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November, 2013

Lady Marmalade vs. Fantine: The French Prostitution Debates

Among the many representations of prostitution related to French culture, the best known to Americans are without a doubt the following:

1. Fantine, the victim-prostitute from Les Misérables

and

2. Lady Marmalade, the  proudly fierce prostitute of the hit song.

Thanks to the lyrics of the latter, people who can’t otherwise string two words together in French can solicit sex like a pro. (Did you know that the chorus “Voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?” comes from Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire? So says Wikipedia.)

So, why the post about prostitution? Because today, while Americans were shopping for their Black Friday deals, the French Assemblée nationale was duking it out over Maud Olivier ‘s (a distant relation of mine? no idea) proposed law to fight prostitution by going after the clients. The proposal would impose a 1,500 euro fine or a “stage de sensibilisation” (3,000 euros on strike two) on paying for sex. The law also offers help to prostitutes (in the form of at least 6 months stay in France and an underwhelming 336 euros a month) to get them out of the business. According to Le Monde80%-90% of prostitutes in France are foreigners (mostly from Bulgaria, Romania, Nigeria, Cameroon, China, and South America), so giving them a 6 month renewable stay in France would ease fears of swift deportation. The law is based on a Swedish law from 1999 that is said to have dramatically cut street prostitution—although with most of the sex trade working online, this isn’t as big a victory as one might hope.

You can watch the  Assemblée nationale debate the law in a largely empty session (looks like about 3/4 of the members were doing some Black Friday shopping of their own, or just avoiding taking a side) or watch the following 10-minute intro by Maud Olivier, who, naturally includes a quote by Victor Hugo (you didn’t think it was going to be “Lady Marmalade” did you?) before launching into some sobering statistics

The average age of a person entering prostitution is 14 yrs. Life expectancy of a prostitute is 42 yrs. Organized crime controls most of it. Doesn’t exactly fit the “Lady Marmalade” viewpoint. But that doesn’t stop people from trying to argue in favor of prostitution.

Among the press coverage, Le Monde included decided to represent the 15% of prostitutes who are male by profiling three gigolos in its article “Juste an escort boy.” One of the men, named Bug Powder, talks about how he doesn’t feel exploited, and another chimes in that they are not selling their bodies, just renting them (On vend une prestation, après, notre corps nous appartient toujours.). Deep thoughts, dude.

The paper Libération outdoes Le Monde by interviewing the real victims of this proposed law: the clients. Poor 27-yr-old Matthieu, for example, tells us “”Moi, je ne veux pas “baiser” avec une prostituée (ou alors, très rarement) : je veux faire l’amour avec elle !” (“I don’t want to f*** a prostitute (or at least, rarely): I want to make love to her!”). Sounds like a real sweetheart. It’s a wonder he can’t find a real girlfriend. Plus, he adds, who are we to tell them what to do? “Forcerait-on une fumeuse à arrêter la cigarette?” (“Would we force a smoker to stop smoking?”).

And what about the disillusioned 27-yr-old Eric, who paid for a prostitute in Barcelona, but felt “blocked”? “Moi j’étais un peu bloqué, j’avais l’impression qu’elles n’en voulaient qu’à mon argent et que je ne les intéressais pas.” (“I was a little blocked, I had the impression that they only wanted me for my money and that they weren’t really interested in me.”). Imagine that. Just keep trying, Eric. I’m sure there’s a Pretty Woman story just waiting to happen.

And then there’s the wisdom of 55-yr-old Alex: “Sa seule victoire, bien médiocre et d’une inutilité absolue, sera la plus grande frustration de ceux qui dans les faits n’ont pas accès à la sexualité et pour qui le recours à la prostitution, qu’elle qu’en soit la forme, est la seule voie possible.” (essentially, “The [law’s] only victory, very mediocre and absolutely useless, will be to increase the frustration of those whose only access to sexuality is through prostitution.”). I believe he (or one of the other Johns) uses the term liberticide. Give me prostitutes or give me death.

