Monthly Archives: July 2011

Boulangerie Basics

Today’s post is re-posted with permission from Vingt Paris. Vingt Paris is a website devoted to helping its readers get the most out of life in Paris and its 20 diverse arrondissements. This post is part of a larger series exploring the city’s unspoken rules.

By Guillermom Martínez de Velasco

Who doesn’t like bread? It’s probably humanity’s oldest baked good, and when it comes to breadlove, Parisians take it to the next level. The Boulangerie is not just a place to get bread, it is a neighbourhood institution much like your local Alimentation Génerale or Brasserie. I know it may seem odd to think that something as meaningless as getting a baguette could go so potentially wrong. Therein lies the first mistake; a baguette can be regarded by Parisians as more meaningful than most of the things you’ll have to face in a typical city morning.

Out of taking the crowded métro only to change lines at Gare de l’Est; walking through streets full of vendors, noise, cars, unpleasant smells; walking up five flights of stairs constantly, and God forbid, breaking a sweat because of the heat; a baguette is the only thing that is constantly good. This explains why they take special care of the stuff made in their bakeries and why you should too! As these series of articles are meant to illustrate, protocol is protocol.

Unless you were lucky enough to have a real French bakery outside your place before coming to Paris, chances are you thought that the spongy white and brown square you had with toast, was bread. This is not to say that other countries don’t have good bread. It’s just that amazing bread is not as immediately available for the majority of people as it is for Parisians. Luckily, you live here now, so this is what you need to do:
  1. Find a Boulangerie and stick to it. Even though Paris is a big city, it manages to maintain a very local vibe within each neighbourhood. Say bonjour to the people next door, or the gardienne, or anyone in your building, everytime you run into them.  Eventually their replies will come with a smile. Once this happens, slip in the question: What boulangerie do they go to? Congratulations, from now on it’s yours also. Don’t even think about getting bread anywhere else.
  2. Arrive early. After midday bread will be stale and most of the good stuff, like croissant aux amandes, will be long gone. That doesn’t mean that if you walk by the bakery in the afternoon you shouldn’t wave at the employees. Remember, they make your bread and therefore hold the power. The customer is definitely not king in Paname.
  3. Say Hello. At the beginning you’ll notice that everyone seems to be getting warm bread while you, quite simply, aren’t. This is normal. Unfamiliar people get the less than fresh stock. Why would some tourist get the same bread that the gens du quartier do? I know it seems very basic but sometimes we tend to forget to say hello. Everytime you see your baker remember to drop some “Bonjour” “Comment allez-vous?” “Bonne journée” etc. This will make them remember you and, once they do, you’ll start getting the good bread.
  4. Respect your elders. At any given moment, there will be at least one old person in the Boulangerie. Bear in mind they have been going to the same place, most likely every day, for longer than you have been alive. They probably know the baker’s parents and even grandparents. Old Parisians are your gateway to good service. Be extra polite to them; let them cut in front of you, say hello and goodbye, talk about the weather; anything really. What you want is for them to one day step in for you, look the baker in the eye and tell him to treat you right. Befriend the cardigan and béret wearers.
  5. Get the right stuff. There are a lot of options in your standard Boulang’. Don’t be afraid to ask what they would recommend. Remember, this is not some teenager behind the counter working a summer job. The person usually lives for and because of bread. If you feel like choosing for yourself, there are also some failsafe varieties. For the sweet tooth, I recommend either croissant aux amandes or the classic pain au chocolat; if the places makes canelés, don’t think twice about getting some. If it’s a baguette you’re looking for get the tradition. French law requires it to be mixed, kneaded, leavened and baked on site. Freezing it is literally illegal.
  6. Holiday Bread Be it Christmas or Poisson d’Avril, most French holidays have an accompanying holiday bread. Get it, you’ll find that most of the time you’ll eat the whole thing faster than expected. If not, give it to someone as a present. Most importantly, anyone who’s anyone in the eyes of your Boulanger is getting one. You don’t want to miss out.

When and where to eat bread is mostly up to you. As a general rule, resist the urge to bite into your bread before you have reached your destination. Remember the ever-Parisian mantra of keeping it subtle. Was that you eating in public, like you couldn’t afford to give yourself five minutes of leisure time? Mais non! Even though this seems like a long and tedious process, rising to the status of Boulangerie regular is still faster than opening up a bank account (a month), or getting your titre de sejour (several months to a year).

French people don’t conceptualize time the way most other nations do, and even in the hustle and bustle of Paris, no one likes time to be more important than they are. Bread is one of those ways in which Parisians stick it to the man. Be it a 2 hour lunch break or a baguette with ham and camembert while on strike. Take the time to take your time, and enjoy the best bread in the world. After all, it’s just around the corner.

Fire Safety

Despite several highly publicized fires in the City of Light, it was only recently that French legislators passed a law mandating smoke detector installation. By January 2016 all living facilities in France are required to have smoke detectors (détecteur de fumée). Paris’s beauty makes it easy to forget that Haussmann didn’t have safety codes in mind when renovating the city. Nor did medieval architects consider how difficult it would be for a firetruck to race down a narrow, cobblestone street. Several hundred years later, despite the services of the city’s brave firefighters (les sapeurs-pompiers de Paris), many of Paris’s buildings remain not only fire hazards, but fire traps.

Whether you are moving to Paris permanently or relocating for the long term, it is important to check if where you’re staying is equipped with at least one smoke detector. When you’re planning a move and packing your suitcases, smoke detectors aren’t the first thing you think of, but they might be the most important thing you pack or buy on arrival. Paris brings to mind baguettes and bistros, not fires, but the reality is that such dangers can occur anytime, anywhere. Considering a fire breaks out every 2 minutes in France, a smoke detector is an essential purchase. For as little as 20€ you can make your space fire safe. Even though smoke detectors aren’t mandatory yet, they are relatively easy to find. Major home stores, local hardware shops, and even some bigger grocery chains sell smoke detectors. For a sure bet though, visit one of the stores listed below. These stores also sell everything you need for a quick and easy installation.

Mr. Bricolage  (Click here to see the store’s presentation on installing smoke detectors. The slides are in French, but a website like Google Translate can help you get the most important information from the presentation.)

166 Rue St Maur, 75011 Paris

21 Rue Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris

Castorama

C C Les Arcades 1/3 rue de Caulaincourt, 75018 Paris Clichy

11 Cours de Vincennes, 75020 Paris

119 Avenue Flandre, 75019 Paris

BHV Rivoli

55 rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris