For a long time, I never went to French food markets at the weekend. Because, well, I was a bit intimidated by the hustle and bustle of it all.
I worried about getting an ankle injury as people barged past with their shopping trollies, intent on snapping up a slice of brie or a rotisserie chicken, paying scant regard to who or what was in their path. And I also worried about placing my order: where does the queue start, what the hell is that weird shaped vegetable, and how do you pronounce fenouil anyway?
But then I went with an actual French person, and was converted. Because just as much as an attraction as the food on display are the interactions going on around you.
Take the exasperated stall-holder and the old French woman who wouldn’t get her hands off his plums, for example. “I want some plums,” she says, squeezing five or six of them in turn and smiling widely. “Please don’t touch them,” he replies, a muscle working in his jaw. “I’ll take three,” she says merrily, squeezing them again for good measure. “Madame,” he barks, “Please don’t touch my plums, it’s difficult to sell them afterwards.” And on and on it went.
Watching agog from the next stall along, I was so fascinated by the exchange that the fact I was now apparently obliged to pay €12 for a sliver of cheese barely registered. Well, I could hardly say I’d changed my mind. And besides, one has to treat oneself sometimes. The trouble is, you get so seduced by the juicy strawberries, ripe cheeses and freshly baked bread on offer that before you know it, you’ve spent a week’s wages on half a week’s worth of food. Oh well, as they say here in France. C’est la vie.