When I visit my local bakery in Lyon 7 I end up leaving with more than freshly-baked bread. The shop might not be as shiny and new as some of the others but the bread is hot, the croissants practically melt on my tongue and the lunette cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar are something special.
A friendly face
Best of all, the baker—full of life and constantly smiling—always has time to chat. Needless to say the conversation is never dull.
The first time I ventured inside, just days after arriving in Lyon, it was obvious from my accent and otherwise tentative behavior that I was a foreigner.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“The United States. New Jersey.” I replied.
“Then I’ll call you New Jersey.”
Whether he asked my real name or not didn’t matter. His resolve was firm; it was obvious that this was not up for discussion.
“I asked about the culinary specialties of Lyon”
But it didn’t bother me at all. On the contrary it was kind of sweet to be given a nickname. Plus, I was too busy trying to decide between a pain aux raisins and a chausson aux pommes to care.
Since that was settled, forever curious about food, I asked about the culinary specialties of Lyon. He dusted off his floury hands on his apron, pulled out a piece of scrap paper and a pen and proceeded to draw a diagram of the famous praline.
He pointed to his sketch, explaining it using the few English words he knew.
“Sugar. Red. Amande?”
“Almond” I translated.
Then he cut off a hunk of brioche aux pralines roses, handed it to me, commanded me to “eat” and sent me on my way. After that I knew I was going to love living here.
Lesson and advice
Turns out the praline lesson was the first of many random tidbits he would teach me. I’m surprised at how much I have learned just from the two minutes we chat each time I stop by.
Sometimes he teaches me French slang. You know, useful stuff like le fric (money) and le flic (police).
One time he went on about how technology and smart phones were ruining the younger generations and reminisced about the old days in France. But mostly he concerns himself with my progression in French. Every time it’s the same.
“And your French? You’re making progress?”
“I think so, I hope so” was my latest reply.
“You want to get better don’t you?”
“À bientôt New Jersey!”
“Then you need to find a boyfriend.” He stated this matter-of-factly, as if it was the only way to learn a new language. Then, gesturing to the passerby on the sidewalk, he said “Look there are plenty of them!”
Shocked as I was, it was just the sort of comment a well-intentioned yet eccentric person like him would make. So I laughed and told him about my friends have who have been patiently correcting my grammar over many a chai latte.
He raised his eyebrows. Clearly this is did not impress him. He merely handed me my pain au chocolat, tossed some powdery bugnes in the bagalong with it, and gestured to the door.
“À bientôt New Jersey!”
I stepped out, amused and shaking my head and wondering what he will possibly bring up next time.
Deciding it wasn’t worth trying to guess I sat down on a sunny bench and took a bite of my pastry, savoring each delicate flake. Because if there’s one thing I canpredict it’s that this pain au chocolatis going to make a fabulous afternoon snack.