French Lessons: La Boulangerie

How to survive in France

Another day passes under the, for present at any rate, blue skies of Paris. One thing that you will find common in every corner of this great country is the marvelous bakery, or La Boulangerie as it known in French. They are not just abundant, but apparent down every street; filled not just with various types of bread, but also cakes, tarts and mouth watering sweet treats. So if you have a dislike for the typical, and almost daily food source of the nation then I suggest skipping passed this section; however, I am going to teach the survival phrases and etiquette for negotiating such a minefield and trust me now, these three constructions are so useful!

Whether beginning to learn the language, or in need of some travel phrases, or simply needing to refresh yourself in the pastry then this will be key! There are several key phrases I constantly use now that I am here and they do not just help me survive, but interact and be understood… the most important part! Especially when it comes to something as simple as ordering from the bakery.

The Bare Basic Survival Sentences

Look at that completely unnecessary alliteration.

First things first- always say hello when you walk into ANY shop (maybe not a supermarket), but this is something so basic and will instantly give you the mental thumbs up! To ignore this simple protocol is just plain rude- let’s make days, not break them. If you’re lucky the assistant will have a basic understanding of English, yet ‘Bonjour‘ seems very easy to manage at the least.

So, let’s begin!

  • Bonjour (bon-joor) — Hello!
  • Puis-je avoir(Pweej-avwar) — Can I have… ; this is really the bread and butter phrase for me in any situation.
  • Je prendrai(s)…. (Juh Prahn-dray, a soft ‘n’) — I will or would take; this is another phrase that you can use anywhere.
  • s’il vous plaît (seal voo play)– Even if at times the French may not use it when I do, it does not hurt to be over polite right? USE IT
  • cela (sir-la, sir as in Mr) — this one, that one

Therefore, in theory, we have everything that you would need to survive. As you go into the bakery everything is labelled, or if you are not sure on how to say it then replace with the marvelous word cela. This is how I’ve communicated every time I have taken a holiday here and it’s been super effective!

Read the examples below and practice saying them out-loud! Practice makes perfect:

  1. Puis-j’avoir un pain au chocolat, s’il vous plaît.
  2. Je prendrais deux tartes aux pommes
  3. Bonjour madame, puis-je avoir cela? Trois s’il vous plaît.

Now for the bit you have been waiting for…..

What To Find In La Boulangerie

So… I have based this on what I have found this morning in local one on my street. This is by no means a comprehensive list, rather just a realistic expectation of that which you shall find!

Remember though, practice building those sentences. You will come to understand that these structures form the basic lifeblood of any international.


Pronunciation: bah-get

Truth time. I have a denture plate on my front three top teeth; this basically means that it can be very difficult to stick your teeth into something that is firm and well made, like a true French baguette. They can be very firm at times and it is my uttermost belief that if the case should arise, they would make a very good weapon – I just think of that old french lady in the supermarket now. See the post: First Impressions: Rude? For more details.

As a personal recommendation I would ask for ´une baguette traditionnelle’, as these use the bare minimum ingredients with no ungodly additives to make them last longer. They are therefore closer to the original style and taste of what bread should be; perfect for ripping and sharing, or devouring whole while watching Tv here- with a tear in the eye as you pretend you understand.

Whether it be for some similar reason to my own for why you would require a softer bread, or simply because you prefer the texture, there is a way to ask for a softer bread. ‘Pas trop cuite’ (pah troh kweet), means one that is not as cooked and firm; while ‘bien cuite’ (bee-an kweet) is where they are cooked for longer and therefore firmer! Give it a go and see which you prefer.

  • Puis-je avoir une baguette tradionelle pas trop cuite, s’il vous plaît
  • or simply, une baguette s’il vous plaît!

Pain au Chocolat

Pronunciation: pahn oh shok-oh-la

So this is something which I believe most would have tried, or at least heard of if they have come to France- nay, know anything about the pastry culture at all! A fluffy and butter pastry filled with a line or two of rich chocolate; guaranteed to make your morning if your partner is going to randomly show up with one.

