“Are you bringing any food into Canada?”
Seriously, I’m not.
The border officer eyes me suspiciously, waiting for me to admit I have five kilos of blue cheese and foie gras in my backpack.
I don’t blame him. Montreal is a hub for flights from France and he must have seen it all—French do usually travel with weird local specialties they try to sneak into Canada. It’s a given, much like Chinese people travel with tons of souvenirs, Indians travel with their elderly grandma, Americans travel in shorts and flip-flops regardless of their destination and Russians travel with booze. Yes, I’m stereotyping but I’ve spent a lot of time in airports.
There’s no stinky cheese in my backpack. Okay, I have food items, but just instant soup, it doesn’t count.
I hold his gaze.
And then Mark and I are free to enter Canada and go wait around the carousel for my backpack for an hour.
I’m bringing 18 kilos of skincare products, soaps, over-the-counter drugs, instant soup and a Canadian kid but I don’t travel with food. My favourite French foods don’t taste as good in Canada without my favourite French people to share it with.
But I have everything else I need—just don’t ask me to run with my backpack on, it’s a bit heavy.
And new, actually. I bought myself a new backpack at Decathlon and I’m totally in love with it.
I spent the last two weeks of the trip filling it with products cheaper in France than in Canada or just not available in Ottawa.
“Okay, who’s stepping on the scale tonight?”
“No, Mark. The point if to weigh yourself without and with the backpack to make sure mommy didn’t buy too much stuff. And I doubt you can lift it. Alright, I’ll do it… 75-62?”
“Perfect. I can probably buy just a couple more things…”
A couple more things plus a couple more things turned into three large plastic bags full of French products, plus clothes and a few more souvenirs.
First, over-the-counter drugs. If it wasn’t for the fact that there may be sick people around, I’d spend hours in French pharmacies—you can find cheap drugs and hundreds of remedies for conditions you didn’t know you had. There’s always a lineup and plenty of customers explaining their various ailments in a hushed whisper to a professional who will grab just the right product somewhere “in the back”—”there you go, madame dupont, one tablet three times a day for a week and everything will be alright. It will be €2.81, please. Now, what did you say you needed for your husband, your daughter in-law and your grandson? Oh please, do detail their symptoms, it’s a pleasure to help you!”
Meanwhile, in Canada, we have to grab giant bottles of Tylenol or Advil ourselves in the dirty aisles of the supermarket and the only advice I ever got from a pharmacist was to pay with my credit card because debit was down. Okay, we have legal marijuana and it can apparently cure everything, but I’d rather stick to my favourite French over-the-counter drugs:
- Lisopaïne pastilles for sore throat
- Vitamin C
- Doliprane and Efferalgan (acetaminophen), general analgesics
- Arnican roll on for bruises
- Cocculine for motion sickness (I don’t even get motion sickness, see what I said about French pharmacies?!)
I don’t wear makeup but I love skincare products. I brought back:
- Soap bars, from the cheap and basic Le Petit Marseillais soap to fancier Briochin exfoliating soap
- Face and eye cream, splurging on Nuxe and picking back-to-basic cheaper brands (average price of a tube was €5)
- Klorane shampoo
- Linéance body exfoliator
- Nivéa sunscreen oil spray
I also bought two made-in-France tweezers and a metal nail file because I lost my tweezer in Paris (…in the hotel room, not in front of the Eiffel Tower!).
The third plastic bag in my backpack was full of instant soup. Yes, instant soup. I love soup but I don’t have the time to make it from scratch—I do cook all my meals!—and Canada doesn’t offer much canned or instant soup variety. These little pouches are packed with all the French flavours I miss and they are easy to carry and store, so I went a bit crazy.
I only buy clothes I will actually wear and I don’t spend a lot of fashion, so no Avenue Montaigne shopping spree for me. I did buy two pairs of shorts and a pair of jeans during les soldes, plus a purple rain jacket at Decathlon the day I splurged on a new (purple) backpack. The rain jacket is awesome—light and very waterproof—, I tested it in Nantes.
Among miscellaneous souvenirs, I have a yellow “Juliette” coin purse, the same model I bought last year as a joke. It’s actually very useful and sturdy—I stopped carrying my wallet everywhere, now I just take some change and my debit card with me.
I got Feng addicted to the Genie hand-wash detergent, our default detergent when we’re travelling.
There were plenty of back-to-school supplies in supermarkets, so I bought a few notebooks. There’s something unique about French ruled paper (it just feels right!) and the paper itself is glossier and thicker than in Canada—go figure.
Finally, I brought back “Madame Joyeuse,” a Happy Meal toy Mark got in Paris. Feng has one too… Mister Clumsy!