Go Shopping in France: Here's the Basic Vocabulary You'll Need

Find the words for specific shops, bargains, shopping and more

stores on street in Paris
Julian Elliott Photography/Photolibrary/Getty Images

If you are shopping in France, you'll need to know the lingo. You could just stick with one shop or market, go in, pay and get out. But most of us do more than that in our search for the right product and the best bargain. You need to be able to read signs so that you're choosing the right shop, getting the best quality, ferreting out authentic bargains and speak intelligently with salespeople.

Keep in mind that France (and most of Europe) may have megastores, but most people still shop at their local small shops in order to find the freshest, highest-quality products.

So don't discount the words for specialty stores; you will need to know them. Here is the basic vocabulary for shopping, including store and business names. 

Shopping Vocabulary

  • la pharmacie > pharmacy
  • la poste > post office
  • le pressing > dry cleaner
  • la quincaillerie > hardware store
  • le tabac > tobacco shop
  • faire les courses > to do the shopping [for essentials]; aller faire les courses > to go shopping
  • faire du shopping > to go shopping, to shop [for specific items such as shoes]; partir faire les magasins > to go on a shopping trip / expedition
  • les soldes > the sales; faire les soldes > to shop the sales
  • client / personne qui faire ses courses > shopper
  • être accro au shopping > to be a shopaholic
  • cher (chère) > expensive; coûter cher > to be expensive 
  • a bargain > une affaire; a good bargain > une bonne affaire; bargain prices > prix avantageux
  • marchander > to bargain, to haggle; negocier, traiter avec quelqu'un > to bargain with someone
  • heures d'ouverture > business / shop hours   

Expressions Related to Shopping

Bon marchéBon marché can be translated as either "inexpensive" or "cheap." Bon marché can be both positive, indicating a reasonable price, and negative, insulting the product's quality.

Bon rapport qualité-prix: The French expression un bon rapport qualité-prix, sometimes written un bon rapport qualité / prix, indicates that the price of some product or service (a bottle of wine, car, restaurant, hotel) is more than fair. You'll often see it or a variation in reviews and promotional materials. To talk about a better value, you can make the comparative or superlative form of bon, as in:

  • un meilleur rapport qualité-prix > better value
  • le meilleur rapport qualité-prix > best value

To say that something is not a good value, you can either negate the sentence or use an antonym:

  • Ce n'est pas un bon rapport qualité-prix. /  Il n'a pas un bon rapport qualité-prix. > It's not a good value
  • un mauvais rapport qualité-prix > poor value
  • le pire rapport qualité-prix > worst value

While less common, it's also possible to use a different adjective altogether, such as

  • un rapport qualité-prix incroyable > amazing value
  • un rapport qualité-prix intéressant > good value
  • un faible rapport qualité-prix > poor value

C'est cadeauC'est cadeau is a casual, informal expression meaning "It's free. It's inexpensive." The underlying meaning is that you're getting something extra that you weren't expecting, like a freebie. It can be from a store, a boutique or from a friend doing you a favor. It doesn't necessarily involve money. Note that "C'est un cadeau" with the article is a simple non-idiomatic, declarative sentence that means "It is a gift."

Noël malin: The informal French expression Noël malin refers to Christmas. Malin means something that's "shrewd" or "cunning." But this expression isn’t describing Christmas or the sales, but rather the consumer—the cunning consumer who is far too smart to pass up these amazing bargains. At least that’s the idea. When a store says Noël malin, what they’re really saying is Noël (pour le) malin (Christmas for the clever.) For example: Offres Noël malin > Christmas offers [for the savvy shopper] 

TTC: TTC is an acronym that appears on receipts and it refers to the grand total that you owe for a given purchase. The initials TTC stand for toutes taxes comprises ("all taxes included"). TTC lets you know what you will actually be paying for a product or service. Most prices are quoted as TTC, but not all, so it's essential to pay attention to the fine print. The opposite of TTC is HT, which stands for hors taxe; this is the base price before the addition of the European Union-mandated TVA (value-added tax), which stands at 20 percent in France for most goods and services.