Shop like a pro in a French supermarket on FalcondaleLife blog

Some say that British tourists love a booze cruise but the truth is there’s quite a lot of French life, food and culture to sample in the humblest of French supermarkets. If you’re on a self-catering holiday then you’re going to need some serious supplies. Here’s my guide to French supermarket shopping for holidaymakers.

  1. Wine and beer

If you’re not a wine buff, the simplest trick is to subtly follow a French shopper on the wine aisle. Buy what the French are buying. Avoid the full sections on the shelf, instead take from the areas which have already had a few bottles removed. The French know what they are doing. Observe and copy!

In the beer aisle you will probably find only French lager and Belgian beer, no ales. Try out the Breton cider instead, it goes down very easily.

bottles of french wine on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Cheese

Don’t copy the French for this one, the TV adverts have strongly influenced French shoppers’ choices on the pre-packed cheese aisle. Big business names like President sell well because of the advertising campaigns. Instead go to the deli counter and try any free samples. If your French is good enough then ask the staff a few questions:

Avez-vous quelque chose de moins fort? = Do you have something milder?

Softer = plus doux

Harder = plus dur

More mature = plus mûr

Avez-vous un fromage bleu? – Do you have a blue cheese?

Avez-vous un fromage de lait de brebis? – sheep’s milk

Goat’s milk = lait de chèvre

When you have chosen if you ask for any less than 200 grams you will get a funny look – cheese is meant to be eaten in proper amounts!

Cheddar is rare, for grated toppings they tend to prefer Emmenthal.

  1. Stationery

Office supplies and stationery are always particularly good value in French supermarkets compared with the UK. You can get some lovely pens and good value folders, also school equipment like compasses. The only negative is that the notebooks are all squared paper to comply with requirements for French schools.

French supermarket stationery on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Meat and poultry … and other “meat”

Make sure you know what you are buying. Learn the vocabulary because French supermarkets sell things which you might prefer to avoid like Fois Gras and white veal, both produced with controversial methods of animal care. Also you can buy meat labelled ‘horse’, ‘cat’ and ‘dog’. Tripe is common, even in tins and in sausage (‘andouille’ is tripe sausage). The range of whole salamis in the supermarkets is quite exciting. Bacon is commonly sold in little cubes or lardons rather than slices.

French supermarket meat aisle on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Vegetables and Fruit

With the exception of Super U – my favourite French supermarket so far – we found the range of green veg was very different to the UK with only haricots verts (French beans) in the bean section, nothing from the cabbage or broccoli families at all. On our summer visits there were no sprouts, mange-tout, runner beans, kale or cauliflower. Perhaps some autumn veg would come round in season or be available regionally at different times. A more recognisable range was available at Super U but broccoli was expensive and haricots verts so cheap that one Euro buys 900g (2lb). They were delicious too! Parsnip is rarely eaten in France, although the older generation remember eating them during the war.

Your challenge with fruit in the summertime is to not buy far too much. They sell abundant crops of wonderful summerfruit by the boxload and it’s just a pity you can’t bottle it to take home.

Apricots in a French supermarket on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Bread – or let them eat cake

Not long ago a rectangular sandwich with sliced bread was a rarity in France but now sliced loaves in the British style are readily available in the supermarket, some with crusts already removed as if they have been prepared with your poshest cucumber sandwiches in mind. The daily French baguette is unchanged and the routine of buying them each morning continues (they go stale after one day). If you want wholemeal then search for “complet” or “pain de campagne”. Gâche are soft, sweet loaves that look like brioche but we all hated it, it was quite different, sour and gritty.

Gache on FalcondaleLife blog

  1. Tinned Food

If you’re planning a road trip through France and you cannot transport much chilled or fresh food then tinned food is an important subject. Again, Super U is my recommendation for range and variety, and along with Lidl was almost the only place with tinned vegetables. Carrefour is not bad either but Intermarche is a lot like Leclerc. In Leclerc we found that the “ready meal” aisle was all tins of pre-prepared dinners. We tried cassoulet and it was like a tin of baked beans and sausage mixed with chicken soup. Lidl alone we found did not sell fresh milk but long life milk is for sale everywhere. All tins have ring-pulls so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that our gite didn’t have a tin opener! The supermarket tinned aisle is probably the only place you will find something labelled “curry” and there is only one flavour.

