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jamiemaw

The Myth of the French 'Country' Market

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Especially at the end of the market people begin haggling, Pan. Starting about 11h30 some hard bargains can be driven. I learned this a few years ago during a particularly difficult time when I had to stretch a measly 50 francs over a week of meals for long enough to learn some valuable lessons about getting by. Necessity is the mother of invention.

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I could not read through this entire thread beacause  A.  it was getting pretty tedious, and more importantly B.  it was quite ridiculous reading the perspectives of non-french individuals over-analyzing a very successful and time honored french tradition.  The french know exactly who the "artisans" are and if they so choose, they make their purchases from such vendors.  These are not savvy french, but the same sort of  french as you and I would be if we were lucky enough to live there.  The french support the "markets" because it is part of their culture - a god given right at that.  They know that they could run into Auchan or Carrefour and get many of the same products (maybe even cheaper) but they love to shop in the organic environment that markets provide.  In general they could care less who grew that head of "salade" as long as the price is right and there is an opportunity to haggle - bargaining at the market is french blood sport.  The french are a quirky lot and they love to play mind games, hood wink and trick each other.  They are also slick and very frugal shoppers.  So don't be fooled by a fooler.  How typical of a french person to write such a book - they also love to be important (self-important) with big opionions.  I have not  and will probably not read this book (or Why french women don't get fat); and don't feel like I really need to in order  to contribute here.    Having lived there for several years and being married to a french man for more than that I do have some serious background and reliable observations.  Don't forget to read between the lines when travelling in France.

Cafe Queen, warm thanks from the deepest heart of Ptipois for knowing us so well and expressing it. (One detail though: I never see much bargaining at markets, though it may be practised in some regions. What is more frequent is vendors selling out large quantities of remaining fresh stuff for bargain prices, or even giving them away. The other day at marché Monge, I got away with one free brioche and three free romanesco cabbages, without having ever asked. It was the end of market time.)

As for the book, and at the risk of ruffling a few feathers (as a Frenchwoman with a good experience of markets, I must say that mine were ruffled a few times here, so I'm only being good sport), I should add that I'm always a bit suspicious of a book about the French that gets to be a hit in the US, or even in England. From my experience, it is always a hit for the wrong reasons.

I'll end on a true story starring my financially comfortable yet extremely frugal French father-in-law (who shops 2 x week at the market). 

Every time Mr. F heads off the Banque to meet with the manager he makes sure he wears his worst clothes.  These include a tattered jacket, pants with patches and my favorite: the shoes with the soles that flap open with each step.  I kid you not.  He told me that this is to  fool the bank employees  into thinking he is poor and therefore not draw any unwanted attention to himself. 

I thought it was pretty odd at first,  but can understand his humour, even more so now watching all the backing and forthing over a real or pretend artisanal carrot.

Yup. Your pa in-law is probably very aware of the tricks that bank employees play with their clients, so he feels he's perfectly right to do that. I'd do the same if I were him. Actually, I sort of do it, too. I'm sure many people do. :wink:

By the way, that tattered clothes and flapping shoes trick is exactly what my own father did at divorce court, back in the '60's. After that, he tried breaking through our apartment through a tiny window in order to steal the TV set and then realized he couldn't take it out through the window. Hehe, are we fun sometimes. :rolleyes:

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=cafe queen,Feb 21 2006, 10:47 PM]

The french are a quirky lot and they love to play mind games, hood wink and trick each other.  They are also slick and very frugal shoppers.  So don't be fooled by a fooler.  How typical of a french person to write such a book - they also love to be important (self-important) with big opionions.  I'll end on a true story starring my financially comfortable yet extremely frugal French father-in-law (who shops 2 x week at the market).

Every time Mr. F heads off the Banque to meet with the manager he makes sure he wears his worst clothes.  These include a tattered jacket, pants with patches and my favorite: the shoes with the soles that flap open with each step.  I kid you not.  He told me that this is to  fool the bank employees  into thinking he is poor and therefore not draw any unwanted attention to himself. 

I thought it was pretty odd at first,  but can understand his humour, even more so now watching all the backing and forthing over a real or pretend artisanal carrot.

