All the New French Products I Tried While Quarantined With My French In-Laws

On this, the 7-week anniversary of our confinement here in France, I’m taking stock by thinking about the highlight of each day–meal times. Okay, for me it’s meal times and the walks because I’m trapped in a countryside town you’ve never heard of before called Bazus where the walks are lovely.

Because of the 1km rule, my walks don’t feature much variety, but the meals definitely do. This is because we’re quarantined with my French in-laws, my sister-in-law aka ma Belle Soeur, and her boyfriend. They all do the shopping because I wouldn’t trust the lone American in this quar to shop for five Frenchies if I were them, and thus, I have tried many new foods.

Back in Paris I freelance, and therefore I tend to do the shopping and cooking. I’ve been buying a lot of the same things over and over because A. I’m a taurus and I know what I like, and B. familiarity of products gives some structure to my confusing expat life. As a result I’ve been embracing this month of mystery meals by keeping my expectations low and my mind open. This is good advice for life in general these days.) Here’s a list of some of the discoveries I’ve made while being outnumbered by French eaters five-to-one for a month…

Danette

Expresso Danette
Expresso Danette

I can’t say I’m totally new to the glorious smoothness of Danette; I’ve had the pleasure of trying their pistache flavor which I highly recommend. My French family can’t really say what these are. I used the word pudding and they gave me a funny look, so they’re not pudding. They call them “creams” which might be a less gross word for pudding. Either way, they are devoid of nutritional value, smooth as a baby’s bum, and full of flavor. I still prefer the pistache to the expresso, personally.

Le Petit Basque – Caillé Vanille

Le Petit Basque – Caille Vanille

I still can’t say with authority what this food actually is. I know it’s a yogurt-like substance made of sheep’s milk. Like so many French products, it’s named after where it’s from, Le Petit Basque. It’s far lighter than typical French yogurt though, almost crumbly and a little watery. This one was allegedly vanille flavor but honestly it kind of tasted like vanilla yogurt water, but not in a bad way. It was interesting for a snack, not too rich, and anything of sheep’s milk is tasty. I don’t quite understand why it exists though and when one is supposed to eat it.

DeliChoc

Delichoc French cookie

I thought these were going to be like those beautiful, thick, decadent LU biscuits, because that’s what they look like. Don’t be fooled though. The biscuit attached to these isn’t that great and is pretty small. The chocolate isn’t nearly as decadent, and is kind of a crispy rice chocolate, like a Krackle if you will, which personally I find distracting texture-wise. Hard pass.

Lu Napolitain

Lu Napolitain
The more than adequate Lu Napolitain

Unlike the DeliChoc, this treat didn’t look that great but ended up being delicious, especially with strong coffee. Imagine if a Twinkie had slightly more texture and some splashes of chocolate, that’s what this Napolitain is like. I usually hate sprinkles also because they add no flavor to a food, and therefore only contribute a weird texture like tiny plastic pellets. These don’t have that affect.

Panier de Yoplait

yoplait de Panier
Yeah, it’s essentially just normal strawberry yogurt.

Something about the French that is consistently true but little known is that the whole country is obsessed with yogurt. They eat it at almost every meal. There are more yogurt options than cheese options in the grocery stores. They love this stuff. I’m constantly trying new yogurt in France, and I can never find the like of it when I’m back in the US. This Panier de Yoplait however is not unusual if you’re used to American yogurt. It’s kind of crappy plain yogurt with fruit on the bottom, just like Yoplait at home. It just looks special because the container is clear. It’s fine, it’s just not a crazy new discovery because we actually have this, just uglier.

Tuc

Tuc French crackers
Tuc crackers, like more polite Ritz.

These crackers are bomb! While the French are generally way more pro-carb than the US, it’s still amateur hour here in the cracker and chip department. I am not a sweet snack person, I like something savory, and I’ve really been missing my Wheat Thins. These Tuc crackers are more like a light and less flaky Ritz, and would go amazingly well with crappy cheddar cheese.

Carre Frais

Carré Frais french cheese
Carré Frais, a great substitute for cream cheese.

This one was perhaps my favorite food discovery of the quarantine–Carre Frais. It’s taste and texture are extremely close to that of good-quality cream cheese, and it comes in cute little individually wrapped cubes which are great for packing in a lunch. When spread on a piece of bread or biscuit the mouthfeel was very much like whipped cream cheese more than a more dense cream cheese; now all you need is a bagel.

Vandame

Vandame cake, very unnecessary fruit cake.

I’m not quite as enthusiastic about this Cake Vandame which is essentially just a smaller, longer fruit cake. No need to spend too much time here.

