Etiquette at French Markets

Ever wondered about the Dos and Don’ts at the French Bio Market? Apparently there are some unspoken rules that one must observe. Perhaps as a foreigner you might have certain habits which are absolutely fine depending on where you come from, such as squeezing a fruit to know whether it’s ripe or not.  As innocent and as natural that may be, to some French farmers this is absolutely frown upon. From my little time in France, myself and my foreigner friends have to come to learn and obey the following:

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Say “Bonjour” – This will take you a long way! It’s customery  to greet somebody first before expecting any kind of service (c’mon, where are your manners!). I only mention this as a number one rule as you will NOT start well without a greeting in France. In some places you might even get ignored. While you are at it, why not carry on a conversation? It’s part of the art of selling, they love their conversations. For me this was actually where I started practicing my French. You can see more on that in learning French.

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Learn the origins of your produce – The French are so proud about food. You could hold a long discussion about food (or anything for that matter). Get ready to hear all about the farm where the vegetables/ducks come from, their feeding regime et cetera. I’m sure if you’ve had the pleasure of dining in a French restaurant, then you would have heard all the teeny weeny details about each and every ingredient.

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Spot the imposters from the real artisans – So apparently it’s important for the French to know if the seller is actually the owner of the produce or not. And to be sure about this, you need to have a certain knack. Does the seller look too posh? Too pampered perhaps? Watch out for the telltale signs such as immaculate finger nails. If too perfect, then dear foreigner, this person is a fake! S/he is considered as one who does not spend that much time in the farm. Chances are, s/he buys the products and sells them on. So tip for you, the rougher the better! Up to you if this is important or not. As for me, I give my business to whomever gives me good service.

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Choosing the product? Ne touchez pas! Don’t touch! – OK, this one is a bit of a mystery to some of us foreigners who are used to feeling the texture of some products, namely tomatoes, avocados etc, in order to be sure about their maturity, whether they are ripe enough or not, which help us decide if it’s ok to consume today or next week or what have you. Piece of advice for you; just don’t! Some artisans do not like this at all. Why? They spend all their time and energy in growing these fruits, organically I might add. They hand pick them with the utmost care to make sure that they are not squashed during packaging and transportation. So dear foreigner, when you start squeezing those tomatoes, not only are you damaging the product by reducing its firmness, but you are also contaminating them with your untrusted hands. What they would appreciate that you do is: state what you need the product for (say tomatoes for a salad or maybe you feel for that special homemade gazpacho) and the seller will be more than happy to pick them out for you and gingerly place them in your basket. Voilà!

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All that glitters is not gold – As you may well be aware, the authorities enforce  tight controls on consumer products in terms of what is authorised for sale in big supermarkets. As a result, you may have some perfectly formed shinny apples and tomatoes which look appealing to the eye, but nowhere near as tasty as products sold by the small organic farmers. By and large, accept that in organic farming they try to grow products in a natural way possible. You may well end up with occasional insects inside a fruit (who can blame them, those juices are delicious!) but on the plus side, you get a product that is rich in taste aaaand, you are consuming less chemicals. Downside though, products aren’t aesthetic. Expect to find some weirdly shaped fruits at the Bio Market, but the taste is heavenly!

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Come with a basket or a reusable shopping bag – People hardly use plastic bags in the markets (apart from occasional plastic you get when buying cherries or green beans). For me this is absolutely great. I get to use my pretty basket (I’m crazy about baskets, no idea why!) but more importantly, less plastic we produce and dispose helps in reducing pollution, another plus to saving our beautiful Earth.

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It’s a social gathering – Expect to spend a considerable amount of time at the market, enjoy a coffee and a good chat with friends and family. I know of some friends who do this every Sunday. For them it’s the only chance to catch up and share a nice moment. Luckily the weather is mostly bearable in most months and for the rest, it’s heavenly sunshine in the South of France.

Overall, I really love the market culture in France. One can be sure to get fresh produce from people who are genuinely proud of their products. For me it’s one of them cultures that I do not wish to see fade away.

How about you? I’d love to hear about your experiences about shopping in markets where you are.

Happy shopping!

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