=Ptipois,Feb 22 2006, 04:14 AM]

Yup. Your pa in-law is probably very aware of the tricks that bank employees play with their clients, so he feels he's perfectly right to do that. I'd do the same if I were him. Actually, I sort of do it, too. I'm sure many people do.  :wink:

By the way, that tattered clothes and flapping shoes trick is exactly what my own father did at divorce court, back in the '60's. After that, he tried breaking through our apartment through a tiny window in order to steal the TV set and then realized he couldn't take it out through the window. Hehe, are we fun sometimes.  :rolleyes:

At the banque. At the court. At the market. :wink::wink:, nudge, nudge.

Your anecdotes seem nicely supportive of de La Pradelle's thesis: as the occasion demands, leave the shiny Peugeot at home in favour of the Deux-Chevaux, the automotive equivalent of the flapping shoe. :biggrin: Nothing like a good leg-pulling, what? Harmless fun to be sure, but fun nonetheless.


from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I could not read through this entire thread beacause  A.  it was getting pretty tedious, and more importantly B.  it was quite ridiculous reading the perspectives of non-french individuals over-analyzing a very successful and time honored french tradition. [. . .]

How typical of a french person to write such a book - they also love to be important (self-important) with big opionions.  I have not  and will probably not read this book (or Why french women don't get fat); and don't feel like I really need to in order  to contribute here. Having lived there for several years and being married to a french man for more than that I do have some serious background and reliable observations. 

I can agree with you about tedium. Generally humor will keep me reading much longer than the pompous opinion that goes on for endless paragraphs.

And I can agree with you about it seeming ridiculous having to read perspectives of people who are not specifically part of the thing they are talking about. You use "being French" here as an example. More often, to me - as the world of food was my profession, it strikes me the exact same way when people talk about "food" who really, simply eat it. :smile: Where DO they get their gall?! :hmmm:

It might be the solution to this is to have a quiz at the beginning of each thread about any specific subject. In this one, we could ask exactly how long anyone has spent in France, and it would all be detailed clearly. We might need to vote on whether marriage as exposure was a valid claim to knowing about the culture, though. And the vote on that might take some time to sort out. :shock:

Yes, indeed. I think we should all pull out our organic market carrots and compare the size and freshness?

Or we could all take it all with a grain of psalt. Hand-gathered, of course - to protect the delicate grains. :wink:

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Your anecdotes seem nicely supportive of de La Pradelle's thesis: as the occasion demands, leave the shiny Peugeot at home in favour of the Deux-Chevaux, the automotive equivalent of the flapping shoe.  :biggrin:  Nothing like a good leg-pulling, what? Harmless fun to be sure, but fun nonetheless.

My dear Jamie, once again you seem to miss my point completely and you don't seem to get the one Cafe Queen is trying to make. But you add bits and pieces from them to your theory in order to comfort it. This, at the very least, makes the debate appear like it has remained in its earlier stages.

The de La Pradelle thesis — if indeed it exists as it is described in this thread, of which I am not sure — is severely flawed, all the more since it seems to rest on a highly erroneous definition of the field of study and a partial ignorance of the dynamics involved in the particular case that has been chosen, and quite possibly of the dynamics of shopping in general. Or maybe the flaw lies in the general ideas drawn later from that particular case, stretching them ignorantly but happily to global, oversimplified statements. This has been discussed wide and far, with what I hope to be some pretty solid arguments to ponder, based on a long-time experience of French markets, of French food production and distribution, and of shopping ways.

So there's no way that anything I'll write could be supportive of what you call the "de La Pradelle thesis", even by twisting it in every direction. I'll let Cafe Queen say her mind about that because I can't decide for her, but I doubt it will be very different from mine.

I've already pointed out that, in any French farm, it would be total nonsense to bring products to market in a shiny Peugeot. You don't need to be French to realize that. Ever since Deux-Chevaux, the quintessential rural car, existed, people have used them for heavy and dirty jobs like bringing products to market, carrying logs of firewood, small livestock, etc. Now that 2CV are disappearing, they have been replaced by functional and ugly Renault Kangoos if the ancestral 4L hasn't given its last breath yet. But, at the countryside, you don't use the good car for that kind of job. Nobody does, and there is no trace of deception in that.

