From France With Love: Souvenirs You'll Actually Want to Keep

July has been the month of goodbyes. (Note: What started out as a simple list of French souvenirs turned into a bit of a sappy post. As I started to think about the word itself, I thought about how it means something entirely different in French. Coming from the Latin word subvenire, meaning occur to the mind, the French verb se souvenir means to remember and in its noun form, simply just memory.) 

Speaking of memories. Now that the MBA program is coming to a close, classmates are starting to leave Lyon left and right for all different corners of the world. While I can't say it doesn't make me sad to see everyone go, it's exciting to see people take new jobs, start their own companies and continue to pursue their dreams--all over the world. We joke about how now, we all have places to stay in 24 different countries. Except I'm not kidding. Let's make it happen, guys. #tourdumonde2017

When I think back over the year (has it really been a year?), I can't help but get a little misty-eyed. New venture all-nighters, raclette parties, Monday morning finance classes, picnics, Finland, and the list goes on...From those first few days last September playing the business strategy game to the final weeks of ELP presentations stretching into this summer, we made it! 

Even though I'm staying put in Lyon for now, I know I probably won't be here forever. For someone who moves a lot, I sure do get attached to the places I live. Others might disagree with me, but I believe there are places that stay with you, leaving more of a mark than you even realize. Maybe it's because I can't seem to separate the city or the apartment from the memories and the people. Anyone else know what I'm talking about? 

Before I get too sappy, let's talk about the other kind of souvenir. I'm not talking about the French word for memory, but the actual tangible thing you take with you as a reminder. I like the concept of a memento, but at the same time, all the actual souvenirs just seem so cheesy to me now. Don't get me wrong, I own my fair share of "I <3 NYC" memorabilia and "I left my heart in San Francisco" key chains, but it seems like all that stuff eventually just winds up in a closet or drawer collecting dust.

Experience has taught me that you can find some of the best souvenirs (and by best I mean things I'll actually use) at the grocery store. That's right, skip the souvenir shop and head to Carrefour or Monoprix for some of the best, most authentic goods. Inspired by my family's recent visit, these are items that actually serve a purpose, as well as a little reminder of France.

1. Chocolate (duh). These days, you can find Milka and Lindt in the U.S. but trust me, it doesn't taste the same as the stuff you get here. Even the Crunch bars are better! Supermarket tablets do the trick but you could also stock up on higher end brands like Valrhona if you're feeling fancy. For extreme chocolate fans, it's well-worth a trip to the museum

2. Le Petit Marseillais. Yes, it's a bar of soap, but the price and cute packaging make it an ideal gift to bring back for friends. Interestingly enough, the iconic French brand that is so ubiquitous here is actually owned by Johnson&Johnson. Still, you can't get your hands on it stateside, as far as I know.

3. Opinel No. 8. For the number of picnics I've logged this year, I'm embarrassed to say I didn't even know this brand of knives existed, let alone own one, until recently. After first hearing about the Made-in-France, retractable knives on a ski trip last winter, it suddenly occurred to me how handy having one would be. What if I found myself out in a park or somewhere else out in the field with a block of cheese? It happens more often than you'd think. Okay, I also just wanted one because it feels like literally everyone here owns at least one. The shop owner I bought mine from confirmed this suspicion when I asked him if he had one and he looked at me like I was crazy, saying of course he did, everyone does. Now I'm part of the club!

Honorable mentions:

  • Sachet of herbes de Provence. One packet costs and weighs practically nothing, plus the rosemary-thyme-oregano mix goes well with just about any dish you can imagine.
  • Vin chaud spices. I've seen mixes at specialty shops and boutiques. If you happen to see them, stock up so you can whip up your own batch of the Christmas market classic come winter.
  • Macarons from Ladurée or Pierre Hermé. Okay,, the cookies don't last long (I usually eat mine on the plane) but the boxes are so pretty! I like to keep them to store jewelry.

Et voilà, my unofficial list of French souvenirs, all guaranteed to fit inside a suitcase! Admittedly the vast majority are food items, but hey, that's part of the culture. Non?

-Stephanie