Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Things I like, no. 2: the boulangerie

In this series of shorter posts, I'm looking (somewhat egotistically) at 'things I like'. Part 1, in case you missed it, was the SNCF: this time, I'm looking at something a bit more local. One of the clichés of French life, particularly in the provinces, is the boulangerie. You know, the institution that makes this possible:

(Credit: Although that particular post
doesn't seem to be about baguettes.)
The 'bakery on the corner' does genuinely, though, seem to be more than just a twee and outdated stereotype. Au contraire, they still exist, and in great numbers. My 'local' is about five minutes' walk up the Avenue de Laon, and is run by a team of three lovely ladies, selling a pretty impressive selection of baguettes, pavots, and of course viennoiseries. (And yes, feel free to draw your own conclusions from my use of the word 'local' - do the French value their boulangers as much as the British do their landlords? Quite possibly.) Here's the thing, though: this isn't some well-off corner of Kensington, where the business has survived because its patrons all have money to spend on a premium product. The Avenue de Laon is one of the busiest streets in Reims, and a huge variety of people from all walks of life pass along the pavement. Most importantly, the boulangerie is next door to a Carrefour City (think Sainsbury's), which itself offers pain cuit sur place toute la journée. So how in the world has this small shop managed to survive, in such a climate and in face of such competition?

Quite simply, because they're good at what they do, and love doing it. The bread is excellent: whereas the stuff from Carrefour is very nice, the crustiness and texture of a boulanger's work is very tricky to put into words. (Although that hasn't stopped Baguepi, a consortium looking after local boulangeries, from trying. Have a read of this.) Whenever I go in through the door, and the little bell tinkles, I know that, in addition to getting a really nice piece of bread, I'll have a conversation. All of which goes some way to explaining why, more often than not, these conversations end in the words à bientôt.