There are little bits and pieces that are essential parts of everyday French life that are sometimes little mysteries to the newly landed ex-patriot in France. Ordering a baguette, for example, is not an unheard of occasion in the U.S. but it took me a while to feel like I understood the etiquette (and vocabulary!) of ordering one in France. Here are a couple things I’ve learned:
“Bonjour / Bon Soir.“
Always, in any shop, start with a hello. If it’s after 5 PM, try out “good evening” but you’re never wrong with the good old “Bonjour” (good day).
“Une baguette, s’il vous plaît.“
Here you go! No need for a very long and formal explanation of what you want. Bakeries are often fast paced places where economy of words is better. This will get you a standard baguette but I’m going to honest and say that these are often not better than your pasty American supermarket variety of a baguette. It’s shocking, I know, but it’s very easy to find a very bad baguette over here. Sometimes the ‘regular’ is just fine, but if you want to be really sure to get something that could be great, ask for:
” Une tradition, s’il vous plaît.“
This is a “baguette tradition” which must adhere to certain standards of ingredients and production to carry the name (such as being made of flour, water, yeast, and salt with no additives, not the case for a standard baguette). Generally, ordering a “tradition” will get you a crispier crust, a moister, more flavorful dough, and a varied texture of small and large air pockets. Tradition, c’est bien.
– Mix it up! –
“Une baguette bien cuite / pas trop cuite.“
After the basic ordering of a baguette, there are two little additions that I have picked up from my eavesdropping on other people’s ordering at bakery: you can add that you would like a baguette that is “well cooked” (bien cuite) to get a darker, crispier crusted bread or “not too cooked” (pas trop cuite) for a softer, lighter crust with less crunch. The second I heard this I started tacking an enthusiastic “bien cuite!” to all my baguette ordering to guarantee that crisper, chewy crust that makes the baguette so good!
“Une demi baguette, s’il vous plaît.“
And this might be the best thing to know. Baguettes don’t have much if any preservatives in them so they are only really good for the day you bought them and perhaps the day after. (Be cautious! The Frenchman has a scar on his chin from eating too hard bread when he was younger. Not that that stops him from continuing to do the same). So it’s great to know that you do have the option of buying a half of a baguette. It may never be advertised on the price list, but no one will bat an eye if you order up a half!
So there is my little “Ordering a Baguette” Primer for you. Go forth and order great bread!