Monthly Archives: January 2013

France loves burgers (le am-ba-ga)

France loves burgers (le am-ba-ga)

This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated.
A few days ago, an article on the French site of the Huffington Post caught my eye: “Burger King opens in Marseilles with a roar…” The fast foot power house had left France in 1997, defeated by its two main competitors, McDonald’s and Quick. According to the article, Burger King’s new restaurant, located in a food court inside the Marseilles-Marignane airport, has drawn huge crowds since its inauguration last month. Locals flock to the come back kid, driving 45 minutes out of the city, and lining up for up to two hours, to get their hamburger fix. It’s official: France loves burgers. Quoi ? Say what?
A happy French customer gets his Whopper!
I can’t say I am that surprised. Rumors have been floating for months about France’s new craze: Le ham-bur-ger, or “Am-Ba-Ga,” when pronounced by some French people (since the letter “H” is silent at the beginning of French words.)
 
According to American expat/renowned pastry chef/writer/blogger/food connaisseur extraordinaire David Leibovitz, even hard to please Parisians have caved in; dropped forks and knives; rolled up their fancy sleeves; and grabbed American-style hamburgers wherever they can find them in the French capital, thus benefiting a slew of enterprising expats who are dealing their pricey (but, oh, so tasty) wares around town out of… their food trucks! Très romantique. Read the details here.
le Am-Ba-Ga has nothing on you,
steak haché-frites of my youth!
Homesick American expats are thrilled (“Good hamburgers! In Paris! Score!”) Parisians feel as cool as… des New Yorkais. The media can’t get enough of the new fad. Vive la France, land of the Am-Ba-Ga!
 
Of course, this is hardly news to McDonald’s, unchallenged king of the Burger world.
 
McDonald’s (affectionately nicknamed “McDo” by my countrymen,) launched their most excellent French adventure some thirty years ago. There are over 1200 McDo restaurants in France today. Not only have les Français welcomed McDonald’s with open arms, they also love the McDrive concept! Quoi? The French are eating in their cars? Sacrilège! 

France is McDonald’s second most profitable market after the United States. McDo loves the French right back!

What’s next? The Moon? Mars?
You can’t go very far in l’Hexagone (France)
without bumping into a McDo!
French youth flocks to McDo. French youth have always been fond of American brands and are quick to adopt what they perceive as a token of the American lifestyle. But not all of McDo’s French customers are young. What gives?

A visit to Mc Do’s website, (and a closer look at their French products) help clarify things. McDonald’s has always succeeded where other foreign corporations have failed (you may remember the Eurodisney debacle in Paris in the early 1990s.) Their success can be summarized in a few words: In-depth knowledge of the local market’s culture, willingness to adapt their products (call it Am-Ba-Ga localization,) kick-ass marketing and lobbying teams.

McDo’s successful “Come as you are” campaign, featuring the beloved Tintin 
What Frenchman would not patronize a restaurant
where Gallic heroes Asterix and Obelix are regulars?

Things have not always been easy for McDonald’s in France. Years ago, some of the chain’s restaurants were ransacked by local activists to protest the company that came to symbolize American imperialism and – even worse – la malbouffe, (bad eating, bad food.) 

In 1993, the Paris city hall defeated McDo’s plans to open a restaurant on the banks of the Seine river, at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. McDo did not give up and later inaugurated a location inside the prestigious Carrousel du Louvre (the mall adjacent to the Louvre museum) in 2009. Cue in major uproar in the media. French intellectuals and the American expat community (for whom not all Am-Ba-Gas are created equal,) were outraged. But when the dust settled, the French public did not really seem to care that much, and shrugged.

Where are these tacky Golden Arches?
McDo at the Louvre: not as showy as one might expect!
Oh, dear!

The French are pragmatists. McDo creates jobs and mostly uses locally sourced food. French cattle is grass-fed and hormone-free. This is the meat used to prepare the famous Royal Cheese, of Pulp Fiction fame. 

Upon closer inspection, the McDo menu has been designed to appeal to French senses.

