government budget, which has whacked taxes on to alcohol (to raise money and to be seen to be trying to wean us off binge drinking), but that hardly bothers me, neither does the much-vexed question of fuel prices (since I live in London, I don't keep a car). But milk is clearly more expensive than chez vous, and food prices generally always seem to be a bit more than in France.

  3. It's interesting looking at prices in France - the things on special at the supermarche look incredibly cheap, but some things are expensive compared to London. There is no obviousl logic to what items will be the expensive ones. either.

    We noticed the same thing when we first moved to the UK from Australia (although it is too easy to remember prices as there were when you left, as opposed to what they have done now - the price of meat in Australia be a pefect illustration)

    Interesting that you are talking about buying bulk when things are cheap - last visit we bought a rather large amout of pork belly for not much money. I have salted half of it for petit sale, and Susan used the other half for a week's worth of pork casserole.

    I have put the petit sale recipe on the blog

  4. I agree with Susan and Autolycus, it looks very much like what we call an "osier" in France, which is a "saule," salix sp. Its long, slender and flexible branches are used to make baskets.
    I'm keeping track of the dollar's free fall, and wonder with anxiety what I'm going to do in France later this year. I believe in miracles!

  5. CHM, I thought that was "osier" but I didn't know for sure. The people who work in the vineyard use the osier branches to tie up bundles of grape-vine trimmings.

    Susan and Simon, thanks. I'll check out the recipe for "petit salé".

    Autolycus, I noticed a headline in the New York Times regarding upset abut new "sin taxes" in the UK.

  6. We're tightening our belts down here too. Thank heavens I love to cook! We hardly ever buy prepared foods, eat meat only once or twice a week, and eat mainly rice/pasta/beans and fresh vegetables and fruit. Better for our health in the long run anyway!
    We eat plain yogurt every day so I'm considering investing in a yogurt maker if it will save us in the long run.

    If only I could get the right to work. Soon....I hope!
    Hang in there!

  7. Like autolycus, I heard that prices had been going up in the UK. I found that my hotel, the tube and food in general was more expensive.
    Back to Paris, I heard this morning that it was the right time to go to the US, for us Europeans and that seemed to me to be rather a stupid comment. No doubt it's good for people who have the money, but to the others, ça fait une belle jambe !
    Not to mention you guys and the problems you are probably having with the exchange rate.
    Sorry for not visiting for such a long time, but I was away from home ;)

  8. Claudia in Toronto15 March, 2008 02:09

    At any price, your flowers are beautiful. I'm learning their names as I'm planning to visit our Toronto Greenhouse. I want to recognize them without the labels. I knew the tulip of course.

  9. hello, my friend samdebretagne alerted me to this post! i'd really like to know where and when this interview with the minister was, and if you might have a link to it somewhere? i'm doing a presentation on monday on pouvoir d'achat and i'm having a hard time finding the right information (there's tons of it out there but not what i need!). thank you!

  10. Hello Claude, did you walk all the way to London and back? What a great way to kill two birds with one stone: lots of exercise and a very low-cost solution to travel. K.

  11. Miss Yuri, I saw the interview (or an excerpt) with the Minister of Finance on the France 2 TV news a few days ago. I don't know if it is available on the web. The finance minister is Christine Lagarde, but you probably already know that.

  12. Miss Yuri, try listening to this video and see if you can get some information from it. Ken

  13. the photos are beautiful. does anybody round there weave the osiers -- i was just looking at a wattle fence some hippies made in england, in the old style , very nice.

  14. http://www.frenchgardening.com/tech.html?pid=3088406971138973

    here you go. "clotures" for the garden.

  15. Is it MY cactus poking its nose at the rosemary?

  16. Yes, CHM, that is the tip of one of the pads of "your" cactus peeking into the picture of the rosemary. The cactus is still living. I think I have to move it now, before the snails from the ditch come and starting eating it again, the way they did last year.

    PJ, thanks for the link. There are some beautiful pictures from Provence there, but I didn't find the clôture en osier. I'll look some more.

  17. A friend of mine in Olympia was just complaining about gas going over $3.50 a gallon -- I sent her your statistics to compare! She knows gas is expensive here, but I'm not sure she realized how much more...

    As for shopping in different places, that's certainly not that great for the environment, and then you have to factor in the gas prices too! I agree -- it's fine if you have time, but a ridiculous argument as far as the purchasing power problem goes.


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