buying creme fraiche and french market etiquette

by Sharon Santoni

autmn ivy over grey shuttersAllow me to set the scene.  It is a Saturday morning, early November, a mild breeze carrying the scent of autumn in the air and  I am at the farmer’s market.  It is busy, of course, the market is always busy.  In our town and in towns all over France they are the place to be.

The market is not only about buying the best seasonal food, it is about being enticed, seduced, stimulated, it is a sensory experience that never, ever , even after all these years, but never leaves me indifferent.

french-markets -my-french-country-home

When I first settled in France with the man of my life, a great cook and market buyer himself, he taught me that you don’t go to the market with a list.  “How can you decide what you are going to buy, until you have seen what there is?!” … of course …. it is obvious.

You go to the market to seek inspiration, with no firm idea about what you are wanting to eat or to cook.  You trust the vendors to have brought along the best of their production, you get to know your preferred stands at the market and become faithful to a fishmonger, a seafood supplier,  the vegetable producer,  the local orchard selling their apples and pears or even the fresh cream producer ……

plums for sale at the market

which brings me back to the beginning of my story ….

So one autumn morning, I was standing in line at Monsieur Berthillot’s stand to buy some creme fraîche.  He sells, fresh cream, fresh eggs, home grown chicken, guinea fowl and rabbit.  I waited patiently because frankly there is nothing to be impatient about…. you want the goods so you simply wait to be served and observe what the other clients are buying, and maybe chat to the person beside you about the weather, but more likely about the compared merits of creme fraîche from the market compared to the supermarket.

eggs in wooden box

At the front of the short line was a tall distinguished looking lady.  She appeared to be about the same age as my mother, silver hair pulled up into a chignon, a cute little hat perched at an angle, and a feather on the top!  She had caught my attention straight away.  I loved her heather-toned coat, her chic basket on wheels, and her soft lipstick … a beautiful woman.

basket on wheels

So I was musing to myself about the chicness of French women , and then she spoke!   A confident, bold voice struck out a “Bonjoooor” that made heads turn.  She was not French …  I quickly made a second appraisal of her outfit, if she wasn’t french then she had been living here for a long time.  Even her shoes did not give her away.  By now she was talking again ….

She smiled to the market vendor:  “Bonjoooor Monsieeu ……….. je voodray un po de votre krem fresh … mon mareee adaure votre krem, say delisieu”   (which would have been, hello, I would like a pot of your fresh cream, my husband adores your cream, it’s so delicious).

fresh cream served by the ladle

All around her smiles broke out.  Knowing looks were exchanged, but not in a mocking or unpleasant manner, there was affection for this lady.

She continued asking the vendor for the other bits she needed to buy, paid and popped them all into her basket.  By now I was sure I had ‘decoded’ her, I was sure she was British, had probably lived in France for years, but originally came from a very well to do, possible aristocratic family.

My curiosity got the better of me.  As she left the stall with her basket of goodies she had to walk past me ….. I leaned over towards her with a smile “How funny that Monsieur Berthillot should have two English clients at the same time”

She stopped, looking at me with warm bright blue eyes “Well I never!  How did you know I was English?!”

I mumbled something about a friend had told me, because it would have sounded rude to say “well, your accent sort of gives it away”, and the dear lady stopped and chatted with me until it was my turn to be served.    As I bid her good bye, she opened her handbag and pulled out a discreet little visiting card.  “Please call me, and maybe you could come for tea …. next week if you wish …. I have nothing special happening next week”

And so it was that Rosemary (for that is what I shall call her here) and I became friends.  Today we still meet up in the market, and we still visit each other for the occasional tea … and yes, my instinctive decoding  was correct: British, in France for ever and definitely aristocratic although she’d laugh out loud if she heard me say so.


MadelineMargraves October 28, 2014 - 4:33 pm

It would be so much fun wheeling that cute market basket around. I will have to look for one on my next visit to France in May. Or do you think Madam bought her’s in England?

Colleen Taylor October 28, 2014 - 4:35 pm

Such a sweet story Sharon. Sometimes friends are just that easy to make if they are willing to give of themselves. Your markets always look & sound so enticing, a virtual feast for the eyes. X

Kerrie in France October 28, 2014 - 4:37 pm

I love the variety of expats I have met since moving to France from Australia. So many interesting people from different backgrounds, but all with the same love of this country and the people. It takes imagination and a sense of adventure to choose to leave your home country and experience another, so perhaps we all have that in common. Meeting someone new at the marché is so typical though, isn’t it?

elizabeth October 28, 2014 - 4:42 pm

I’m always enchanted by markets meetings , the french art de vivre . I do love taking my time, to choose my ingredients in the market, I do love taking my time to talk to the sellers and the customers, I do love taking my time to get reading my beautiful food from the marché and I do love taking my time to eat it. Thanks Sharon

Rosemary Foreman October 28, 2014 - 4:50 pm

Oh, je m’appelle Rosemary et j’adore le caddy là et l’histoire!! Merci bien….tous le temps, vous êtes si si charmant! J’èspere à visiter encore…Peût-être Mai, Juin, Juillet!!!!
Yes, I need to visit…until then, lessons and practice!!! And loving all your vignettes of life in France!
Rosemary, near Sacramento, California

La Contessa October 28, 2014 - 5:16 pm

Love the stories that come from taking a chance!!!

stacey snacks October 28, 2014 - 5:34 pm

They say never judge a book by its cover…..however, I can always figure out if someone is from NYC or Paris or Germany…………(one of my hidden talents).
Maybe not the UK, but I am very good at this game!