Worse still, the manifesto of the “343 Salauds” led by writer Frédéric Beigbeder, which is meant to provoke feminists by playing on the manifesto of the “343  Salopes” written by Simone de Beauvoir in 1971.  The Telegraph reports that celebs such as Catherine Deneuve and “Gerard Depardieu’s daughter” (so famous that your name doesn’t get mentioned) have fought for the rights of men to pay to use other people’s bodies.

In the media the French like to deride America’s puritanical values, but the fact is, the stats on prostitution have the U.S. looking even worse than the French.

Given the press coverage, I had low expectations for the Olivier’s proposal, but today’s vote was a victory—one that will leave the “343 salauds” very, very frustrated. The mesure penalizing the clients was passed. The entire law will go up for vote on December 4.

Update Dec 5: With 268 voting for, 138 against, and 79 abstentions, the law to fight prostitution passed yesterday.

Ask a linguist: Why does French have grammatical gender?

As a teacher of French, I’ve heard a lot of grievances about the French language, as though if enough people complained, I (of all people) would suddenly do something about it. One of the most fundamental of these gripes is about French’s grammatical masculine/feminine distinction; the argument goes something like this: “Giving nouns genders is arbitrary (OK, most whiners don’t use the word ‘arbitrary’, but that’s what they mean) and requires effort without serving any apparent purpose.” Actually, that usually just comes out as, “Waaah, learning genders is hard.” Just observing that isn’t particularly admirable, but then some students ask this question: “Why would that even exist in a language?”

It’s interesting enough to be worth a discussion, I think. Why does French make use of an arbitrary distinction between masculine and feminine nouns, when doing so appears to give no benefit to speakers and is cognitively costly for learners?

Before we can look at some possible explanations, let’s talk linguistic typology (please? this is my favorite stuff¹).

First: grammatical gender is different from natural gender. Natural gender describes actual gender distinctions in living beings, like humans or lizards or whatever. English makes some distinctions of natural gender (here are some examples on Wikipedia). Grammatical gender is part of a broader phenomenon of noun classes which exist in many of the world’s languages.

Noun classes divide up a language’s nouns into groups, often with different agreement patterns on related adjectives, pronouns, verbs, and even prepositions. (Example from French: the grammatically feminine Rose (as a name) takes a feminine agreement on its adjectives, so “Rose is mean” would be Rose[+feminine] est méchante[+feminine].) French is pretty tame about agreement; some Bantu languages have up to 16 noun classes and they have to agree their noun classes on pretty much everything else in the sentence (including prepositions). Are you still whining about French?

Sometimes noun classes are logically connected to some idea; for example, in Tshiluba (a Bantu language of the Congo) there’s a noun class that means the noun in question is small. Some nouns are always in this class (like peanuts) and other nouns can be taken from their normal class and made small by marking them with the ‘small’ class. But then again, others classes can be completely arbitrary, and nouns inside the classes might have nothing at all in common.

Alright, I can hear you saying (those of you who have indulged me this far), maybe I can see the logically-connected-to-meaning noun classes being useful to humans, what with our tendency to classify and analyze the world around us. But what about the systems with no apparent motivation (like French)?

Well, there’s one problem we face when trying to figure this out: lazy scientists still haven’t invented time travel.² You see, a lot of these noun class/gender distinctions go back to before the historical record began. Even the historically-reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language (the ancestor of languages as distantly-related as Hindi, Farsi, Greek, Lithuanian, French, and English, to name a few) is believed to have made a noun class distinction. According to some researchers (sources 1 [warning: PDF], 2, 3), this was probably a distinction between animate (usually this is a class including humans and other animals capable of movement) and inanimate nouns (plants and other things). Hey, look at that: it started out as a non-arbitrary, motivated distinction. So what happened? Later, a lot of Indo-European languages for which we have historical records can be seen to have three genders: masculine, feminine, and neuter (many languages still have this, e.g. German). The neuter gender is close to what they think used to be the inanimate class, while the animate class split off into masculine and feminine by analogy to natural gender.

