Shopping in French Stores - dummies

Shopping in French Stores

If you don’t know where to start or even if you don’t have the slightest idea of what you want to bring back, un grand magasin (ewn grahN mah-gah-zaN) (a department store), may be a good choice to begin your shopping trip. The two most famous ones in Paris, le Printemps (luh pran-tahN) and les Galeries Lafayette (lay gah-lree lah-fah-yeht) are located a couple of blocks from each other on the same boulevard. How convenient! You are likely to find something you want in either one. In most respects, they are very similar, but many people swear by one or the other. In Montreal’s Ogilvy’s, you can find a collection of designers’ boutiques which rival anything in Paris or London, and Eaton’s, also on the rue Sainte-Catherine (St. Catherine Street), is the largest department store in the city. These are just a few examples of what is available in either city.

Of course, department stores are not the only places you can go to shop. They are just the easiest, because everything is there together and you can browse without being bothered. You can also do this easily in one of the many shopping malls, les centres commerciaux (lay sahN-truh ko-mehr-syo). These malls, which are a fairly recent phenomenon in Europe, are developing outside of big cities, but also more and more inside them and are very popular with the locals. They give you the advantage of medium-size boutiques (often part of a chain) with the ease of having everything located in one spot. Last but not least, don’t forget that the French language has given to the world the word boutique (boo-teek). From simple to fancy, from trinkets to designer clothes, they offer everything. But your browsing may be hindered by the over-attentive presence of the salesclerk. On the other hand, you are likely to receive good professional advice.

Here’s a list of other types of stores and the items you can find in them:

  • A la librairie, on achète des livres. (ah lah lee-breh-ree ohN-nah-sheht day leevr) (At the bookstore, you buy books.)
  • A la bijouterie, on achète des bijoux. (ah lah bee-zhoot-ree ohN nah-sheht day bee-zhoo) (At the jewelry store, you buy jewels.)
  • Au bureau de tabac (France)/à la tabagie (Québec), on achète des cigarettes, des timbres, et des cartes postales. (o bew-ro duh tah-bah / ah lah tah-bah-zhee ohN-nah-sheht day see-gah-reht day taN-bray day kahrt pohs-tahl) (At the tobacco shop, you buy cigarettes, stamps, and postcards.)
  • A la dépanneuse (Québec), on trouve de tout! (ah lah day-pah-nuh-zohN troov duh too) (At the convenience store, you can find everything!)

Dépanner (day-pah-nay) means “to help out” and people in France and in Québec understand it that way, but use it for different purposes. In Québec, une dépanneuse (ewn day-pah-nuhz) is one of those convenience stores which are open all the time and where you can stop when you run out of bread or milk. In France, une dépanneuse (ewn day-pah-nuhz) is a tow-truck. They both help you out, don’t they?

When you decide to go shopping, you probably want to call ahead to find out about the store’s hours. These questions can help:

  • A quelle heure ouvrez-vous/fermez-vous? (ah keh-luhr oo-vray-voo/fehr-may-voo) (At what time do you open/close?)
  • Quelles sont vos heures d’ouverture? (kehl sohN vo-zuhr doo-vehr-tewr) (What are your opening hours?)
  • Etes-vous ouverts le dimanche? (eht voo oovehr luh dee-mahNsh) (Are you open on Sundays?)

Pay attention to opening hours. Canada is pretty much the same as the United States. But in France, all department stores and malls are closed on Sundays. Many stores — mostly food stores — close at lunch time, especially outside of big cities, though this is less and less the case. Most stores are closed on Mondays, but department stores usually stay open.

Just browsing

So you have found out when the department store is open and decide to go take a look; no buying, just browsing. You start on the first floor, le rez-de-chaussée (luh ray duh sho-say) and go wandering between the stands, les rayons (lay ray-yohN) smelling this, touching that until you hear a saleslady, une vendeuse (ewn vahN-duhz) in back of you asking:

Je peux vous aider? (zhuh pew voo-zayday) (Can I help you?)

At this point, you are really enjoying yourself and want to go on doing so without being bothered. So you answer:

Non, merci, je regarde seulement. (nohN mehr-see zhuh ruh-gahrd suhl-mahN) (No thank you, I am just looking.)

Getting around the store

Time to get more serious! You have that long shopping list to get through. But this store is a maze! Fortunately, here is the information counter, les renseignements (lay rahN-seh-nyuh-mahN). There will most likely be someone there who speaks English, but who cares? If you know the following phrases, you can certainly find your way around.

  • Pardon, madame où sont les parfums? (pahr-dohN mah-dahm oo sohN lay pahr-faN) (Excuse me, ma’am, where are the perfumes?)
  • Ici, au rez-de chaussée. (ee-see o ray duh sho-say) (Here, on the ground floor.)
  • Les vêtements pour dames, s’il vous plaît? (lay veht-mahN poor dahm seel voo pleh) (Ladies’clothes, please.)
  • C’est au troisième étage. (seh-to trwa-zyeh-may-tazh) (It is on the third floor.)
  • Excusez-moi, je cherche les compact disques. (eks-kew-zay-mwa zhuh shehrsh lay kohN-pakt deesK) (Excuse me, I am looking for CDs.)
  • Ils sont au sous-sol, à côté des livres. (eel sohN-to-soo-soh-lah-ko-tay day leevr) (They are in the basement, next to the books.)

Many ways to ask, many possible answers . . .

Getting assistance

You have reached the floor where you want to go, by escalator, les escaliers roulants (lay-zehs-kah-lyay roo-lahN), or elevator, l’ascenseur (lah-sahN-suhr). You start looking around, but now you really need help. It’s time to look for a clerk. (Unfortunately, often at those times they have all disappeared!)

  • Pouvez-vous m’aider s’il vous plaît? (poo-vay voo may-day seel-voo-play) (Can you help me please?)
  • Je voudrais un renseignement (zhuh voo-dreh aN rahN-seh-nyuh-mahN) (I would like some information.)
  • Je cherche . . . (zhuh shehrsh) (I am looking for . . .)

The French language does not make a distinction between the notions represented by “I can” and “I may.” They are both translated by je peux (zhuh puh). The verb is pouvoir (poo-vwar) and it is irregular. You conjugate the present tense as follows:



Je peux

zhuh puh

Tu peux

tew puh

Il/elle peut

eel/ehl puh

Nous pouvons

noo poo-vohN

Vous pouvez


Ils/Elles peuvent

eel/ehl puhv

This verb pouvoir is always followed by an infinitive. Notice that when there is an object pronoun, it is placed between the conjugated form of pouvoir and the infinitive:

  • Est-ce que vous pouvez me renseigner ? (ehs-kuh voo poo-vay muh rahN-say-nyay) (Can you give me some information?)
  • Je peux l’essayer (zhuh puh lay-say-yay) (I can try it on.)