Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > France >
Jan 27, 2010 09:34 PM

Market etiquette

I will be traveling to Paris for the first time this spring. My husband and I love food and couldn't be more excited to experience Paris through it's foods. We will be traveling on as much of a budget as possible and plan to supplement meals out with trips to the market.
I Love farmer's markets and can't wait to explore the fresh markets and specialty shops. Are there any things I should know that might set my local farmer's markets (brooklyn, ny) apart from those of Paris? For example, should i handle and choose my own produce? Any tips on what the locals know that I don't would help me to prepare for French culture. I am trying to learn some basic french before I go and i'm also curious about metrics and what I should ask for when requesting the proper amounts of cheese or charcuterie.
Also, is this actually a somewhat affordable way to eat? Are there certain things I should keep in mind if trying to be budget friendly? I don't know numbers in french and I am trying to avoid spending an arm and a leg on a picnic!
Thankyou so much for any advice!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. You should check out Soup's observations on the Slow Food thread nearby and Ptipois' on eGullet; both will disabuse you of the transferability of farmers markets in the US with street markets here.

    A point of etiquette is that whereas 30 years ago it was off to the prison ferme if you touched/chose your own; now my local street guys wave a hand as if to say "do it yourself Meatloaf." But I never presume, I always look first until I get the OK signal. And in cheese shops (except Bon Marche and Galeries L) where stuff is cut and out and shrink-wrapped, you don't do the squeezy thing with say camemberts.

    John Talbott

    3 Replies
    1. re: John Talbott


      I remember, when I was a kid (30 years ago), we went to France, and out of habit, at a market, I decided to pick my own fruits and the guy at the stall started to yell at us and nearly got physical!

      Always watch what other people do; and in doubt, ask.

      1. re: Maximilien

        I agree. I always observe and follow suit. The market at Bastille is my favorite....very large and lively. Even if you bone up on your language you'll be out of your league so smile and count on sign language and charm. Some vendors are harried and impatient with tourists, others are very kind. I'm sure this is true of your market in NY.

        1. re: forgap

          "I always observe and follow suit. " This will take you a long way as there is variation even between vendors in the same market. It is helpful to tell the vendor when you want to eat the fruit (or cheese). If you tell him you want it for today, the seller will usually hunt through for the ripest pieces, or less ripe if you indicate that you will hold it for several days before using it.

          Remember that 500 grams is roughly a pound, so 250 and 100 are useful measures in a charcuterie or traiteur, e.g. for salads. And when ordering ham or pate, a slice is a "tranche", the width of which you can indicate as the space between your fingers. "One" is indicated by holding up your thumb, "two" your thumb and index finger and, more difficult, "three" your thumb, index and middle.
          With these several concepts, you can shop and eat with ease. Oh, and never, ever set anything down on the often exposed shelves jutting out from counters in a cheese shop. These are sacrosanct cutting boards and touching one can cost you an arm. ;)

    2. I agree that there is a lot of variety and that you need to watch others. Be sure to bring your own large shopping bag. Bring plenty of coins and small bills. In one good system, the stands have shallow tin pans; you pick out the turnips or whatever you want, put them in the pan and hand it to the seller for weighing.

      2 Replies
      1. re: beaulieu

        I think it is a great, delicious, and budget friendly way to eat. It is also easy and fun to visit a variety of markets and develop your own favorites. Most arrondissement will have a market one or two days a week. (someone on this board has a list, maybe John Talbott, or if not there Chocolate and Zuchinni website has one...) I particularly love building a meal around a rotisserie chicken and the potatoes that are cooked in the dripping fat down below. I roast organic chickens all the time here in the US and still have never had one come close to the chicken I've had there. Ditto the stock made from the chicken, which I would have never gotten around to if we weren't snowed in in Burgundy for four nights (!). But the stock blew me away - SO flavorful, and all I added was one carrot and one onion, and didn't even cook it that long. Be prepared to be blown away by the superior quality of most everything. Another favorite... unlike in the US, many vegetable stands will have already-roasted beets, usually near the raw beets, and quite blackened, but not to be confused with the hairy black radish variety I'd never seen in the US. Another point made on this board to keep in mind, in most cases these are not the farmers you are buying from, but rather expert and nonetheless proud vendors. I second the notion that at the same market the handling practices will vary. Watch, and remember the basic, and yet oh so important "bonjour" "si vous plait" and "merci" and you'll do fine. Having something close to exact change also helps. It is fascinating, in the larger marches (richard lenoir in the 11th for example), where there are multiple vendors with the same items, to see where the big lines form. Have fun - I know you will.

        1. re: Gman

          I take no ownership or discoveryship here: it's

          And Mangeur's point is a good one; things are rapidly changing and plastic bags are going out (on the Ile d'Yeu where they're an eyesore they've been banned for a while); I carry three, one a nifty Chicobag.