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FOOD & DRINK

Baguettiquette: Weird things the French do with bread

The French do a lot of things that foreigners just don’t get, and some of their strangest habits have to do with their beloved baguette. We’ve compiled a list of the bizarre "baguettiquette", some of which we admit have won us over.

Baguettiquette: Weird things the French do with bread
Don't stand between a French woman and her baguette. Photo phb.cz/Depositphotos

The baguette is an unofficial symbol of France. (Although it should be an official one, no?) Think of your stereotypical and clichéd beret-wearing French person in a striped shirt, and you’ll certainly picture them holding a baguette. 

You can’t walk down the street in France without spotting a boulangerie and at least one French person with a fresh baguette stuck under their arm. 

The baguette is so important to the French way of life that there are competitions dedicated to finding the perfect baguette and even a “Bread Observatory” that keeps track of French bread consumption and encourages people to stop by the bakery every day. 

Most foreigners love the idea of eating delicious fresh baguettes every day, even twice a day, but there are things the French do with them that we really don’t get. 

Here’s a roundup of the weird things you’ll see a French person do with a baguette.

Dip it in their tea or coffee

Photo: Chloé Farand

If you ever eat breakfast in a French person’s home, you’re sure to have seen them slathering a hunk of baguette with butter and jam and then dipping that whole mess directly into their tea or coffee. This usually prompts a look of dismay from non-Frenchies at the clumps of sugary fruit and crumbs left behind in their coffee.

Never put it on a plate

At your first French dinner party you were probably bewildered by the fact that French people never set the bread on their plate, but rather right next to it on the table. If you put a piece of baguette on your plate you will be committing a serious breach of baguettiquette and a major dough pas.

Clean their plates with it

Many French households will do without a dishwasher or even washing up liquid because they use baguettes to clean the plates. At the end of the meal they will rip off bits of bread to mop up any remainder of their meal, to the point where there’s no trace of it left.  (Note: avoid this in formal settings unless you want to look like an uneducated savage.)

Carry it under their armpit

Given the baguette’s rather unwieldy shape, it can be tricky to transport. But is the best way really to carry it under a sweaty armpit? Especially after a day in the office? We respectfully suggest this more hygienic alternative: the baguette bag. 

Photo: CYAN

Put lumps of chocolate in it

For most foreigners chocolate and bread just don’t go together unless Nutella is involved, but the French take it to a new level.

You can spot people, not just kids but fully-grown highly educated adults, sticking squares of Lindt or Milka chocolate into their baguette, creating a makeshift baguette au chocolate.

Nibble the end of it on the street

Photo: Todd Mecklem/Flickr

The French are typically scandalized by the idea of eating while walking, but for their beloved baguette, they make an exception. It’s apparently impossible for them to resist gnawing on the end of that warm, fresh baguette on the way home. 

Eat it with absolutely everything

Would you like some bread with your bread? In France, the answer is always oui. Even if you order a bread-based dish like a croque monsieur, you’ll get a little basket of sliced baguette to accompany it. Having said that of course, we’d rather this situation, than France ditching one of its most admirable dining traditions.

Sell them in vending machines

Photo: davitydave/Flickr

For those emergency situations when you’ve lost your mind completely and forgotten to stop by the bakery before it closes. The baguettes are slightly undercooked before being put in the machine, then the machine finishes them off and pops them out them crisp and warm. Genius or sacrilege?

Eat it with cheese

Isn’t it common knowledge that cheese is meant to be eaten with crackers? Well okay, maybe the French can have this one. There really is nothing better than some creamy camembert paired with a perfect crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside baguette. Best keep your crackers to yourself if you don’t want to commit another almighty dough pas.

Make the world’s longest one

Photo: Nutella

Leave it to the French to break the Guinness World Record for longest baguette, at a whopping 120 meters. Actually, they had some help from the Italians too. And of course the massive baguette was promptly smothered in Nutella. 

So have we missed something? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen a French person do with their baguette? Use it as a back scrubber? 

By Katie Warren

Member comments

  1. The Italians also clean their plates with bread, this being known as ‘fare la scarpa’ literally ‘making the shoe’. By observation the French don’t bite directly into the loaf on the street rather they twist the top right corner off and either eat it themselves or offer it to their companion.

    And, of course, the next size loaf up from ‘baguette’ in width (but generally shorter) is le baton also known as le batard (neither of these terms requiring translation). But while the half-baguette is known as ‘un demi’ the half size baton is ‘un pauvre batard’ (a poor bastard).

    1. Ah, yes – in French that is <> . And it’s true, biting the croûton (or quignon, depending on where you are) off the baguette is poor form. It should be torn off and devoured immediately after leaving the boulangerie… mmmmm. Then there’s the sandwich-sized baguette, une ficelle (also une flûte).

      1. Oops, I guess using French quotation marks doesn’t work. So, in French that is called “saucer l’asiette.”

  2. The thing that still surprises me a lot is the fact that the French, generally speaking (not wanting to stereotype), expect to eat bread with every meal, even those where rice or pasta are the main source of carb. I first saw this in a Chinese (not Viet) supermarket in Bordeaux around 25 years ago: rice and noodles were being served, but the French told the waiter he had forgotten the bread. I once made an 11-course Chinese banquet for friends, including fried rice, noodles in soup, etc, and, again, bread was requested. It happens around the table with friends, even now. In my childhood in northern England the equivalent was the expectation that café meals came with tea, bread and butter (not quite pain au levain, being the white sliced variety; what my school French teacher called ‘decogitated cotton wool’. Tout a fait.

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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