One of the great philosophers of our time, Forrest Gump, once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what yur goan git.” (Misspelling used for quotation accuracy.) This piece of wisdom applies to many different life scenarios, but for the purposes of this blog, I am going to apply the quote to music heard while in a store or business. Specifically, music in French grocery stores.
In the United States of America (USA), people can generally expect to go into a grocery store and hear one of two types of music. One will hear elevator music, which generally consists of songs one recognizes but horribly rendered on an electric piano keyboard and without vocals. Or one will hear what is generally termed, easy listening, or soft rock. Basically music that would not be considered controversial in any mix of people. A person may not like the music they are hearing, and they may even think it is boring or not something they would normally listen to if given a choice. In fact, after a couple of minutes in the store, most people have stopped hearing the music as anything other than background noise. This is less likely to occur in French grocery stores.
In French grocery stores, our Forrest Gump quote becomes applicable because you never know what you are going to hear while checking the ripeness of your peaches. One would naturally expect to hear the French version of elevator music or soft rock. Native French music is heard in the grocery store, but it is exceedingly rare. Typically if you do hear native French music, it is some French pop song in it’s original form, not stripped down and turned into elevator music. More often than not, you will hear music that even if you do not recognize the tune, you will certainly recognize that the person is singing in English. More probably you will recognize and be able to sing along with the music.
I will use today’s grocery trip as an example. Not long after entering the store it was hard not to add a little groove to my grocery shopping step with George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic playing, “We Want the Funk.” I thought this was an apt song when one is searching for just the right French cheese. Immediately after George Clinton, none other than Marvin Gaye was needing some, “Sexual Healing.” I am not certain Marvin’s song can be applied to shopping as was, “We Want the Funk,” but the quality of the tunes certainly made searching for my gluten-free bread more entertaining.
I have also heard the following in the local grocery store: Eminem, Survivor, Snoop Dogg, The Temptations, the Stones, the Beatles, Sting, Springsteen, Elvis, Gun’s N’ Roses, Van Halen, Louis Armstrong, Salt N’ Peppa, and the list goes on. One of my favorites that is frequently played is Michael Jackson.
As some reading this will no doubt know, some of the artists listed above tend to have lyrics that would never be played over a PA system in a grocery store in the USA because someone would no doubt be offended. Not so in French grocery stores, where the songs are played regardless of the lyrics. I am eagerly awaiting the day when I see an elderly French lady mouthing the words to Snoop’s “Gin and Juice” while perusing the juice aisle. I can also imagine old Francise (around here better known as, “The Grumpy Butcher”) making up his own lyrics to Eminem’s, “Without Me.” Something along the lines of, “ham and prosciutto, get all you can see, but there is no beef, without me!”
I have used the grocery store as an example for this blog, but this unexpected music happens in other French businesses as well. Take for example a recent trip to the doctor’s office where the receptionist was actually singing along with the music coming over the speakers in the waiting area. What artist was she singing along with you ask? None other than the aforementioned, Snoop Dogg. It should not have been too surprising, considering the doc has a Metallica poster on the wall of his office.
Possibly the most unexpected place I have heard music here in France was in a place that I now believe should always have music, considering these particular places are typically gloomy. Parking garages. It is a most pleasant experience to get out of your car in a dark and dreary multi-story parking garage and hear Mozart. The concrete acoustics somehow work well with the strings of a Mozart symphony.
Go out and be consistent.
*If anyone would like to get a better sense of France, I highly recommend reading any of Peter Mayle’s non-fiction books, such as “A Year in Provence.”