I'll add that Deux-Chevaux, though coarse and sturdy, have always been an object of respect in France, and that, however battered they may be, they are by no means the equivalent of a flapping shoe. Beware of cultural differences and be dead sure of the value applied to things, objects and details before you draw any conclusions. I am from Auvergne through half of my family and I think there are many things in your descriptions that are hasty misinterpretations, including the bizarre "Dior dresses" detail that lingers in my mind.

Harmless or not, I fail to see the fun in what you're describing, though I understand the wit and amusement in Cafe Queen's story about her father-in-law. There certainly is a sense of fun in his behavior, a very French one, ingrained in our everyday life, but as far as I can see you're missing it completely, because you're seeing it where there's no trace of it. Now the French can also be fun, as I wrote before, when Americans see them as exotic cartoon characters or, to put it more bluntly, as monkeys in the zoo, and then anything can be fuel — picturesque deux-chevaux, peasant girls dressed in Dior (the nerve!!!), Basque béret and baguette, and total, albeit "funny", misinterpretation of the ways markets function. But that's also missing the point.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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And how dare that fishmonger wear rubber boots and a big rubber apron just like a real fisherman on the deck of a fishing boat? He looks so rustic, and look how he picks up the fish, just like he fished it out of the ocean. Fraud, I'm telling you, frauds, every one of them.

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Last time I saw a discussion of this it was focusing on somewhere else - some other country.

Rogov was writing of it, and he called the vendors in the market "the most charming liars I've ever had the chance to meet".

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It might be the solution to this is to have a quiz at the beginning of each thread about any specific subject. In this one, we could ask exactly how long anyone has spent in France, and it would all be detailed clearly.

Or in this instance, whether they have read the book before commenting on it?

Busboy, when did you say the book is available in DC?


Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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It might be the solution to this is to have a quiz at the beginning of each thread about any specific subject. In this one, we could ask exactly how long anyone has spent in France, and it would all be detailed clearly.

Or in this instance, whether they have read the book before commenting on it?

Busboy, when did you say the book is available in DC?

March.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Interesting question. Can one discuss various parts of what a book is purportedly "saying" without having read it?

Using a cookbook as an example, is it *fair* to discuss the recipes, to comment on or use one's own background or experience in making those recipes personally *without* having read the specific book?

Or is it neccesary to read the book being mentioned before entering into discussion of such. . .

This of course can be extended or minimized however one would want.

The book speaks about a phenomena.

This discussion is not merely about the book but about the phenomena also. Or so I think. If not, then of course much of the discussion here should be knocked right out of the box. Or maybe all of the discussion since the only one that has read the book so far is Mr. Maw.

Whew. That *would* make a short thread. :sad:

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Or in this instance, whether they have read the book before commenting on it?

Although this thread has been going on far too long IMO, let me only point out that what was discussed here by people who haven't read the book was precisely the thread itself and the assertions that were made there in relation to a subject that some happen to know very well.

The book itself seems of little importance to me and I'm not interested in reading it — so far I can see it's pretty poor research. Why it got translated and published in the US is none of my business. There's a certain kind of experience of recurrent clichés that make it easy to identify the ideas at work. This is as true for the book as it is for some reactions I could see here. Again, it's that good old over-romanticizing of France and its corollary, the childish joy of smashing things that we adore in excess, just to look clever.

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Or in this instance, whether they have read the book before commenting on it?

Although this thread has been going on far too long IMO, let me only point out that what was discussed here by people who haven't read the book was precisely the thread itself and the assertions that were made there in relation to a subject that some happen to know very well.

No doubt you know the subject well. Just not the book under discussion, its methodology, or its conclusions.

The book itself seems of little importance to me and I'm not interested in reading it — so far I can see it's pretty poor research.

But how would you know that if you haven't read it?

I am sure it was published here as part of an anti-Mayle backlash. I am sure, also, that it will probably be difficult to evaluate fairly in translation.


Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

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Come now, no one bothered to read the exerpt linked to in post no. 1?