All that basically goes to say that, as time goes on, languages change and split off into multiple languages, and then those languages change, and so on. English used to have grammatical gender, but gave up on it sometime between the 12th and 15th century (good for us, right?). What probably began as a motivated distinction underwent changes that removed the original meaning of the distinction. By this view, grammatical gender in French and related languages is essentially like human vestigial parts such as the appendix: it used to serve a purpose, but no longer does; the organism (/language) keeps it because it gets passed on from parent to child. This may come as a surprise to you, but no one really cares about adult language learners; you just have to deal with all the irregularities and weirdness. Crying about it takes up valuable memorization time, unless you manage to look at your flash cards through the tears.

This brings me to a final point, going back to the idea of cognitive cost. One argument against keeping no-longer-functional noun classes is that it takes effort to learn and use these forms. But here’s the thing: child language learners don’t care. They seriously do not care. English has hundreds of irregular verbs, but by they time they hit puberty, cognitively normal native English speakers have no problem with them. Or how about the fact that something like 80% of Arabic nouns have an irregular plural form? No problem for a human child. They start to figure this stuff out while they’re still pooping in their pants. Given that capacity, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal for a kid to classify every noun in their language by two, three, or 16 different classes. It’s a relatively small task in the grand scheme of acquiring a human language.

Now stop complaining.

 

¹Seriously, if you are actually willing to engage me in a conversation about this stuff, I will love you forever. That can be platonic or romantic; just let me know.

²I’m kidding, scientists, you’re not all lazy. But you guys could probably pick up the pace a bit, don’t you think?

There’s a word for that: a movie that’s so bad it’s good

Ever see a movie that’s so bad it’s good? Not Sharknado. It’s calculated to be so bad it’s good. Self-aware badness automatically disqualifies it from this category. I’m talking about a movie made in earnest that fails so spectacularly that it entertains us for all the wrong reasons. There’s a word for that in French:

nanar

There’s even a site dedicated to nanars, complete with it’s own forum and a glossary to help you become a nanar savant. The verb cabotiner (to overact)doesn’t make it into French textbooks, but it comes in handy when discussing nanars. Learn more  crucial nanar terms on Nanarland‘s site.

For your viewing pleasure, some excellent kung-fu nanar action:

And here’s another choice example of horrible doublage (dubbing). Be sure to listen to the inspiring speech about the Grand Canyon:

And finally, a gem from Hitman The Cobra:

“Do you speak Touriste?”, a guide to tourists in France

In case you didn’t know, there’s a stereotype about French service-industry workers and regular people: namely, that they’re brusque, rude, tourist-hating snobs. I’m not here to evaluate that idea one way or another. No, we have something much more interesting on our hands. You see, someone in France got tired of hearing about this stereotype and decided to try doing something about it.

The proposed solution: a guide, not for tourists, but for the French people who have to deal with them. A guide for the proper care and feeding, if you will, of the majestic creature that is the tourist in France.

doyouspeaktouristelogo

It’s clear that this guide means well. It divides up tourists into their country of origin and gives generalizations of what kind of behavior and communication to expect, as well as providing stats about the average tourist’s visit.

Listen to some fun facts about Americans in Paris:

Très technophiles, ils utilisent largement les smartphones ou tablettes et sont demandeurs de connexion wifi pour la recherche d’informations.

(Rough translation: Being very much technophiles, they often use smartphones and tablets and demand a wifi connection for looking up information.)

ipad photography

So basically, we’re like this.

Ils ont besoin d’être rassurés sur les tarifs.

We apparently really need some reassurance, because:

Dépense moyenne par jour et par personne : 140 €

American tourists spend an average of 140 Euros ($188 as of this posting) per person per day while visiting Paris. Daaang!

Read more on the site, and you’ll find out that Spaniards are quick to use informal tu, Germans prefer to be left alone and find their own information, and the Chinese are “fervent lovers of shopping”.