Sandwiches made with French baguette
Breakfast à la française…
 And for le goûter (late afternoon snack) or dessert…
 
Christmas 2012 selection
Some French people may enjoy the occasional drive-through service, but most of my countrymen still prefer to sit down and relax while socializing and eating. McDo gets it; offers comfortable and even plush surroundings, free WiFi, and a high-tech environment where meals can be ordered from a cell phone or purchased from a terminal to save time! 

Here is food for thought, certainement.

I would love to know what you think about France’s love story with le Am-Ba-Ga, or her lasting affair with McDo.

When fast-food is concerned, are you Royal Cheese? fancy American Hamburger à la Parisian food truck? Jambon-Beurre, or Croque-Monsieur/salade verte?

Oh, and do check out McDo’s gutsy French commercial for the 2010 Come as you Are campaign, below. 

A bientôt.

Additional Materials:
Tutorial for the perfect [French] pronunciation of the word “hamburger:”


Pulp Fiction. The movie. The French and the Royal Cheese:

McDo’s “gay” commercial. Come as you are campaign. France, 2010

1/23/2013 update. Just found this online and had to add it:

Watch a nice American tourist trying to order food for his cranky toddler at the McDo drive-through in France… Oh, la, la… Not that easy, is it?




 
 
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85 Responses to France loves burgers (le am-ba-ga)

  1. I just love this post! When I lived in Paris in the 1970’s a lot of us homesick Americans would visit a restaurant called Mother’s Earth. It was a kick to watch the French eating le Am-ba-ga with a knife and fork!
    Connie*

    • Bonjour, Connie from San Diego (see, I remembered, this time!) 🙂
      I have never heard of Mother’s Earth… There weren’t that many hamburger restaurants in Paris when I still lived there. Apparently, things have changed a great deal. You would feel right at home in the French capital now!

    • Mother’s Earth was a crazy little spot run by a couple of Dutch hippies. I wish I could remember where it was. I actually don’t eat burgers any more but a lovely cafe au lait and a tartine!! Bravo McDo! Still laughing over the Steve Martin!

  2. Oh, for a good hamburger! I’ve not been to McDonalds in Paris. Will try one the next time I get back to Paris. 😉
    Enjoying the book! Thanks again ~ Sarah

    • Bonjour Sarah. So happy you are enjoying your book!

      I am not sure I would actually recommend visiting McDo in Paris… unless you want to experience cultural shock and practice your French. Apparently, most sandwiches have French names 🙂

  3. There’s even Starbucks in Paris now. When I was in Paris a few years ago, only Fauchon offers take out Coffee. But only foreigners and tourists order the take out coffee. There is still pleasure in hanging out in a Cafe, sitting down to drink the cafe while watching people pass by or just enjoying the view.

    • Hello Pamela. I beg to differ: Many French people (especially the younger generations) order to-go coffee. Then again, my Dad told me just the other day that he will die before he drinks his “express” in a paper cup, let alone while walking in the street. And that, Pamela, is [probably] a good thing 🙂

  4. I’m still trying to process macarons at McDo! Wow. I’m impressed by the commercial–as with most of what I saw of McDo in France, it seems like better quality than in the US. They had to raise their game a little to satisfy that market, I think.

    • Dang macarons. One can’t escape them, it seems. Paris will experience macaron overdose before a real Am-Ba-Ga revolution happens, trust. 🙂 Isn’t that commercial the best? France has always had very creative advertising, so in this case, it is a great thing McDo “raised their game.” — Everybody wins, n’est-ce-pas? — Bonne semaine.

  5. I agree with Alison. The gay commercial is very cool and probably would never air in the US. Grass fed, hormones free meat is very impressive.
    I used to be “jambon beurre” and “croque-monsieur, salade verte”, but I eat differently now. I guess “Forks over knives” hasn’t been shown in France yet? (Steve Martin is very funny).

