In the UK a dozen cars parked up in a lay-by along with 15-20 people milling around expectantly, would be viewed as very suspicious. Here in rural France, it means only one thing: a delivery from Sterling Shopping.
Like most expats, I try to support the local village shops. But I have to confess to an (occasional) guilty secret: Sterling Shopping, which ferries groceries, DIY stuff, flat screen TV's - almost anything you want - to France for a charge of !5-20% of the cost of your order (depending on the delivery area)
I know that France offers a wonderful selection of foodstuffs. But there is something very seductive about being able to shop on-line at Waitrose, and then pick up your order in France a few days later. It's a more convenient way to shop than jogging around the aircraft hangar size supermarkets such as Auchan, where you can notch up several kilometres and muscle fatigue just going from bread to frozen vegetables.
Nor can it be denied that life in France is currently very expensive. Thanks to the weak pound, a bag of pecan nuts and a kilo of brown basmati rice can clear out your bank account; while dog food and laundry detergent cost twice as much as in the UK.
The Friday before Christmas, I joined the expectant throng waiting in a lay-by, just off the N10 near Brux. Despite the snow, queues for the Channel tunnel and a break-down near Chartres, the Sterling drivers still managed to deliver the goods - which in my case included emergency copies of fashion magazines that I needed for work - within an hour or so of the appointed time.
Other expats looked thrilled as they took delivery of their Christmas shopping and drove off with boxes of Christmas crackers (which don't exist in France) and mince pies. So bravo Sterling! And on a festive note, I'd like to (belatedly) wish all my readers JOYEUX NOEL and BONNES FETES.