I’m probably going to have to read everything on this site now, because it’s a hilarious role-reversal that allows the French to stereotype their tourists. It’s an anthropological gold-mine, and you might just find something that will make your own stay in France better for you and better for the French people forced to endure your presence.

You can look at the guide online (in French) for yourself. Here’s the home page.

The real sktgamerdudejr13 speaks

eiffel airplane

A few weeks ago I posted my fake interview with sktgamerdudejr13, making him our first “Youtube Hero.” Now, I’ve got a follow-up with the real dude. Here’s a refresher, in case you haven’t seen the video yet:

The interview:

Marc: We think you’re être verb song kicks all the other verb songs butts—especially the lame Ke$ha one. What led to the creation of the video?

Jr: Well, quite a funny story…I guess not really. Basically a friend on the internet was beginning her French classes and, being the nice person I am (was a 2nd year French student at the time) decided to make the être verb video to help teach her. And because I was bored. Mostly bored.

Marc: Your video has had more than 316,000 hits. Why do you think it has been so successful?

Jr: I honestly have no idea why it’s so successful. I’ve been wondering that myself everyday. I think it’s because of the Spongebob. Yeah, definitely has to be because of Spongebob.

Marc: What do you say to the haters who leave comments like “That was bad and you should feel bad for posting it” or “Your accent makes me want to hug chainsaws”?

Jr:  I just think they’re jealous. Success brings haters. I’m successful and they want that.

Marc: Would you ever consider doing a follow-up video with another verb, like maybe “avoir”? Justin Bieber has an “avoir” video that makes me want to jab chopsticks in my eardrums (and has half as many hits as your video, btw). In a Youtube French video match, I think you could take him.

Jr: If I did a follow-up, it’d have to be of either faire, venir, or aller. They are the only other songs that we learned in my French class. We never learned one for avoir unfortunately. And Justin Bieber is dabbling into the French song scene? Man….that’s just disappointing.

Marc: What did you like/dislike about the way French was taught in your school? What was your textbook like?

Jr: I liked about how our teachers had been to France multiple times and really took it seriously. They also taught us about French culture and about Paris as well, which I really enjoyed. Once I got to college, my first French teacher was actually from France and somehow ended up in Pullman (Go Cougs!). I really thought that was cool because it made me feel like I learned more about French culture and how the French actually spoke. She also really engrained the pronunciations which I liked as well. The only thing I disliked about French is that my teachers seemed to make it seem like French was the only subject and the most important thing ever. It was kind of annoying. And I don’t really remember my high school textbooks…that was waaaaay too long ago. Most of my textbooks now are pretty decent. I learned about about the French from the books which was pretty cool.

Marc: If you could throw one thing off the Eiffel Tower, what would it be?

Jr: If I could throw one thing off the Eiffel Tower, it would be…man this is tough. I don’t know what I’d throw. My roommate suggested a paper airplane. That’d be pretty tight. Though my roommate does seem like a good choice….yeah I’ll just stick with the paper airplane. What about a paper airplane big enough for my roommate? That’d be pretty sweet.

Marc: We’re trying to get famous people named “David” to endorse What The French?! So far, we’ve only done HGTV star David Bromstad, and he liked our post on Facebook. Who you think should be the next “David” on our list?

Jr: I’ve heard that soccer guy David Beckham is pretty famous. He kicks the ball real good from what I’ve heard. The Hoff could be another guy you should go after.

We’ll take that under advisement, sktgamerdudejr13.

Hopefully, one day we’ll get to see another verb song, but until then, you can go to Youtube and give some nice comments to the REAL sktgamerdudejr13—our first ever Youtube Hero.

When you google it

You probably use Google to find out a lot of things: you spy on your enemies, stalk the people you wish would think of you in a romantic way but never will, and prove to your friends once and for all that Africa is not a country. In fact, a lot of your opinions are based on what the apparent majority of the internet thinks about a given topic.