To state this now, as it something that I have found all too bemusing since my arrival, there is a topical debate occurring in several household as to whether they should be called a Pain au Chocolat or a Chocolatine. I believe that many from the south use the latter and the north the former; however, although the name may change the product still remains the same, something that is completely desirable and a must try for any visit.

  • Je prendrais deux pain au chocolat, s’il vous plaît.
  • Une chocolatine, s’il vous plaît.

Croissant (Aux Amandes)

Pronunciation: kwah-sahn oh-zah-mond (in French, the ‘X’ is pronounced as a light ‘z’ on the beginning of the next word, if it begins with a vowel)

I have paired the croissant and the croissant aux amandes together, as they form the same product with the later being easy to distinguish by a gorgeous layer of almond paste running through the middle, before being topped with sliced almonds and a dusting of sugar. They certainly count towards your carbs for the day, so I say go easy on the frequency that you devour through them; but when on holiday hey?

Croissant just refers to the shape (like a crescent moon). They are buttery, light, flaky pieces of heaven which are not usually eaten with anything else- I know in England we have a tendency to stuff them with cheese and tomatoes or ham. Here they are pure and fresh, made to a much higher quality; as often the French do. If you are really looking for a treat then I suggest going for a ‘croissant au beurre’, just meaning that they are made with more butter and I am sure that you can imagine the results: they will melt into your mouth all the better!

  • Je prendrais un croissant, s’il vous plaît.
  • Puis-je avoir deux croissants aux amandes.


This is a food-gasm waiting to be had

In the supermarket of most of the countries that I have travelled to there have been some variations of these wonderful treats. By that point, however, they are usually a little soggy, the fruit is not fresh and just tastes of pure sugar. Nothing compares to the original, nothing. Delicate and crumbly pastry, filled usually with a rich cream and topped with fruit, yum. Each bakery will have their own twist or slight alternative of these products; which is such a shame if you must go around the city and try as many as possible…

Here are some of the most common that I have found:

Tarte aux Framboises – a raspberry tart, one is honestly enough….. but it is impossible to do.

Tarte aux Fraises – a strawberry tart- often with a lot of cream; my favourite!

Tarte au Citron – a lemon tart, for those days where you need an extra refreshing start.

Tarte au chocolat a classic favourite of my friends, the deep, rich chocolate really sets the endorphins afire.

Tarte aux Poires– a pear tart, for a fresh twist on the classic flavour.

  • puis-je avoir une tarte framboise et une tarte chocolat, s’il vous plaît.
  • je prends une tarte tarte citron.


Another gasm.

Now then, this is the part to which the thought of always makes my knees go weak and my mouth start salivating too much; CAKE. There are too many from which to chose in the standard Boulangerie here, yet somehow that still appears to be never enough. We all know ‘éclair’, the light and puffy choux pastry which is held up with copious amounts of cream and sealed with a thick layer of chocolate? But what if I told you that there are so many variations, dependent on where you are; for example, here a ‘Paris-Brest’ is one which is filled with a praline cream and then dusted with almonds and sugar!

There is also ‘Opéra’, which is coffee-soaked almond sponge emcompassing layers of coffee buttercream and ganache, made perfect with a thick chocolate glaze. Oh god how I am suffering in this environment of good food. That waistline is going to disappear quicker than the chocolates at Valentine’s Day.

There are far too many to go through one by one, however, the ones that I have mentioned above are the most common that I have I seen thus far! Go ahead and practice that French in the bakery, see them smile as you make the effort, then reward yourself with a plethora of amazing foods.

  • un opéra, s’il vous plaît!
  • puis-je avoir un paris-brest!

So there we have a small guide to the nuances of La boulangerie, I hope that the phrases will stick in your mind for their utility is without a doubt of the order! Plus, there is nothing better than sinking your teeth, whether real or not, into a buttery, flaky pastry as you are oozing with satisfaction and accomplishment!

While you are enjoying a beautiful pastry, why not try one of the these activities: Top five things I like to do in Paris and discover something new8

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