Click

From the exerpt:

The very fact of selling butter "loose" off a big mound, cutting the beaufort or tomme cheese off a wedge from the wheel, evokes vacations in rustic rented cottages or the cowshed discovered off a turn in a path through mountain pastureland. The “market product” includes the set of gestures and discourse that accompany the transaction. With small successive touches, the vendor intimates his intimate knowledge of the merchandise...Such familiarity with the merchandise is more than a mere selling point; it’s an indirect way of affirming that these are indeed his cheeses...

Ptipois is most likely right when she says this thread is beginning to trail on.

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No doubt you know the subject well.  Just not the book under discussion, its methodology, or its conclusions.

Sorry, but if something about the book can be seen miles away, it's its methodology and its conclusions. The excerpt given by Bleudauvergne a bit further up makes them appear even direr than I first assumed. It's complete baloney. Cutting butter off the mound and cheese off a wedge cut from the wheel is just a normal way to sell them at retail, especially on markets. Drawing that sort of conclusions from that sort of fact doesn't make any sense. It would be just as silly to point out that Norman fishmongers, at markets, sell whole fresh fish instead of breaded fish fingers so they can trick the customers into believing they fished them out of the sea themselves.

But how would you know that if you haven't read it?

Do you have to read all books that get published in order to decide which ones would interest you?

Again, I now know quite enough about this book not to waste any precious time on it. And if it were of any interest, I certainly would have heard about it when it first came out in France.

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Ptipois is most likely right when she says this thread is beginning to trail on.

Well, Bleudauvergne, sorry to practise "acharnement thérapeutique" on the thread when I'm the one who complained that it had become too long. But this excerpt is such a laugh that I can't resist.

The very fact of selling butter "loose" off a big mound, cutting the beaufort or tomme cheese off a wedge from the wheel, evokes vacations in rustic rented cottages or the cowshed discovered off a turn in a path through mountain pastureland.

This is hilarious. To any shopper of average competence, this only evokes cheese vendors.

The “market product” includes the set of gestures and discourse that accompany the transaction. With small successive touches, the vendor intimates his intimate knowledge of the merchandise...Such familiarity with the merchandise is more than a mere selling point; it’s an indirect way of affirming that these are indeed his cheeses...

Anyone, anthropologist or not, believing that a cheese vendor on a market may actually have made the wheel of Comté or Beaufort that he's cutting up, or even the very camemberts that he sells, seriously needs a good trip back to school.

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Ptipois is most likely right when she says this thread is beginning to trail on.

Well, Bleudauvergne, sorry to practise "acharnement thérapeutique" on the thread when I'm the one who complained that it had become too long. But this excerpt is such a laugh that I can't resist.

The very fact of selling butter "loose" off a big mound, cutting the beaufort or tomme cheese off a wedge from the wheel, evokes vacations in rustic rented cottages or the cowshed discovered off a turn in a path through mountain pastureland.

This is hilarious. To any shopper of average competence, this only evokes cheese vendors.

[...]

Anyone, anthropologist or not, believing that a cheese vendor on a market may actually have made the wheel of Comté or Beaufort that he's cutting up, or even the very camemberts that he sells, seriously needs a good trip back to school.

Indeed.

The above passages that you dissected could just as easily have come out of a book titled "Market Day at the Reading Terminal" or "Market Day on South 9th Street."

Only the produce in the latter book wouldn't look as lovely.


Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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Indeed.

The above passages that you dessicated could just as easily have come out of a book titled "Market Day at the Reading Terminal" or "Market Day on South 9th Street.

Stanley, colour me feckless and chagrined. Another fantasy ruined forever. Are you trying to tell me that Reading Terminal's thinly-sliced beef, wood-fired baguette, hand-composted bell peppers (surely the Kelly Bundy of the entire pepper family), lovingly caramelized onions and glop of Cheese Whiz® were not all artisanally produced by Amish nymphs? And are you saying that the artfully nuanced gestures and discourse ("Wid or Widout?") was merely a charade, those pissed-off wiseguy grddlemen mere off-duty English professors?

I'm shocked and, well, I promise I'll invoke some really useful umbrage once my knickers untwist. :sad: + :angry:

Only the produce in the latter book wouldn't look as lovely.

Like I said: Fruges consumere nati. At least I'm pretty sure that what it said on Angelina Jolie's backside but I've misplaced my Vanity Fair. All of which leads to an inescapable conclusion - who did cut the cheese in here?