So how about French?

The search? “French class”:

french class grab

On the top, you can see related searches suggested by our all-seeing Google overlords: “French Classroom”, “Clipart”, and “I hate French Class” being the top three contenders. They tell a very sad short story: Enthusiastic but underpaid teacher searches for French classroom decoration ideas. Then for clipart for worksheets, and maybe a class web page that people will assume comes from 1997. And then, after all that, the ungrateful students still hate their French class.

It doesn’t have to be that way. It really shouldn’t be that way. In fact, whether your teacher is an underpaid, but brilliant and caring human being or someone who very openly lets you know that teaching French is a grim consolation prize for losing the coveted English Lit class (and as for why the hierarchy sometimes works that way, I have no idea), you can take charge of your own learning. An example: I learned French personal pronouns and their correct usage very quickly, because it allowed me to complete worksheets much faster than my classmates by replacing every long name and noun with a pronoun, thus giving me time to draw strange pictures for the rest of class.

Whatever your motivation is, maybe you’ll be one of those second-row-results people who really does love this language. Your reasons why are entirely up to you, but please, please just don’t make any of those 4-to-8-panel copy/paste “comic” monstrosities that prove to the world just how cool you delusionally think you are. Seriously, just don’t.

If you’re soldiering on in a French class where things are moving too fast, not fast enough, or just not clicking for you, may I suggest having a look at What The French?! It’s designed with self-motivated students in mind, and it’s easy to use the book at your own pace, especially with the interactive exercises and clear explanations. If you haven’t yet, give it a look in the iBooks store.

Learn French like it’s 1904

What was it like to learn French as a child in 1904? Strange. That’s what.

conversation

La conversation des enfants, published in 1904 by a Monsieur P. DuCroquet, normally serves as a decorative prop in my house. But nearly 110 years ago it was the desk copy at Finch School (wherever that is). The book contains a series of lessons meant to teach children French. The first page has an alphabet…

abc

…then after that, it’s down the rabbit hole of the absurd. Each lesson has a model conversation lumped together in one paragraph, and then questions based on the conversation. Imagine the following:

Did you bring your book? Yes, Ma’am, I brought my book. Did you bring your notebook? No, Ma’am, I forgot my notebook and my quill pen. Bring me your book. Here is my book. Now, bring me your paper and pencil. Give me some cake and milk. Take some cake and chocolate to your mother. Bring her your book. Did you give chocolate to Marie? Yes, I gave chocolate and milk to Marie. I forgot my lunch, but I brought some candy.

[Avez-vous apporté votre livre? Oui, Madame, j’ai apporté mon livre. Avez-vous apporté votre cahier? Non, Madame, j’ai oublié mon cahier et ma plume. Apportez-moi votre livre. Voici mon livre. Maintenant, apportez-moi votre crayon et du papier. Donnez-moi du gâteau et du lait. Portez du gâteau et du chocolat à votre maman. Portez-lui votre livre. Avez-vous donné du chocolat à Marie? Oui, j’ai donné du chocolat et du lait à Marie. J’ai oublié mon lunch, mais j’ai apporté du [sic] bonbon.]

What. The. French?! Seriously. What’s with the gluttonous schoolmarm? Give me milk and cake little child! bwahaha!

And here are the questions that follow (I won’t bother translating them into English):

Avez-vous apporté votre livre? Avez-vous apporté du papier? Avez-vous caché mon livre? Avez-vous caché mon crayon? Savez-vous votre leçon? Savez-vous compter? Voulez-vous compter? Voulez-vous donner du gâteau à Henri? Voulez-vous porter mon livre à Madame? Avez-vous oublié votre cahier?

This all reminds me of Eugène Ionesco‘s absurdist play Exercices de conversation et de diction française pour étudiants américains in which children have conversations related to various principles of grammar. Here’s what Ionesco said about the origins of that play:

A friend, a French professor in the USA, had asked me to write some dialogues or monologues to illustrate the conditional “if” (si), or the imperfect subjunctive. I remembered the Assimil method that had not succeeded in helping me learn English. Perhaps with these dialogues and monologues, neither will Americans learn to speak French.

