I’ve been living in Paris for five years now. While I’d like to pretend that I spend my days strolling along selecting cheeses and chocolates from small shops, I’d be exaggerating. Sometimes I’m forced to go to the supermarket due to time constraints, hours of operation, or the simple fact that I need to buy toilet paper.
On the weekend, however, I really do try to frequent the farmer’s market and small shops in my quartier. Little by little, you start to develop a relationship with the vendors and they remember you. With my accent, it usually doesn’t take all that long. My second visit to the produce shop on rue Mouffetard, I was greeted with “Bonjour, Miss California.” I’m still smiling. And a few weeks later, after I’d paid for all my fruits and vegetables, I realized that I’d forgotten a lime. When I told him it was for my vodka tonic, he placed it in my hand with a wink and refused my money.
My cheese lady will slice off a piece of brie and let me taste it to make sure it meets my expectations regarding ripeness. She’ll also select a seasonal cheese for me – assuming she can understand what I’m saying. Some months ago, we performed an Abbott & Costello routine for those in line. I asked for a cheese “en saison” (in season). She kindly responded, with a straight face, that she did not have a cheese of “six ans” (six years old). The pronunciation is identical to my ears – and apparently to hers. Luckily, my French husband was there to clarify “Who’s On First,” but only after he enjoyed the show.
For me, these little interactions make food shopping in Paris fun. I admit, when I first moved here I was uncomfortable approaching vendors and asking questions – partly because of the language barrier and partly because I was afraid of encountering the infamous “rude” French person (which often can be chalked up to cultural difference and not actual rudeness). It was easier for me to go to the supermarket, throw things in a cart, hand over the cash and walk out.
The French may be spoiled with le marché, but there are days when I miss Safeway more than my parents. My supermarket was recently out of Q-tips for two weeks. When they finally arrived, the employee recognized me and my waxy ears by this point (the fact that I could never remember how to say cotton swabs in French and had to mime it out by sticking my finger in my ear each time probably helped as well) and suggested that I stock up and buy three boxes to last me through winter. I never imagined that care packages sent from California would not only include taco seasoning and Cheez-its, but Q-tips too!
Living like a Parisian is not always perfect, but it certainly can be if you go about it the right way. The beauty of being on vacation is that you can choose what you’d like to do with your time and plan accordingly. For example, I recently took part in Context Travel’s “Baguette to Bistro: Culinary Traditions of Paris” walking seminar. The fact is there is always something new to see and, more importantly, taste here and I was curious to find out what Context Travel had on its plate. Plus, I’m often asked by friends and friends of friends for travel tips, I thought it would be a good experience and one I could recommend if I enjoyed myself, which I did – immensely!
The tour started at 10:00 a.m. I met my docent, Meg Zimbeck, in front of a café where rue du Bac hits the Seine. I was pleased to find that there were only three other participants joining us that day. Meg referred to us as "visitors" not tourists, which I thought was a nice touch and appropriate as it really felt like we were just a group of friends meeting up for a little shopping. It was immediately obvious that this was not going to be an ordinary tour. There would be no red umbrella to follow, no "bus leaves in 10 minutes" shouted through the end of a bullhorn, and no herding, corralling or waiting in long lines at the souvenir shop.
After introductions and a little small talk, the official tour began. Meg offered us some interesting historical information about the 7th arrondissement, the setting for our tasting tour, and we were off!
Picture yourself walking down a narrow street lined with boutiques and shops then popping into la boulangerie to buy some freshly baked bread.
|Meg explaining what to look for in a good baguette regarding texture and taste at La Maison Kayser|
|Window of Androuet - Master Cheesemaker|
|Partial view of cheeses at Androuet|
|Le Saint-Honoré at|
La Pâtisserie des Rêves
(The Pastry Shop of Dreams)
by Philippe Conticini
|Le Frutier de Saison (lemon, white chocolate, and dates)|
|Several flavors of chocolate mousse|
to choose from!
|Armagnac tasting at Ryst-Dupeyron|
There were three things that I particularly enjoyed about the tour. The first, and probably the most obvious, was getting to learn about the products and having the opportunity to taste them on the spot and ask follow-up questions about ingredients, the process, etc. Secondly, I liked that our group was small which meant there was enough time to stray off topic and discuss questions about culture, customs, and favorite restaurants (which is why I would recommend taking the tour early in your trip so you'll have time to put this wealth of knowledge to work). Finally, going back to the relationship aspect I mentioned above, Meg (or Context Travel docents, in general) has a relationship with the shop owners/employees because she is a regular customer. Thus, as her "visitor" you get a real French shopping experience.