  1. Hours of shopping

Cock this one up and you will go hungry. 7-day 24-hour shopping culture has not arrived in France. The small shops shut at noon, some open again at 2pm but others not until 5pm. In the UK if supermarkets are shut we search for an all-hours corner shop. This does not work in France as small shops shut the most often. However on a Sunday morning many large supermarkets are now open until noon. If you’re hungry in the afternoon, don’t go looking for afternoon tea, they do not have this habit either and the café will most likely be shut until 7pm.

Read what I put on my French shopping list by clicking here.

What do you like to buy in France? Tell me your experiences in the comments below.

Lou Messugo


Here’s another post I’ve written about France

My Pinterest board called Places – France is full of ideas for places to visit






Take a tour of a dismantled SLR camera on FalcondaleLife blog

I’ve been an enthusiastic photographer from the age of 13 and local friends are always asking me “how’s your photography?” when they see me. Although I got a bit fed up with photography a couple of years ago, it is really pulling me back and I’m shooting more and more. My husband and I were sorting through our camera equipment recently and discovered that our Canon 50E SLR 35mm film camera had stopped working. This really made me feel sentimental! It is possibly my all-time favourite camera, so easy to use, such incredible quality. The lenses which we bought to use with this camera eighteen years ago still fit with modern Canon EOS digital cameras. However as this one shoots film it has been stuck in the back of the cupboard for years.

Well, what does an engineer do when presented with a busted SLR camera? He dismantles it for fun! Our children were fascinated when Dad showed them the camera’s inner workings. So I decided to make this (rather shaky) video, for posterity. I’m sorry I didn’t use a tripod. Further down are some photos which I shot with this camera.

When I was a photography student we shot all black and white film but my first love is colour. When we went on safari to Tanzania (pre-kids) the EOS 50E really proved it’s worth. Shot on Fuji Velvia.

35mm SLR film photos

This lioness has three cubs – our guide told us this was more than usual.

35mm SLR photo of lion with cubs on FalcondaleLife blog

With film of course you are relying on your own skill to get the depth of field right without being able to check a screen on the back of the SLR camera. I managed to get what I wanted with this shot of a herd of elephants but I wish I had taken one which included the reflection.

35mm SLR photo Herd of elephants on FalcondaleLife blog

Just look at the amazing colour range and definition in this photo of a hippo and flamingos. It’s why I loved film. But if it was digital it would have been easier to straighten the horizon.

35mm SLR photo of hippo and flamingos on FalcondaleLife blog

I know many close friends have been expecting me to start blogging about photography again soon. I think it’s safe to say that this trip down memory lane has prompted me to think about doing more. If you’d like me to write about photography, why not let me know in the comments below?

If you’re interested in camera and photography equipment I’ve pinned some of my favourites to this Pinterest board.

Here’s an old post about how I fell out with photography.





Questions to ask at Secondary School Open Day FalcondaleLife Blog

A few years ago I made a list of questions to ask at secondary school open day. My brother-in-law, a high school teacher, helped me come up with some killer questions. I posted them for friends on Facebook and now every year someone asks me to post them again ready for open evening. I think it’s a great list which really helps get under the skin of the secondary school. You can certainly ask the standard questions about “how much homework” and “what extra-curricular activities” – all good to know – but these questions may help you peel back more layers. I’ve done secondary school transition twice now and my list has really helped me ace the open days!

The first three questions I call my “keep tabs and act” questions, and will help you investigate the way the pupils are monitored.