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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ptipois: just in case you are still here (and have not decided that the thread has gone on too long ....) - can you post the biblio details of your own work on markets? That you mentioned way back in this thread? Hachette I think you said? It sounded really interesting and I'd like to find a copy if possible (as another ethnographer of food and its cultural contexts).

madumbi

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ptipois: just in case you are still here (and have not decided that the thread has gone on too long ....) - can you post the biblio details of your own work on markets? That you mentioned way back in this thread?  Hachette  I think you said?  It sounded really interesting and I'd like to find a copy if possible (as another ethnographer of food and its cultural contexts).

madumbi

Hello Madumbi. The book is out of print.

Here's a Amazon link though.

Also this one. You can find it on several websites, but there's no information added.

If you really can't find it, PM me for more information.

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excellent - thanks so much, i've located and ordered it - will take a while to get to me but i look forward to it. and to reading the de la pradelle which i also found on amazon.fr - this discussion has been fascinating for me. I think i have learned more about North American understandings of food and its cultural authenticities than i would have thought possible in a few hours of reading. and what i read made me want to read the book in its original text rather than in translation.

like many others on the thread i have some experience over a number of years of shopping in french markets - mostly in and around the Doubs and the Jura, and centring on besancon. And perhaps because besancon is not a touristic town (at least for english-speaking visitors) the market there has always been for me a place to shop well, each day, and to discover my own tastes within the ranges of foods available there. There are indeed some peasants who still come down to town, with small quantities of chevre, salades, other vegetables, sometimes one person setting up a small table and selling for a whole family of small producers or even for a group of people from the same area (so one day one sees the one person, but next day someone else, but from the same group). I've had the opportunity over the years to visit a number of those people on their farms/small holdings and so I have seen directly the link between production and sale.

A few years ago a market building was constructed on par tof the old market square in Besancon - only slowly has that become accepted and many of my friends are sufficiently conservative that they still patronise the fewer in number but still robust sellers who remain outside. Some of those - not the peasants - as well as all the sellers inside the hall, sell produce they have not grown/made themselves. It seems to me that one of the early lessons I learned about shopping in besancon (long before the covered market) was to know which of those sellers had a good eye and nose for produce at the wholesalers - whom i could trust to have the best tomatoes, the best mache, whatever. The authenticity then lay in the connection between the wholesaler and teh retailer - and what i had to learn was how to suss out which of the retailers best corresponded with my own requirements for freshness, taste, purity, etc.

thanks again ptipois - the book will be on its way to me on 1 march ....

madumbi

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I think i have learned more about North American understandings of food and its cultural authenticities than i would have thought possible in  a few hours of reading.  and what i read made me want to read the book in its original text rather than in translation.

:biggrin: As one of the North Americans that has had the temerity to post on this thread, I am glad to have been of assistance in your understandings of "us".

I might add that as one of the people who has been read here and therefore assumed to be representative of an overall cultural understanding of "us", that it would also be useful to apply the idea that you espouse in your second sentence to "us" as well as to any book you might choose.

"We" are different and fuller in the original text, also.

An internet forum does not show either our depth or ultimately probably our seriousness, as it is a tool used as much for entertainment as for any serious intent. The studies or understandings of a culture or people reached here in a few moments of reading will not be an accurate repesentation nor will it ever be acceptable to any serious scholar as there are no proofs of accuracy or "peer review" or anything other than an odd (and in my case, I do *work* on trying to be odd, my dear :raz: ) assortment of writings that land on the screen on the computer.

If you will read of the markets seriously to understand, then the people that represent cultures perhaps deserve as much also. :smile:

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ptipois: just in case you are still here (and have not decided that the thread has gone on too long ....) - can you post the biblio details of your own work on markets? That you mentioned way back in this thread?  Hachette  I think you said?  It sounded really interesting and I'd like to find a copy if possible (as another ethnographer of food and its cultural contexts).

madumbi

Madumbi,

In the happy instance that you might be interested in our petite culinary culture, here's a little book that pretty much describes it (something inclusive and that arrived from many places) and is still in print. Or, gratis, you may go here or or here.

Next issue: Funghi Wrangling.

Now where's that group hug emoticon?

Jamie


Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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