I go to the market w/ a list, however, I never stick to it, because like you say, if something looks better then I change my menu. Go to be inspired!

I loved the markets in Provence probably best, especially in summer, when everything is so beautfiul and sunny fresh.


Madonna/aka/Ms. Lemon October 28, 2014 - 5:38 pm

Sharon, I love your market story. FYI for anyone not as lucky as you to be able to find crème fraîche, you can make your own. I was intimidated to make my own until I did. It is ridiculously delicious.

Crème Fraîche

1 cup cream
1 tablespoon buttermilk

Combine in a sterilized jar. Stir and cover with a clean cloth or a clean coffee filter and let sit on counter or somewhere that is approximately 70°F for 12 – 24 hours. Then cover with a lid and refrigerate for another 24 hours.

Note: do not use ultra pasteurized.

suzanna October 28, 2014 - 6:08 pm

simply wonderful, creme fraiche, just love coming here, missed some things, challenges with my computer lately on my fav sites to comment. ;-(… the rattan basket on wheels, I could use one of these no doubt~ merci ~ xo

Gina October 28, 2014 - 6:23 pm

I love this nice simple story

Caroline Longstaffe October 28, 2014 - 6:41 pm

Oh, I so relate! However hard I try when I am in France, people always know that I am English but like you say there are nearly always so friendly about it. I think that they are just happy that you are at least trying to speak French. I always find, that despite what is said about ‘the French’ the Americans’ the ‘British’ etc etc there are lovely people everywhere and you simply can’t generalize, a lot of it has to do with how you treat others, a warm, sincere smile goes a long way no matter where you are!

Caterina B October 28, 2014 - 7:01 pm

What a delightful story! One can never tell who will become a good friend. Or…maybe one can say to oneself, “I want to be friends with that woman.” I did that a few years back when I met a “likely” woman in a consignment store. I just knew immediately that she would be a nice friend to have. And so it is. We are good friends now because I made a strong effort to befriend her. I love that the world is out there, waiting.

Karena October 28, 2014 - 8:36 pm

Sharon I love this account of your time at the market and the making of a new friend! How wonderful! These things can happen when people aren’t in such a hurry as they often are here in the US!

The Arts by Karena

Pamela RG October 28, 2014 - 9:28 pm

Such a sweet story. I hope you will post her photo here on your Blog and write more about her story. We would like to meet Rosemary too.

Peggy Braswell October 28, 2014 - 10:21 pm

oh how I loved that story + aren’t people wonderful + never know who you are going to meet.

Lorrie October 29, 2014 - 1:02 am

Love that slice of life in France story. You took a chance and met a friend!

Emm October 29, 2014 - 4:59 am

What a lovely story, thank you. Some of my best encounters with people ever have been from such a serendipitous chance.

Like other commenters, I’d like to know more about “Rosemary” and your meetings with her, perhaps even a picture of her (incognito, from the back?).

Heather in Arles October 29, 2014 - 9:57 am

Such a wonderful story, Sharon. The market at Arles is a logistical nightmare (the biggest in Provence) so I never have had much of exchanges or interactions with fellow shoppers. It is truly delightful that you were able to make a friend…and I love that Rosemary was respected despite her accent…not mocked. 🙂

Catherine October 29, 2014 - 2:01 pm

My strawberry vendor took to calling me Miss America because of my accent. There are worse things…..he finally learned my name and greets me every Saturday. I think sometimes people treat me even better because of my accent–it shows that I had the sense to CHOOSE to move here and to learn the language. I never have to introduce myself on the phone, because my friends instantly recognize me. That said, I would never count on it at the auto mechanic’s.

Nancy October 29, 2014 - 2:30 pm

Sweet! Love your story and pictures!

Rié | Portobello Design October 29, 2014 - 4:58 pm

Wonderful! You have me wanting more, tell us about the tea. 🙂 All the best, Rié

Katherine Hurley October 29, 2014 - 7:30 pm

What a wonderful story! Sharon, you have such a gift for choosing just the right details to create an image, a mood, an experience. Thank you for this blog today and always!


Marlene Stephenson October 29, 2014 - 9:54 pm

Wonderful tale, thank you for sharing it.

The Enchanted Home October 30, 2014 - 12:05 pm

I LOVE this story Sharon and the way you set the scene has me wanting to go find my own little basket and book the next flight to France! Oh you lucky lady….how I wish I could go to a market like that and hear the melodic language of French being rattled off by people from all over the globe..and what a charming spot to meet a new friend!

Great story:)

Antonio Arch October 31, 2014 - 4:21 am

LOL – your phonetic spelling sounds like you’re mimicking ME at the market. Can’t wait to hear what happens when you meet this lady for tea!

Missy Klicka September 5, 2019 - 3:14 pm

I love that she had her card ready to invite you to tea.


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