[Un ami, professeur de français aux USA, m’avait commandé d’écrire des dialogues ou des monologues pour illustrer le “si” conditionnel, ou l’imparfait du subjonctif. Je me suis souvenu de la méthode Assimil qui n’avait pas réussi à m’apprendre l’anglais. Peut-être qu’avec ces dialogues et ces monologues, les américains n’apprendront-ils pas, eux non plus, le français.]

A brief excerpt from Ionesco’s Exercices will show you that not much adaptation is required to turn old grammar books into theater of the absurd:

Philippe: Bonjour, messieurs; bonjour, mesdemoiselles. Vous ne répondez pas? On ne répond pas. Pourquoi ne répondez-vous pas? Répondez donc. Oh, il est trop tôt, les élèves ne sont pas encore là. Tiens, j’entends leurs pas dans le couloir. Ils arrivent. Ils sont là. Ouvrez la porte. Entrez. Fermez la porte. Avancez. Asseyez-vous. Silence. Je fais l’appel: Jean Marie.

Jean-Marie: Présent.

Philippe: Dites-moi, Jean-Marie, comment vous appelez-vous?

Jean-Marie: Je m’appelle Jean-Marie.

Philippe: C’est juste. Vous me comprenez. Vous êtes un garçon intelligent. Marie-Jeanne.

Marie-Jeanne: Présente.

Philippe: Dites-moi, Marie-Jeanne, comment vous appelez-vous?

Marie-Jeanne: Je m’appelle Jean-Marie.

Philippe: Vous ne comprenez pas. C’est faux. Vous vous trompez. Attention, Marie-Jeanne: dites-moi comment vous appelez-vous?

Marie-Jeanne: Je m’appelle Marie-Jeanne.

Philippe: C’est mieux. Ne vous trompez plus. Cela suffit pour aujourd’hui. Levez-vous. Sortez. Allez manger.

(from vol. 5 of Gallimard’s Théâtre, Ionesco, 263-264; read loads of scholarly articles about Ionesco at Lingua Romana)

And now back to our book from 1904:

What time is it? It’s 12:30; it’s not yet time to go play. We must speak French; we must pay attention. Jeanne, are you paying attention? Yes, Ma’am, I have understood everything you said. Well, then, tell me, what did I say? You said we must pay attention. What day is it today? It’s Wednesday. Why didn’t your cousin come to school today? Because she’s sick. What’s wrong with her? She has a sore throat. How many days are there in a month? There are thirty or thirty-one days. In what month were you born? What day of the month is it?

[Quelle heure est-il? Il est midi et demi; il n’est pas encore l’heure d’aller jouer. Il faut parler français; il faut faire attention. Jeanne, faites-vous attention? Oui, Madame, j’ai compris tout ce que vous avez dit. Eh bien, dites-moi, qu’est-ce que j’ai dit? Vous avez dit qu’il faut faire attention. Quel jour est-ce aujourd’hui? C’est mercredi. Pourquoi votre cousine n’est-elle pas venue à l’école aujourd’hui? Parce qu’elle est malade. Qu’est-ce qu’elle a? Elle a mal à la gorge. Combien de jours y a-t-il dans un mois? Il y a trente ou trente et un jours. Dans quel mois êtes-vous née? Quel jour sommes-nous?]

That Jeanne better watch out. One slip-up and Madame will have her throat—speaking of which…why the obsession with Jeanne’s cousin? Is there more going on here? Is her “sore throat” a euphemism? Is there subtext to asking how many days are in a month right after the interrogation about the cousin’s mysterious absence? Has Madame noticed that the cousin is two weeks late? Is she mapping out her students’ menstrual cycles? I wouldn’t put it past her. She’s creepy that way.

French grammar 1904-style is twisted, but hey! in What The French?! we embrace the absurd. Consciously.

