Talk­ing shop

Why the boulan­gerie, tabac and cor­don­nerie all have an im­por­tant part to play in daily life in France

Living France - - Contents -

There’s some­thing very sat­is­fy­ing about en­ter­ing an in­de­pen­dent shop and mak­ing a pur­chase which you know will help the owner (who is of­ten the per­son be­hind the till) and their busi­ness di­rectly. It’s a form of re­sis­tance against the big chains and cor­po­ra­tions, and you know you are do­ing your bit for the lo­cal econ­omy. It may be self-con­grat­u­la­tory on my be­half but it’s one of the small plea­sures I en­joy in life. And there’s no bet­ter place to en­joy that than in France where the high streets are still lined with de­light­ful in­de­pen­dent shops.

These shops have al­ways been around, it seems, and, in the age of in­ter­net shop­ping, next-day de­liv­ery and even peer-to-peer ser­vices, it can seem out­dated to still have lit­tle out­lets such as a mai­son de la presse (newsagent) or a cor­don­nerie (cob­bler’s). While the French are some­times crit­i­cised for not mov­ing with the times fast enough, I find their at­tach­ment to tra­di­tion sur­pris­ingly re­fresh­ing and wel­come these days. Know­ing that your lo­cal boulanger woke with the ris­ing sun to bake baguettes and shape crois­sants makes the bread taste even bet­ter.

Of course, France is not ex­empt from the ap­pear­ance of chain stores, but a small group of in­domitable com­merces still hold out against the in­vaders – and are so in­grained in French life that they are likely to stick around (at least, I hope they do). The French call these in­de­pen­dent stores ‘ pe­tits com­merces’ as op­posed to ‘ grandes sur­faces’ (su­per­mar­kets). They in­clude lo­cal butch­ers, cheese mon­gers, tiny épiceries (gro­cery shops) and, of course, the sub­jects of this piece; beloved boulan­geries, bu­reaux de tabac, and crafts­peo­ple’s shops such as cor­don­ner­ies.

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