  1. How does the school keep tabs on children’s performance? How often do they do this and how do they act if it’s not what they expect?
  2. How do they keep tabs on children’s happiness? How do they act if a child is unhappy?
  3. How do they keep tabs on children’s behaviour? How do they do this and how do they deal with problems?

The next three questions are about the subject teaching. The art department will have plenty of visual clues on display and it’s easy to ask what is taught in PE but certain subjects are harder to delve into than others.

  1. When do they set children in each subject and how easy is it for them to move between sets? Setting in Maths and English may happen earlier than other subjects. Does it happen in all subjects?
  2. What languages do they teach? A school that teaches German may have a bigger investment in the language department than a school which does not, as German teachers are harder to recruit, Italian even more so.
  3. What software will my child learn in ICT? When was the last time they updated their choice of software? It’s difficult for schools to teach really relevant ICT as things change so fast. Can they explain why their ICT curriculum is the right one?

Questions about the culture and life of the school come next.

  1. Is it a happy school? How many staff left at the end of last year? Do they duck this question or perhaps tell you proudly of past colleagues’ promotions?
  2. What percentage of the children stays on to 6th form? This gives you clues about happiness and success.
  3. Will my child (describe their character) fit in here? (shy/sporty/bookworm/reluctant/geeky/etc.) Ask this question to at least two different people.
  4. How much will we spend on school trips? Perhaps ask the PTA this one too. Some schools are very proud of their costly far-flung orchestra tours. Do they have more affordable trips? Are some compulsory (e.g. geography field trips)?

Secondary school supplies Falcondalelife

More Tips

Talk to lots of different staff. Spread your questions around. Can they answer fully or do they say “you’d better ask my head of department”? Why are they fobbing you off to someone else, do you think the management structure works?

If you don’t get all your questions answered at the open evening, do not hesitate to phone up and tell them you have some more questions. How do they respond to your call? Do they take time to answer fully?

Take the opportunity to ask about criteria for applying, school buses and other practical things too. Will they test the children on their transition days or rely on year 6 SATS results? Don’t be shy about asking if your house is in catchment. For advice on filling in the application form, speak to the Local Education Authority. Don’t assume that just because you’ve left a school off your form, you won’t be allocated a place there. If you don’t fulfil the criteria for the schools which you do put on your form, the LEA will give you a place somewhere you didn’t write on the form, so make sure you have plenty of second, third and even fourth choices written down.

Let me know if these questions helped you in the comments below!

This is a “schooldays” linked post, why not read some of the other blogs linked here?

Bubbablue and me school days linky

More reading: If you have a year 6 child why not find out what all the fuss is about SATS?







More ouch to 5km than couch to 5km part 3 FalcondaleLife blog

If you’ve been following my blog you will know I’ve taking up running. I was using the NHS Couch to 5k running app. I find running less “ouch” than walking, because for the last 19 months I’ve had a dodgy left foot. My left big toe joint has been painful and inflammed. My first blog post explains I overcame my shyness and, quite frankly, my itchiness to get started on this running programme. My second blog post tells how I re-started the programme after a long break caused by a flare-up in my foot. I’ve decided in future not to blog too much personal stuff – I don’t want to be accused of over-sharing – but I don’t want to leave you hanging. So for now it’s time for an update.

I started using the NHS Couch to 5k app in January and it’s a nine-week long programme. Eight months later I have not completed it, despite running two or three times per week when my foot allows. I’ve had to go backwards a couple of weeks each time I was forced to take a break. Then, quite honestly, I found after the end of week 5 of the programme that the running became tougher. I wrote about it in my second Ouch to 5k blog post. I followed the NHS advice to repeat some days or weeks to build stamina more sustainably. So you will understand that I was delighted to reach the end of week 7! I was running two to three times a week for 25 minutes.

couch to 5k ouch nhs running app 5km

But something didn’t feel right. It wasn’t getting any easier. I realised I’m going slower, my stride got even shorter. 25 minutes of running was about 4km of distance but a week later I’d only managed 3.5km in that much time. I’ve also noticed that I’m walking even more slowly, and it turns out that the top of my toe joint is extremely tender to touch. So it was in this condition that I went to an appointment with the Podiatry consultant at the hospital. Its taken 7 months to get this appointment, which was a referral from another podiatrist whom I had waited 4 months to see, who was in turn a referral from a podiatrist whom I had waited 5 months to see. The pace of referral was even more leisurely than my walking pace!

