Unpacking 18 Kilos of Must-Have French Products

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“Are you bringing any food into Canada?”

No.

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.

“C’est beau.”

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?”

“Me!”

“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?”

“13!”

“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?!)
From the drugstore...

From the pharmacy…

From the drugstore...

From the pharmacy…

Vitamine C, Efferalgan, motion sickness tablet and bruise gel

Vitamine C, Efferalgan, Lisopaïne, motion sickness tablet and bruise gel

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!).

Skincare, soap, etc.

Skincare, soap, etc.

French soap: Le Petit Marseillais, Briochin and Roger & Gallet

French soap: Le Petit Marseillais, Briochin and Rogé Cavaillès

Klorane shampoo

Klorane shampoo

Face and eye cream: Nuxe, Klorane, Le Petit Olivier, Le Petit Marseillais, Rogé Cavaillès

Face and eye cream: Nuxe, Klorane, Le Petit Olivier, Le Petit Marseillais, Rogé Cavaillès

Nivea sunscreen and Linéance exfoliator

Nivea sunscreen and Linéance exfoliator

Vitry tweezer and nail file, Menhir tweezer

Vitry tweezer and nail file, Menhir tweezer

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.

Knorr and Maggi instant soup

Knorr, Royco and Maggi instant soup

Royco soup pouches come with crosswords

Royco soup pouches come with crosswords

Knorr cubes

Knorr cubes

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.

Desigual embroidered jeans

Desigual embroidered jeans

H&M shorts

H&M shorts (EUR9.90!)

Molly Bracken shorts

Molly Bracken shorts

Quechua rain jacket

Quechua rain jacket

Quechua rain jacket

Quechua rain jacket

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.

Monoprix reusable bag and yellow "Juliette" coin purse

Monoprix reusable bag and yellow “Juliette” coin purse

I got Feng addicted to the Genie hand-wash detergent, our default detergent when we’re travelling.

Génie hand wash detergent

Génie hand wash detergent

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.

French notebooks and pocket books

French notebooks and pocket books

French ruled paper

French ruled paper

Finally, I brought back “Madame Joyeuse,” a Happy Meal toy Mark got in Paris. Feng has one too… Mister Clumsy!

Madame joyeuse (Mrs Happy), toy from a McDonalds' Happy Meal

Madame joyeuse (Mrs Happy), toy from a McDonalds’ Happy Meal

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

18 Comments

  1. Vitamine C is more expensive in Canada ?

    At the pharmacist, there is a line.
    First Customer (low voice): i need cshhhh…
    Pharmacist: What?
    C (whispering): i need (even lower voice) ***condoms***
    P (loudly): Ah! Do you want the Familial Pack?

    Did i already say that my grandfather was a pharmacist?

    • I love your grandfather 😆 In fact, your entire family is quite interesting. “Les gens du noooord…”

      I wonder if buying condoms if still taboo. I hope not. They used to give them for free everywhere in the 1990s, remember?

  2. Martin Penwald on

    It would have alledgely happened in the 70’s, it’s funny to tell, but it’s a little bit assholic for the poor guy.
    He had a good life, and there are a lot of funny anecdotes with him and his travels.
    For example, there is a photo of my father kicking the ass of a soviet soldier statue in Prag taken by my grandfather in 1968, a few monthes before the repression by the soviet union of the protests which happened there.

    • 😆 Now you must have some interesting family albums…!

      Did ANYONE use condoms in the 1970s? I’m shocked. I mean, I know it existed but the pill was much more popular… if contraception was used.

      • In fact, you’re pretty much the same kind of traveler. Let’s go somewhere and we’ll see what happens.
        One day you’ll find yourself in a remote place in the African savane, your rental car stuck in the sand, with the night falling and the fauna on the hunt outside.

  3. J’ai ramené du spasfon, c’est toujours ce que je demande à la famille quand ils viennent. Mon chum ramène déodorant et shampooing, qu’on trouve ici mais plus chers. Et c’est pas mal tout. J’adore manger quand je suis là bas, mais je ne ramène rien, et je n’ai rien acheté cette fois, sauf des fringues 🙂

    • I can’t remember when and why I started to bring back stuff from France. It wasn’t that long ago… maybe four or five years? And I think it started with homeopathy because it’s ridiculously expensive here.

      Funny enough, clothes is the one thing I don’t miss from France. I’m not into any particular brand and I can find clothes I like anywhere in the world.

  4. My mom always used to smuggle the stinkiest cheeses home from France. That moment she opened her suitcase after 15 hours of stench accumulating in every single item of clothing in a closed-up suitcase was always…memorable, to say the least!

      • They keep it pretty cold in the hold of the airplane. I don’t remember it ever being a problem. My mother will go to great lengths for her favourite stinky cheeses. Luckily they’re easier to find on this side of the pond these days.

        • The flight isn’t that long, I guess… but I’d be worried about the hours before and after boarding, bags seemed to be left outside most of the time.

          I remember how hard it was to find good bread, cheese, etc. just 15 years ago in Ottawa!

  5. I always, always bring back food haha
    Taking notes on drugs to bring back as growing up we avoided pharmacies like the plague. I never know what to get 😉

    • Most pharmacies have a “best seller” display. It’s probably a fairly unorthodox to shop for drugs but I found a few helpful products this way, mostly homeopathic remedies. Next time you go to France, I’ll give you tips ;-0

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