The 19 smells that let you know you’re in France

The 19 smells that let you know you're in France
The smell of Provence's lavender fields in summer is unforgettable. Photo: AFP
There are certain smells that you can't help but associate with France - whether it's Provence or Paris, so here are some of the most evocative odours.
Some pleasant and some slightly less pleasant, together they make up the distinctive fragrant bouquet of France.
 
1. Cheese wafting from the fromagerie
 
From the smell wafting from fromageries when you walk down the street to the cheese counter at the supermarket and the Camembert reminding you of its presence whenever you open the fridge door, it's hard to escape the smell of cheese when you're in France. 
 
In celebration of the stinkiest cheeses to come from France
Photo: Chris Buecheler/Flickr
 
2. Cigarette smoke
 
The smell of cigarettes is practically inescapable on the streets of France and that's especially true if you sit on the terrace of a French café or walk past almost any office block at any time of the day. 
 
3. Coffee
 
Greatly missed during the lockdown, French cafés play an essential role in daily life when you're in France and, unsurprisingly, they tend to smell very pungently of coffee (and cigarette smoke). 
 
4. Perfume 
 
France is known around the world for its perfumes and when you're here you won't go for very long without catching a whiff of a classic scent. 
 
Several readers of The Local mentioned the perfumes that mean France to them, with classic French perfumes including Cabotine by Gres and Chanel Egoiste getting special mentions.
 
And another reader said that Shocking by Schiaparelli will always remind her of “Galeries Lafayette in Paris in the 70s.” 
 
5. Lavender fields 
 
The smell of fresh lavender is a sure sign that you're lucky enough to be in Provence in the summer.
 
 
One Frenchman's linguistic crusade to remove the 'é' from 'Lubéron' once and for all
Lavender fields in the picturesque Luberon region. AFP
 
6. Herbs de Provence
 
In a country known for its culinary prowess, lavender isn't the only herb competing for your attention in France. Kitchens and restaurants are absolutely full of them and for many of you, the scent of wild thyme and Herbes de Provence were the smells you most associated with France. 
 
7. Manure on the fields
 
France is a country with a large agricultural industry and so when you're in the countryside it's likely you'll be exposed to a bit of a pong..but remember, it's all for a good cause. 
 
8. Roasting chestnuts 
 
When October comes, the distinctive smell of roasting chestnuts wafts through the streets in French cities, often supplemented by the smell of vin chaud (mulled wine) which is served all winter long and not just at Christmas.
 
9. Fresh oysters 
 
Wander French markets, especially those on the coast, and you'll come across the smell of fresh oysters as you pass them piled high at stalls…as long as you're there during a month with an 'r' in its name, that is.  
 
Photo: Dondi Joseph/Flickr
 
10. The Metro in Paris
 
Several readers said that the smell of the Paris Metro was a pleasurable reminder that they're in France, although Parisians might not agree with that given the Metro is not known for its pleasant aromas. It is however unique as is the smell of the warm air that comes through up through the grates and onto the street. 
 
 
11. Fish counters in supermarkets 
 
In a lot of French supermarkets, the only smell putting up any sort of a fight against the cheese aisle(s) is the fish counter. In fact many readers commented on the whiff of fish as soon as they enter the supermarket. 
 
12. Bread from boulangeries
 
The smell of a warm baguette is practically synonymous with life in France. And if you're lucky to be living here, you'll know this mouthwatering scent is also synonymous with breakfast, lunch and dinner.  
 
13. Sunflowers 
 
When you're driving through fields filled with thousands upon thousands of sunflowers their famously subtle smell is inescapable.  
 
Photo: DALLA SUSANNA/Flickr
 
14. Rotisseries 
 
One of the many delicious smells competing for your attention as you wander the streets in France is the mouthwatering smell of rotisserie-cooked meat. If you weren't hungry when you left the house, you will be after catching a whiff of this aroma. 
 
15. Rhum baba
 
This classic French dessert usually contains far more “rhum” than “baba” as you'll discover when you sit at a table with someone indulging in one (especially if you happen to be eating at a restaurant where they leave you the bottle).  
 
Rhum baba. Photo: Tangopaso/Flickr
 
16. Fruit in the summer 
 
The smell of the first strawberries of the season, punnets of pungent raspberries and piles of peaches at the market stalls, summer in France is always accompanied by the smell of high quality fresh fruit. 
 
“The tomatoes smell like [they did] when I was a kid in England in the 50s,” said one reader. 
 
 
17. Crepes  
 
There are just so many creperies in France that you're never more than a few steps away from one. Hence the smell of crepes and gallettes is everywhere.
 
(Jean-Luc Bailleul)
 
18. Bad body odour 
 
We thought this was a bit of an old cliché but ended up including it simply because so many readers mentioned it. One particular complaint was about shoppers having bad BO in supermarkets. Perhaps it's because deodorant is so expensive in French supermarkets. 
 
READ ALSO:
Eight sounds that tell you you're in Paris
Photo: AFP
 
19. Urine
 
And while we're on the subject of slightly less pleasant smells, we have to mention this one too. In Paris in particular the streets frequently smell of urine thanks to the French habit of pipi sauvage (open-air peeing). The smell went away a bit during the lockdown but is now coming back and with very few tourists around, unfortunately it seems that the Parisians really are to blame for this one, whatever they might say.