French Stuff a French Brings Back from France – 2017 Edition

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Backpack weight at check-in in Nantes: 15 kg

The first five days after we came back from France went by fast. I gave Mark his French LEGO, did four loads of laundry, filled up the fridge, caught a cold, cleaned the house, opened the mail, translated one document and reviewed another, called a friend and washed bedsheets. Then, and only then, I finally brought the yellow bag to my room.

I had set it aside in the hallway when I unpacked. I wanted to deal with it later, after all the post-traveling chores, to enjoy the moment when I would rediscover my French shopping.

So, what did I buy in France this year?

The big yellow bag of French stuff

Emptying the big yellow bag

In August, French supermarkets were stocked up with back-to-school supplies and full of stressed-out families trying to find permanent markers, binders, pencils and other essential investments to make sure kiddo gets into med school in fifteen years from now.

For old times’ sake, I bought two notebooks with standard French ruled paper. This is one of these small, interesting cultural differences: Canadians and Americans use college ruled paper while French love these 8 mm x 8 mm grid, with lighter or thinner horizontal lines spaced 2 mm apart. This paper is designed to learn cursive writing but it’s the default paper for notebooks.

I also bought the classic “Bic quatre couleurs,” a four-colour ballpoint pen, as well as unbreakable pencils made of synthetic resin.

I added a mini French dictionary to my own supply list because sometimes, it’s easier to flip through pages than to Google a word.

French back-to-school supplies: notebooks and a drawing my dad did of Mark

French back-to-school supplies: pencils and four-colour ballpoint pens

Classic French ruled paper

Mini French Larousse dictionary

Mini French Larousse dictionary

When I first came to Canada, I found pharmacy chains like Rexall or Shoppers were awesome… until I realized they were 10% post office services, 50% junk food, 20% overpriced cosmetics, 10% stationary and seasonal items and 10% over-the-counter drugs. Granted, French pharmacies don’t open 24/7 and you can’t pick up chocolate and chips with your painkillers. However, as soon as you step in, you feel better already—it seems like there’s a remedy for everything. Besides, drugs are usually very cheap.

I bought cappuccino- and orange-flavoured Efferalgan tablets designed to disintegrate in the mouth without water. Canadians haven’t mastered orodispersible tablets yet… I also bought Lysopaïne sugar-free pastilles—at school, we used to eat them like candies!—and an Arnican roll-on for bruises. Tip of the day: if you’re clumsy or if you have kids, do try Arnica, it’s surprisingly effective. We call it the “boo boo pen” at home!

From French pharmacies: orodispersible Efferalgan (acetaminophen), Lysopaïne for sore throat and Arnican roll-on for bruises

Arnican roll-on for bruises

I have a bit of a bar soap addiction… I gave up body wash years ago because back then, it wasn’t as common in Canada as it was in France, and I quickly noticed my skin was doing much better with bar soap. I never looked back.

I also bought two different scrubs, face creams, cleansing gel, lip balm and sunscreen. Note that we have all of that in Canada (except maybe scrubs which don’t seem to be as popular) but I generally like French fragrances better.

French soap bars from Briochin and Roger & Gallet

French soap bar from Briochin

Soap bars from Le Petit Marseillais

Body scrub from Linéance and face scrub from Nuxe

Honey face and body wash from Nuxe

French creams from Nuxe and Rogé Cavaillès

Face and body cream from Planter’s

Nivéa Sunscreen Spray SPF50+

Nuxe honey lip balm

I toyed with the idea of bringing back instant dry soup mixes. I love soup and apparently, so do French—there are dozens of different flavours whereas in Canada, it’s always “chicken soup” or “cream of something.” But I felt silly importing soup to Canada, so instead, I bought small salt-and-pepper shakers (great for travelling!) and bouillon cubes.

Mini salt and pepper from La Baleine

Knorr Garlic and parsley Bouillon Cubes

Finally, even though it was les soldes (the summer sales period), I couldn’t be bothered to shop for clothes. I only bought one pair of jeans from Desigual the day I arrived.

Funny story: my mom has been looking for a new swimsuit for about twenty years (!) and one evening, she tried one on at the Galeries Lafayette. I was standing outside the fitting room when Mark decided to sneak a peek. He immediately burst out laughing. “Grandma is NAKED inside!” he informed me, still laughing his head off. “She has NO clothes!” I’m not sure why it was so funny to him considering he came with me inside fitting rooms dozens of times and he sees me taking a shower or changing clothes often enough…!

Desigual jeans

How about you? What do you bring back from home?


About Author

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


  1. I brought Pastis from Larzac. I mostly buy wine or local liqueurs from my french trips! 😀
    And soap! (I mostly travel in Southern France, which explains why).
    We have the same taste in scents, I noted. I like the french ones better. I find north american scents too… sweet if that makes sense!
    Enjoy la rentrée!

    • I may be tempted to bring back booze (not for me, but as gift) if it was easier to carry in a backpack on a transatlantic flight. I think Pastis bottles are cute too (although I can’t stand the smell!).

      I agree with your adjective. I find local scents too fruity, too sweet! (much like the food… ahem…)

  2. I haven’t really gone back to the Philippines since 2011. But I have visited and revisited several countries in Europe. For example, whenever I am back from Hungary, I typically get duck liver pate, or palinka (a local spirit), or a bottle of late harvest sweet wine. There’s always hard cheese from the Netherlands. And Calvados from France. In any case, it typically is a food product.

