Meeting the French

The cheese pavilion at Rungis Market, ParisParis has a reputation — one I’m fond of disputing — for coldness and rudeness towards visitors. In response to this city officials launched a program last year aimed at turning around their bad rap.

The Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau has teamed up with Meeting the French to offer a zero-intimidation-factor opportunity to meet the French as they go about to their business. Everyday work to these Frenchmen and women captivates many of us Francophiles.

For just a few euros — less than a visit to the Louvre — you can observe Parisians at work in a boulangerie-pâtisserie (bakery and pastry shop), lapidary, bookbinder or many other traditional professions. “Behind-the-scenes” visits to art galleries, theaters, racecourses and auction houses are also available.

I love this idea. Especially for a repeat visitor to Paris, this experience offers a glimpse of a Paris most tourists never see. I could traipse around museums and shops all day long but that’s only scratching the surface of the city. Paris is more than a collection of monuments and good smells — people with their own histories, quirks and jobs make their lives here. And while I’m sure Paris has its share of humdrum jobs, there must be an awful lot of people making the beautiful foods, arts and goods Paris is known for.

With only a week I won’t have time to experience everything I’m interested in but I’ll certainly sign up to visit Boulangerie Pâtisserie Au Grand Richelieu. Here Claude Esnault, his family and helpers produce baguettes, croissants, pains au chocolat, gateaux and pastries every day for the 1st and 9th arrondissement — continuing a tradition for this shop that has operated since Napoleon’s time. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to try my hand at slashing the baguette dough and rolling a croissant.

How fun — not only will I meet the French, but for 45 minutes I can pretend I am French, imagining my name is Amelie or some such delight, and that I was born not to a carpenter in Ohio but to a boulanger in Normandy (note to my parents: not that I would change that or anything! ; ).

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If you’re interested in meeting the French at work visit Meeting the French to book online.

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