The consultant suspected a cyst inside my toe joint. I was given a steriod injection that hurt so incredibly much I lost my marbles and actually jammed my phone in my mouth and bit down hard. I began to black out and the phone fell out of my mouth. It was all over in a minute! I limped out of the clinic, ridiculously hopeful that this treatment would work.

Things definitely improved after two weeks and two more weeks after that I felt fantastic! Some “ouch” on a bad day (or in bad shoes) but much better overall. Then the steroid wore off and it went downhill a little. It’s still far better than it was, less painful and swollen to touch. At my follow-up appointment I got a telling-off for not buying better shoes (I’ve been too busy! *whine*). It’s not all better and there are suspicious clicks, but the consultant was fairly pleased. However, then I received The Threat.

What is The Threat, you ask? He said if I don’t rest my foot, or if I use it when it hurts, and if I don’t buy much better shoes, then I will be put in a cast for six weeks to immobilise the toe. A cast! I’m aghast! (sorry-not-sorry) He also said I can’t go on hikes or walks for pleasure. You won’t see me dancing (lucky you). And if that doesn’t work, it’s surgery (properly ouch!).

My Couch to 5km is over having reached only the 4km mark. What a pity. I do hope I make it one day, but I’m not sure if maybe that’s the end. I didn’t dare ask the killer question “will I ever run again?” just in case the answer was “no”. I am not ready to hear that yet. For now I’m going to have to get back on my bike if I want any exercise.


If you want to use the NHS Couch to 5k app here are some pointers:

  1. You’ll need a deep pocket, arm strap or bum-bag to carry your phone. Don’t carry it in your hand and don’t do what I did and put it in a shallow pocket from where it fell out!
  2. Don’t bother taking water with you, it’s only about 30 minutes and you won’t get too hot unless … (read the next point)
  3. Don’t run in hot weather unless you have trained for it! Go early in the morning instead. A more common hazard are slippy pavements in the damp or cold.
  4. It’s hard on your knees and your feet so wear good trainers. This applies to everyone, not just those with injuries.
  5. The app lets you play music from your phone in the background. Take time to prepare a playlist, it will really lift you!
  6. If you have to stop for a few weeks, backtrack at least two weeks in the programme when you start again.

Good luck!







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French Swim and Beach Rules - what you might need to know on Falcondale Life blog. Some rules may surprise you but in France there is a good lifeguard service. Laws are set both nationally and locally. At swimming pools there are commonly some rules about swimwear and suncream. Read more on the blog.You don’t really need to know a lot before setting off for the beach or swimming pool in France but they do have some rules that may surprise you. It’s best to be prepared. I get the impression that French people spend a lot more time at the beach than we do. Not only do they have a lot of lovely coastline but also the weather is just that bit better. (Okay! Quite a lot better!)

Lifeguards and “baignade surveillee”

Public beaches have monitoring stations and may display flags. Many of those beaches also have a lifeguard station in the summer and this makes sea-bathing in France feel a lot safer. The flag system is three colours.

Green flag means “safe to swim”

Yellow flag means “not recommended but monitored”

Red flag means “bathing forbidden”

On these beaches you may only swim between the blue flags set out by the lifeguards.

Lifeguards will select a blue-flagged area unaffected by dangers like rip-currents. Personally I trust them to know! If you try to swim just next to the lifeguarded area you will get shouted at, it’s really not allowed. On a large beach you could swim at your own risk further away and you will be left alone by the lifeguards. Outside these monitored areas you may find surf schools and water sports which have their own permissions. In some places lifeguard stations do not open until afternoon but I can’t complain because it’s such a brilliant safety service.

French Swim and Beach Rules, what you might need to know on Falcondale Life blog. Sign board at a French beach. Map with legend showing lifeguard and watersports areas.

National laws or By-laws

Under French national law most beaches ban smoking (often flouted), alcohol, fishing and wood fires.  Some town halls have banned barbeques at local beaches. If there’s nothing on the beach display board or if you’re not sure about a rule, it’s best to ask at the local tourist information office or town hall (la mairie). In theory if there’s no sign at the beach they can’t enforce a fine, but I don’t recommend that you have this argument.

We visited La Baule beach which had signposts for “no picnics” and “no cycling”, but everyone was eating and a bike zipped right by us. Then we got out a kite and the lifeguard told us kites were forbidden on La Baule for safety reasons, despite there being no signpost. The beach was nearly empty and there was no particular danger from using a kite but I do admit that La Baule would normally be packed. The lifeguard did helpfully tell us that nearby La Turballe beach did allow kites so next day we went there. Slightly irritating but never mind!

French Swim and Beach Rules, what you might need to know on Falcondale Life blog. Advice sign board at a French beach in English and French. Beach and water safety.

Swimwear – the beach

France has been making laws about clothes for centuries and this sort of thing comes as no surprise to the locals. However it really raises British hackles! There aren’t really very many rules, although they can be amended with local by-laws. You’re not allowed to wear clothing on a nudist beach, but there’s plenty of signage so you’re unlikely to fall foul of this rule. I suppose it wouldn’t be very fair on the naturists if people in clothes were there too.  On all other beaches it is illegal to “bathe without a swimsuit or other nautical combination”. So no swimming in your clothes, and no skinny-dipping either. It’s not unusual for women to go topless, but it’s less common to see naked toddlers as you might do in the UK.


To date only a few dozen local mayors have imposed by-laws banning the burkini on beaches. Laws banning religious attire of all types exist in various places in France such as schools. France is a firmly secular republic with a very high proportion of athiests and the law-makers reflect this. The enforcing of the burkini ban has been a shocking thing to witness on the news. It looks like these rules may develop over time with political pressure.

French beach rules lifeguard flags, beach monitoring station report

Swimming pools

Men are not allowed to wear baggy swimming trunks or board shorts at most swimming pools and water parks, especially on campsites. You can wear Speedos or the slightly more flattering “Daniel Craig Speedos” and longer leg shorts if they are skin-tight. Why? Well, the reason usually given is hygiene, because board shorts look like normal clothes and may be worn for other activities. They may get all dusty and then go in the pool. Also these shorts will easily balloon in waterslides, which would hurt. Some British swimming schools ban these baggy shorts because they are too loose for lessons. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised at the French rule. Try to buy men’s swimwear before you jump on your ferry to France, as poolside prices are high. Take a look at my “resources” page for mens swim short ideas for France.

Pool hygiene rules may also mean that you are banned from applying suncream before swimming. They don’t want an oil slick on the water. I’d suggest you apply suncream 20 minutes before going to the pool and it should all sink in. I saw plenty of people flout this rule on holiday this year; no-one wants sunburn.

Blog falcondalelife French Swim and Beach Rules - what you might need to know. French swimming pool rules about swimwear, especially for men. Also rules about suncream are common. Read more on the blog.


Dogs are generally banned from French beaches but out of season they are sometimes permitted. Read the display board at the beach to find out. You should assume there is a ban unless told otherwise, as this is a national law. British dog owners may find this disappointing but there are many coastal paths instead. French dog owners do not pick-up as much as the British, so it’s a worthwhile ban.

Have you encountered any strange bans or permissions at pools or beaches in France?

Planning your travel to France? Great value ferry crossings available with DFDS.

Driving Routes to France from the UK – Your Options

More about French culture – read 12 Generalisations about the French

Shop Like a Pro in a French Supermarket

Lou Messugo

See ideas of places to visit in France on my Pinterest board.

Disclaimer: This blog does not include any legal advice.