Chamonix

Chamonix, a little bit fruity, a little bit crispy.

This cake by comparison is a tasty revelation. I thought it would be like an orange-based Fig Newton but honestly it’s kind of it’s own special treat. Nice and tart orange filling, with an outer shell that is crispier than it looks on the package. Would recommend.

PiM’s

PiM’s, yet another LU creation.

Are you noticing the trend in goute treats this household purchases? Lots of LU products. I am not a huge fan of anything that mixes chocolate with raspberry–I can’t say that I’ve ever met anyone who is honestly. No one in this house is yet still someone bought these because we needed a change and they’re truly not bad. As with most LU products, the chocolate is almost better than the cookie deserves, which increases the flavor value for me a lot. Worth a try.

Delisse Yourt du laid du Chevre ~nature~

Goat yogurt. Goagurt.

For months now I’ve been purchasing plain yogurt brasse because I could trust its heavy texture. But our quar has been all about changing up the yogurt offering every week and truly exploring that yogurt aisle at the Intermarche. I’ve discovered the tasty lure of all yogurts from goat and sheep’s milk–they’re freaking delicious. More tangy and savory than cow’s milk yogurts, they’re a nice change of pace. Some are even offered in vanille which I also recommend.

Bonne Maman Tartelettes: Chocolate Caramel

Dessert in a tiny cup: Bonne Maman Tartelettes Chocolate Caramel

These little wonderful morsels are like if you turned a Twix bar inside-out. Wonderful cookie on the outside, filled with caramel covered in a chocolate shell. They’re perfect little individually-wrapped specimens. I recommend trying one with strong coffee then hiding the rest so no one else in the house can find them.

There’s a VIP Option When You Apply For Your French Visa

You have to know a thing or two about the French to make it through the visa process without losing your shit. That could be an alternative title to this entry. I’m now somewhat initiated to the ways of the French bureaucracy after the paperwork scavenger hunt that was required to get married in Bazus last year. Hoping these callouses will last long enough so I can hold it together once we move.

I will say, the online experience was actually extremely quick, clean, friendly, and clear–none of these adjectives typically describe a French experience be it a security line or a dinner. After some googling of things like “how do I even get a French visa,” the French visa website will direct you to a third party handler who facilitates the visa appointments for the Embassy, VFS Global. This was a cinch, perhaps because VFS has cornered this niche market and is doing this for several countries. Make an appointment, VFS tells you what to bring, boom. Privatization isn’t always bad.

I knew better than to believe that the simplicity of these initial steps would be a predictor of the ease of the rest of the process. I knew better but I believed it anyway. But of course once I physically got to the VFS Global office things started to get… FRENCH AF.

I arrive at a weird, boring, midcentury building on Wilshire near the Flynt building that I’ve probably driven by at least 200 times. It’s not the French Consulat which my husband visits for his visa, it’s the home of this third party handler. FYI, they only have valet so park around the corner if you don’t want to get shived for $12. The tiny VFS Global offices are on the fifth floor, where I was searched by security, then sat in a room that’s set up like a tiny but much less depressing DMV office: windows at the front, rows of seats, myriad signs with directions, French tourism posters.

For some reason there is a VIP waiting area that is behind a glass partition, almost half the size of the whole waiting area, without anyone sitting in it. The room is decorated like a tacky Americna living room with a couch, coffee table, and television. As I stared at it, grasping to comprehend its existence, I was thankful that I didn’t have to sit in there and signal to the rest of the room that I self-identified as a VIP.

Anyway, my turn came and I gave the dude that spoke English all of my documents, which I knew would be sufficient because I followed the instructions from the French Consulat and VFS Global. However, I was informed that the copy of our French marriage certificate that I’d brought was too old–it was less than a year old, but it needed to be less than three months old. Of course, none of the instructions specified how fresh these docs had to be, one would assume they just had to be real. Nope, I have learned that the French have a thing for super fresh docs: when we got married last year I had to procure a NEW birth certificate for myself as the one I had from 2006 somehow might not reflect new information about the date and location of my birth. Whatever, I told him I’d send a fresh certificate.

Nearby I overheard a woman asking how she was supposed to complete the online visa application with the address of where she’d be staying in Paris if she needed a visa to secure a place to stay in Paris. This is classic French bureaucracy, and the only way around it is to fudge a little, put your Airbnb address even if you’re only staying there for a few days, and cross your fingers. This is essentially what the Visa dude told her. The bureaucracy famously moves at a snails pace, and is greased by these small fudges, otherwise nothing would get done. To this day I feel like someone is going to realize we didn’t provide the right paperwork to get married, but most likely no one even cared.