Let’s end our trip back in time with a pretty butterfly and nonsensical days-of-the-week poem:

lesjours

Ask Mark Twain

Dear Mark Twain,

I’ve been studying French for quite a while now, and I really want to visit Paris and see all the sights. It just sounds so romantic! You’re a famous, beloved author who’s traveled all over Europe. What were your favorite sights to see in Paris?

Sincerely,

francophilexoxo2013

Dear absurdly-named person,

Anywhere is better than Paris. Paris the cold, Paris the drizzly, Paris the rainy, Paris the damnable.

-Mark Twain

(Editor’s note: that’s a real quote from the man.)

Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley

5 things in Paris that taste as good as skinny feels

Whoever thinks that “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” has probably never been to Paris. Or if they have, they’re eating the wrong things. I realize that many of you are probably in a post-Halloween sugar crash stupor. But even if you have vowed never to eat sugar again, you should probably reconsider if you happen to go to Paris.

Here are five of my personal favorite ways to not lose weight in Paris (disclaimer: we’re not talking about high-end foodie choices here, but rather guilty pleasure crowd-pleasing goodness):

Macarons

macarons

I know, I know, every town in America now has a bakery that thinks they know how to make macarons. But they can’t. And I’m not saying that to be mean. The fact is, most macarons in Paris are not too great either. If you want to know what a good macaron tastes like, go to Pierre Hermé (those are some Pierre Hermé macarons pics I took in our apartment before devouring them). The flavors change with the season, but my favorite is probably “Mogador” (milk chocolate and passion fruit). You can also always rely on Ladurée (you can also rely on it always having a long line), and Jean-Paul Hévin is always a good choice for chocolate.

Religieuses

religieuse

 

A religieuse is my favorite pastry. This may not be to most trendy pastry (éclairs—the slightly less messy cousin to the religieuse— are enjoying an upswing in popularity), but nothing beats the ritual of decapitating the pastry and popping that creme-filled top in your mouth. Pictured above is the perfectly respectable Ladurée chocolate religieuse. In the summer they have a strawberry one that’s very good. My favorite (although much less photogenic) is Carl Marletti‘s. Le Figaro ranks Marletti third on their best religieuse list, behind Rollet Pradier, and Rouiller, so feel free to do your own comparison and tell me if I’m wrong to prefer Marletti.

Chocolates!

Patrick Roger

 

I like chocolate, and not always the ones I’m supposed to like. At Patrick Roger, the “Valparaiso” chocolate is filled with an amazing burst of lime, and “Tenderness” has a perfectly roasted and caramelized hazelnut center. I’m not in love with La Maison du chocolat. Richart, on the other hand, always tempts me—especially the spiced collection. In some alternate reality where I have money to burn, the $850 burlwood vault of chocolate would be my equivalent of a box of cuban cigars. For chocolate bars, I like Michel Cluizel‘s collection. If you’re a foodie (I’m more “Chowhound” than foodie; more gourmand than gourmet), you can probably list Italian chocolates that I should prefer and are probably already questioning my taste, so I may as well really shock you and say that I LOVE the Belgian Côte d’Or chocolate bars they sell at most supermarkets. In particular, the salted caramelized pecan milk chocolate (Did he say “milk chocolate”??? Shock! Horror!) bars. It’s kind of a nostalgia thing from when I lived in Belgium.

Crêpes

Crêpes!

 

A good old street crêpe with Nutella, sliced banana, coconut (and a splash of Grand Marinier if you’re feeling extra decadent). You can make them at home, but make sure you get that really good powdered kind, not the long, sweet stringy kind used in German Chocolate cake recipes.

I know it’s not French but…Gelato

amorino

Amorino stores are everywhere. Grom is better, and in Italy I’m sure it gets better still. Due to proximity, I get Amorino. I like it way more than the overrated French Berthillon. Amorino is fairly low-brow, but it’s a far cry from a McFlurry.

 

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