I don’t love France. It’s perfectly fine. There are as many breathtakingly amazing things and dark depressing things as any other country. But, Italy has stolen my heart, and isn’t giving it back.
That being said, if I were to choose one thing from France to bring back with me to Italy,it would be:
One’s local boulangerie.
That’s bakery to you. It’s different than a patisserie, which is exclusively for sweets. Boulangeries can have sweets, too, but patisseries are in a class all their own.
In this country of impossibly thin people, the female half of which seem to have perfected adult bodies that mimic a 12-year-old’s, it is perfectly normal to see people with a baguette under one arm and picking pieces of some scrumptious delight out of a tiny paper bag while walking down the street.
I’m not sure how other, busier cities like Paris do it, but here in Montpel, you can get oven-fresh bread three times a day – 6AM, 12PM, and 5-6ish PM. There are lines out the door at the town’s boulangeries during these times. And the routine is always the same:
1. The person waiting on you always, always says, “bonjour” or “bonsoir.” You always, always must say it back.
2. They might ask you how they can help you, or just look at you expectantly, and you launch into your order, one piece at a time. Depending on your knowledge of French and your relationship with the boulangerie, you can ask for advice on bread choices.
3. As they’re wrapping up whatever you’ve just ordered, they will keep asking you for your next order until you tell them you’re done.
4. Then they give you all your purchases – in separate tinsy bags or, in the case of the baguette, with a piece of paper wrapped around the middle quarter of it for holding – and ring up your total. (Sometimes they’ll ask you if you want them to rip the baguette in half for easier transport, and many will take them up on it, but there’s something so romantic about a full baguette under the arm that I abstain fmor this service.)
5. You pay them – preferably in coins, or else you’ll be asked for exact change and they look at you all disappointed if you don’t have it – and before you can leave, you must always, always, always exchange goodbyes.
I love leaving with my yummy bread and hearing the next person in line go through the exact same routine with the counter person. It’s reassuring. It’s been happening like that since the beginning of time, and no matter what advancements are made in our modern world, that’s the way it will always happen.
My favorite things to buy at the boulangerie are tiny one-person quiches with mushrooms, small French-style pizzas, and of course the ever-present fresh baguette. Other popular choices are flaky croissants made with what seems to be one stick of butter per croissant; gourmet, food-based versions of Hot Pockets filled with veggies, or saucisson, or chicken and peppers, or beef; twisted cheese sticks; and other specialties of each individual boulangerie.
But, there really is nothing better in the whole world than a fresh baguette with butter. It’s, in the religious sense of the word, divine.
I hope they never go on strike.