    • I feel weird being back food. There’s always a little voice at the back of my mind that whispers “it’s gonna spoil”… “it’s won’t taste the same once you open it in a different atmosphere”… “it’s gonna be a mess if it breaks”…

  3. Souvent je ramène des choses de la Mucca comme le carnet que je t’avais envoyé et des trucs qui se mangent comme du chocolat. Je vais faire ramener à ma mère des chemises à rabats car on en trouve pas ici à ma connaissance 🙂

    • Toute la papeterie française me parle tellement plus! Ce sont des souvenirs aussi 🙂 Des chemises… mmm… me semble que j’en ai vu ici à Walmart ou à Staples.

      Ton carnet a toute une histoire maintenant : je l’avais amené en France avec moi (ben oui, il aime voyager) et mon père s’est aussi mis à dessiner dessus!

  4. This is one of the things I regret about doing a two-month Euro trip with multiple countries…and with only a carry-on bag. I have to think twice about buying ANYTHING. In fact I find myself ditching things I’m not using because I’m sick of carrying it around. For me, the hardest thing not to buy has been wine (duh). Next time, I will end my trip in France or Italy so I can stock up on wine, and bring a suitcase just for that!

    Hope you’re feeling better and that the adjustment to being home hasn’t been too rough!

    • I wish international shipping would be cheaper. I could totally ship myself stuff!

      (Sent you an email regarding… ahem, the rest of the planned trip!)

  5. I always bring back chocolate, and clothes, I can never resist clothes 😉
    And while I always think I should bring back meds too I forget every time! Probably bcse growing up the pharmacy was a forbidden place and we were not allowed medication. So I discovered the awesomeness of painkillers later in life. So I have no pb with stuff I got in the UK or in Canada 🙂
    And les stylos a quatre couleurs are the best!
    PS: I always open the stuff I bring back first haha

    • I rediscovered French pharmacies as an adult, I wouldn’t have thought of painkillers as a “souvenir” a few years ago! But homeopathy is hard to find here and generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of all-purpose Tylenol for aches, cold, fever, etc.

      Fashion this year wasn’t great I find. But I’m sure you’d have come up with unique pieces with your sense of style!

  6. Je trouve ça chouette que tu aimes toujours autant te ramener des petits trucs de France! Quand on vivait au Canada et qu’on revenait début janvier après les fêtes, généralement j’avais des fromages, des croustilles de Belin au fromage (mes chips favorites), un ou 2 pots de confiture de ma Maman (plus pour Max que pour moi), des vins faits maison (vin d’orange et vin de sureau étant mes préférés), des Cracottes et des petits biscuits ‘fins’ (genre pains aux amandes ou biscuits roses de Reims, ceux qu’on ne trouve pas au Canada, bien sûr). J’ai essayé de ramener de la langue de porc en gelée mais elle a été jeté… Je pensais qu’ils tiqueraient sur les fromages frais ou les confitures maison, mais non, la viande, y’a pas moyen de moyenner… :'( j’étais très triste, je les ai suivis du regard quand il les a amenés à la poubelle, je me souviens 🙁
    Et Max ramenait des trucs d’Autriche (parce qu’on se séparait bien souvent pour Noël) comme des chocolats ‘Mozartkugel’ (boules de Mozart), des petits gâteaux Sissi et autres trucs à la pâte d’amande, même un coup, un mélange tout prêt pour faire un pain d’épices.
    J’aime beaucoup la papeterie française aussi, les lignes d’école, oui, ce sont des sacrés souvenirs.
    Ton jean Desigual a l’air super beau. Hâte de le voir sur toi!
    Au fait, chaque année, je vois tes photos de Nantes et chaque fois ça me donne plus envie d’aller découvrir cette ville! J’ai une amie qui y habite maintenant en plus! et que je dois visiter!

    • Ah, Mark partage ta passion des croustilles Belin au fromage (la boite jaune/orange)! 😆

      J’ai vraiment peur de ramener de la bouffe. Peur que ça s’abîme, peur que ça soit jeté, peur que ça n’ai pas le même goût ici qu’en France (ou que je ne supporte pas la nostalgie de manger mes madeleines de Proust ici…) On t’as fait la morale quand la langue de porc a été jetée?

      Le jeans est sympa, j’ai bien les trucs brodés 🙂

      Et oui, va visiter Nantes! Franchement, sans être une pub vivante pour la ville, je dois avouer qu’elle est très sympa pour les touristes. Y’a plein de choses à voir et à faire 😉

      • Grace a vous deux j’ai une soudaine envie de chips Belin et de bon chocolat 🙂
        Et surtout de madeleine. Ca m’a pris il y a quelques semaines. Starbucks en vend, “pumkin spice madeleines”. 10X trop sucrees et pas comme les varies, celles de Framce

  7. I used to have arnica gel and it was amazing! That story about Mark is funny. When I am in england I bring back ink cartridges for my Parker fountain pen and soooo much junk food!

  8. These are the things I just asked my mom to bring to France from the US for her upcoming visit:
    – A big bottle of Tylenol. Yes, I know Doliprane can be easily bought here, but a box of 8?! Come on! I can get a bottle of 100 for less than $10 in the US. I’ve been taking 4 a day since giving birth. Yes, I have a prescription because of that, but the pharmacy insists on giving me only one box at a time.
    – Dove stick deodorant. I just prefer the bars to sprays and roll ons. Plus, one stick lasts me for months.
    – Dramamine. I get sick on airplanes without it, and I haven’t found anything that works as well for me here.

    I’m also going to have her bring my little one some pajamas that zip up. It seems everything here is snaps and sometimes closes in the back. How impractical is that? My mom sent a pair that zips, and it’s so much more practical especially if he’s wiggling around.

    • Congrats on your little one, by the way! I followed your adventures on Twitter 😉

      Tylenol is cheaper in the US than in Canada. We used to stock up on cross-border trips. That said, I find most Tylenol versions too strong for me :-/

      For deos, there is definitely a cultural difference here. Most French I know complain about North American deos, and vice-versa 😆

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