Did you hear about the baguette shortage in France last August?
None of it was true. In spite of the hype in the American news media that the French bakers would take the month off just like almost everyone else in the entire country, they did not. Bakeries were open and pastries were warm and ready for snacking.
Thank goodness! Because, I love bread. When I was a child, I loved bread so much, my parents actually locked the bread drawer so I wouldn’t over do it! As an adult, I’ve become a bit of a bread snob, which is why French bakeries are such a joy for me.
The smell of baking bread wafts out onto the sidewalk and lures in the passersby.
Luckily, I pass by the best local bakery each time I go to the grocery store. This magical odor calls to me and I generally cannot resist going in to buy a baguette or two when I walk by.
As I enter, I’m faced with glossy and colorful fruit tarts that are delicately placed in the window display. There are usually at least 5: one or two apple tarts, one or two mixed fruit, and sometimes an apricot or cherry. Each is so laden with sugary goodness, I start to salivate at the mere thought of them.
Next is the display of mini dessert pastries and mini cakes: rows of 6 or 8 of the same chocolate-covered cakes or fancy almond dessert. I never buy these, but I long to know what they taste like.
The line is usually long enough that I have time to enjoy the smells and look longingly at each treat behind the glass counter.
My will to resist these sweets starts to break down once I’m at the macaron counter.
These delicate and colorful clouds of taste-bud nirvana were totally unknown to me before this year. I only recently started to see lots of photos of them on Parisian Instagram accounts, but didn’t taste one until I arrived in France. So excited about them, I tried them in a few different places. They can either taste like factory-flavors (at the less-awesome bakery in town) or like a cloud of sugar with the most lusciously flavorful and light cream center you can imagine. It’s worth going to the better bakery to get the macarons with the best flavor!
Unfortunately by the time I get to the macaron display, there are only two or three people ahead of me in the line to order, so I reluctantly retreat from my pastry-filled daydream. I realize that I’m going to have to order soon. In French.
Panic sets in.
What have I come here for? Can I communicate it clearly in a foreign language to the server who is very rushed and who wants the line behind me to be served as quickly as possible?
Thoughts of tarts and cakes and those incredibly delicious macarons fade away as I start to rehearse my order in French in my head. The person in front of me is paying, and a server is ready to take my order.
“Bonjour, madame.” She wants to know what I want to buy.
Although I’ve been rehearsing, I am nervous and I want to make my order very fast, ultimately fearing that if I don’t speak quickly enough she will refuse to serve me and move on to the more quick-witted fluent French speaker behind me in line. Leaving me without any baguette at all.
This never happens.
Because they are polite and helpful and will gladly take my money if only I can tell them what I want in an accent they can understand amid the noise of three other customers making their orders simultaneously.
“Bonjour. Une baguette s’il vous plaît.” I manage to say, though sometimes too softly for the server to hear, and I have to repeat myself more loudly.
In the midst of my panic, I have such trouble remembering to ask for baguettes pas trop cuite (cooked lightly, not dark brown). Even though I prefer baguettes this way, I feel such pressure to speak quickly that those words escape me and it’s all I can do to simply order the one baguette.
I’ve gotten in the habit of rehearsing before I get to the shop, and that’s helped a lot in getting what I want. I also learned that I can ask for only a half a loaf of brioche, which is super delicious for breakfast, and is just the right size for two people.
“Bonjour. Une baguette pas trop cuite et une demi-brioche s’il vous plaît.”
And on very special occasions, “Bonjour. Une boite de six macarons, s’il vous plaît.”
Regardless of the threat of bakery closures in August, and the panic I experience speaking French under pressure, I won’t let anything stop me from the unique joy of eating a warm, freshly baked baguette.