Photo credit © Kristin Espinasse

When does a healthy penchant for provisions turn into hoarding?

When our 25-year-old opened the kitchen pantry and began his grocery shopping, I felt a mixture of pride and panic. Hey there, wait a minute. Laisse-moi le beurre de cacahuète! Heureusement, the feeling of contentment prevailed and, with it, a desire to partager. Luckily my pantry pirate took only what he needed to get through the first days of his déménagement (update: our génération sandwich is no more: while Grandma still lives with us, our daughter’s moved to Miami and Max has relocated to Aix-en-Provence). I hope our kids have learned a few astuces to help them manage their own household supplies. But this will depend on which culture they imitate… their father’s or their mother’s!

When I first moved to France my then-boyfriend, Jean-Marc, did not share my penchant for provisions. I was only doing as my ancestors did: shelving, among other things, beans, fish, beer, and peanut butter, bien sûr. So Jean-Marc’s disapproval of my food hoarding (if you call a few hard-to-find-in-France jars of beurre de cacahuète ‘hoarding’) perplexed me – given the examples of syllogomanie, or compulsive accumulation, I’d witnessed so far… I mean, have you ever seen a French home pharmacy?

Veritable apothecaries, I tell you! Storehouses of pills, ointments, syrups, powders, and rocks… Rocks? Yes, really. The typical armoire à pharmacie is bursting with remedies for your aches, pains, and bobos. Open the Gallic medicine cabinet and you’ll see heaps of bottles, boxes, tubes, and thin white paper sacks from the latest pharmacy visit. I still remember standing goggle-eyed before a host’s bathroom cabinet, wondering whether the French were a country of pill-poppers. But that was decades ago, when I was single and lived on beer – as both a food and a cure. (As for those food supplies in my cupboard? Fuel for a zombie apocalypse? You’d have to ask my ancestors.)

Ten months after shipping me back to America, Jean-Marc began to miss his zombie-slayer. We married and our nest filled quickly with kids, dogs, and eventually Grandma. And now that my husband has a hoard of his own – a wine cellar filled with bottles galore – I am free to run our garde-manger as I see fit! Our medicine cabinet is now Gallic size, too – never mind that Grandma and our golden retriever share the very same arthritis medication, a homeopathic tincture that works wonders!

Speaking of wonders, those mysterious rocks in the medicine cabinet turned out to be argile – clay, which is a popular cure-all in France. Simply dissolve the clumps in water, and use the resulting paste to treat everything from swollen ankles to wrinkles. And should there be an apocalypse, you could even fashion a cannonball out of the curative mud. Quelle remède!

French Vocabulary

  • LAISSE-MOI LE BEURRE DE CACAHUÈTE = leave me the peanut butter
  • HEUREUSEMENT = happily
  • PARTAGER = to share
    LE DÉMÉNAGEMENT = house move
  • LA GÉNÉRATION SANDWICH = the sandwich generation (multi-generational living)
  • UNE ASTUCE = tip, hack
  • BIEN SÛR = of course
  • SYLLOGOMANIE = hoarding
  • UNE ARMOIRE À PHARMACIE = medicine cabinet
  • LE BOBO = owie, small injury
  • LE GARDE-MANGER = pantry
  • L’ARGILE = clay

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From France Today magazine

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