For anyone reading because they actually want to learn about the visa process, the next step is you go into a tiny white room, give them your finger prints and take a photo. I made the mistake of wearing a bun that day, so now on my visa I look like a 12 year old boy. When I left the little white room, someone was sitting in the VIP area.

As expected, I got an email from the French Embassy stating additional documents were required. I needed to send a copy of my Livret de Famille (family book), and a copy of our marriage license that was less than TWO months old–VFS Global had told me THREE months. See, this is why people talk mess on French bureaucracy. Also I had provided the copy of my Livret de Famille at the appointment, but because of the certificate situation of 2018, I just kept my mouth shut and sent another copy. Grease the system with fudge. My husband’s family had to mail a fresh copy of our marriage license to prove we hadn’t gotten a divorce within eleven months of marriage. My passport was returned to me with visa about two weeks later.

See, I told you it wasn’t that bad, especially not if the system has beat you up in the past. But as an American, getting conflicting info from the powers that be is maddening–what is reality if the system isn’t in agreement. But now, I know you just kind of split the difference, smile at the visa dude, don’t argue about the conflicting info, and it all turns out okay.

My Attempt To Justify This Dumb Blog

Let me tell you a thing about what a weird teenager I was: I used to write down everything all the time. Every dumb emotion or thought I had, a somewhat creepy inventory of things of consequence and not. Usually not. Which is funny because I really wasn’t up to much until about eight years ago, so I had no cause to write everything down except my own narcissism. I wrote down what I did that night, who drove, who I hung out with at lunch in high school, all of the dreams I had when I took a three hour nap after school at the peak of my 16-year-old anemia-induced lethargy. I never re-read what I wrote, nor did I undertake any style — it was simply record keeping of a very mundane life. Almost a compulsion–if I forgot to log the day, it didn’t happen.

Pardon me while I wax earnest for a hot sec: I will concede that it was a helpful way to sort through my feelings about things. When I’d fight with or be hurt by a parent or my first boyfriend, I’d write down all that happened and my feelings, and somehow by the end I was able to better understand myself and them, and move through the emotions. It was also very UNhelpful in that, by writing down all of those details, they were now seared into my memory much more than they were of the other party, and I would remember and feel all details of a tiff for much longer — not a favorable effect when you’re already pretty bitter by nature (I’m pretty bitter by nature).

For this reason I stopped writing entirely in 2011 when I was experiencing various forms of tumult in the form of being dumped and resenting my parents because I was 25 and that’s what happens. While all of these rites of passage seem silly and extremely surmountable now, at the time they were earth shattering; they were unique and incurable diseases never to be suffered before or since. Like I said, narcissist. So I stopped writing in 2011 because I didn’t want to aid my memory in any way nor did I want to feel more deeply. I began to allow moments to happen without keeping a record of them for the first time in my life. Until Instagram got big, I guess.

As many people who are nervous and shy children tend to do, once I decided to grab life by the balls, I packed more life into eight years than I had in the previous 25. And I didn’t write any of it down. I’m sure I changed a lot, but I have no record of it like I do of every subtle transition I experienced in the previous years. Which is fine, no one wants to read that boring shit.

I recently went a little meta on myself and realized that I am about to change quite a lot, I expect, because I’m moving to another country for an undetermined amount of time. Instead of trying to preserve our US life while we’re in France, my husband and I have a sole objective to intentionally become less American and see who we are in France. He’s originally from France, the southwest, but hasn’t lived there since his early twenties so he’s pretty much Californian by now. Says “dude” all the time with a french accent, says “We gotta catch de 2 north,” talks like a french surfer for some reason. So he needs to rediscover his Frenchness again before he starts talking like he grew up in Ventura. We’ve been together five years but I still don’t know French because I always come up with something better to do than learn it, and it’s not fair that one day he and our kids will be able to talk shit on me in another language. So we’ve got to do this. We’re about to change and we’re aware of it, and I want to see the gradual effect like I used to be able to in my creepy diaries. Except hopefully I’ll be less creepy this time, hopefully it will just be funny but not ironically read-your-teenage-diaries funny.

I also hope it might be helpful. Not helpful as a guide the way other expat websites are when they give you tips on how early to arrive at your visa appointment — that stuff is important but it’s been done. This is more of an experiment in what it’s like for an anxious and self-obsessed career sabotager to walk away from a job, a house, tens of dozens of friends, and move to another country at the age of 33.