  6. Dearest Véronique,
    This is hilarious and I love the exclamation; Sacrilège and the pronunciation I can imagine is funny. I never forget when my Québecoise friend Hélène tried to order ‘(h)alf a pound of … at the Atlanta Dekalb Farmers Market’s meatcounter. She did not speak English and I had to rescue her.
    But yes, it is bad food and they ALL are copying the USA, as much as they pretend to hate it, they ALL want to become exactly like them.
    Both of us don’t care for any fast food, never have. Maybe twenty years ago, on the road we would get a cheese burger; that’s it.
    It made me grin how McDo is playing the culture card in France for making he interior more appealing instead of a true fast food. Well, without knife and fork, you have to eat FAST… or else you cannot come home as you are!
    Hugs to you,
    Mariette

    • Great comment, Mariette, thank you. I wonder what McDo offers in Holland? I am sure their menu has been adapted to reflect local taste as well. Playing the [local] culture card has certainly worked very well in the French market! A bientôt!

    • Welcome back Elizabeth. How is your French folly coming along? I hope the year is starting off right for you. Macarons at McDo? It’s funny: French fries is what gets me to McDo here in the US. To each his own 🙂

  7. Tu oublies je crois quelque chose de tres important , qui a attiré les Français chez MacDo au depart: c’est le seul restaurant où l’on peut amener les enfants! Ici, pas de risque de casser la vaisselle, il y a des espaces jeux pour eux, des menus expres pour eux, avec des petits jouets..Ce concept de famille a tres bien correspondu a qqchose de tres français aussi.
    Une autre chose tres appreciée, quand on voyage beaucoup, MacDo est un repère: on sait ce qu’on v y trouver, quel que soit le pays. Souvent, le 1er soir, quand on n’a pas encore exploré la ville où l’on arrive, trouver un Macdo , c’est etre sur de manger pour pas cher qqchose de correct, et de pouvoir le commander , il suffit de montrer l’image au serveur.
    Enfin, ils ne font PAS QUE DES HAMBURGERS!
    la diversité de l’offre, (poulet, poisson, salades..) , est un autre atout important.
    Par ailleurs, il y a quand même beaucoup de VRAIS Français qui parlent mieux anglais que Steve Martin! :o)
    Bonne semaine! Bises!

    • Bonjour Malyss. Tu as raison, j’ai oublié de préciser que McDo jouait avec succès la carte familiale. Après tout, je n’irais jamais chez McDo, ici, aux USA, si ce n’était pas pour faire plaisir à mon fils (euh– enfin, si, de temps en temps, pour les frites. Je ne peux jamais résister aux frites, chez McDo ou ailleurs…)

      Quant au repère McDo, ça rassure peut-être nos amis américains quand ils voyagent, mais je dois dire que ça ne m’était pas venu à l’esprit. On peut éviter McDo sans mourir de faim, même dans les pays étrangers…

      Eh non, ils ne font pas que des Am-Ba-Ga, mais le sujet de l’article est l’engouement des Français pour les steak-hachés-coincés-entre-deux-tranches-de-pain, alors… 🙂

      Bonne semaine, et… Cocorico! 🙂

    • J’ai bien compris le sujet de l’article, mais je voulais dire que la diversité de l’offre aussi a servi a conquerir les Français, alors que dans les autres fast-food il n’y a QUE les hamburgers, du coup ça marche moins;
      Par ailleurs, Quand tu arrives tard le soir, en Lituanie ou en Pologne par exemple(exemples vécus), la vue d’un macdo te fait plaisir! le lendemain, tu iras chercher le petit restau local pour gouter les specialités du pays, certes , et avec plaisir.Mais là , crevé , et sans connaissance de la langue,tu es bien content (enfin , JE suis bien contente Ü)de trouver qq chose de connu pour me retaper.Mais ça n’engage que moi, of course!

    • Alors, là… j’en reste baba. Malyss en fan de McDo… en Pologne en plus! 🙂 Je n’ai pas encore eu besoin d’être “secourue” par McDo en terre étrangère, mais on ne sait jamais… Je me souviendrai du conseil! (Bon, je te taquine, là, hein!) — Au fait, McDo n’a rien inventé: Tu oublies le menu très riche du concurrent, Quick! Salades, panini, desserts et même un sandwich au foie gras! Oh, la, la. Avec toutes ces options alléchantes, on se demande si la gastronomie française va survivre aux Fast Foods! — Bisous

    • Mac do c’est vraiment le secours pour les 1ers soirs, parce que , malgré tout, tres vite, je sature..Quant à Quick, je ne sais pas si c’est de la malchance,mais chaque fois que j’y ai mangé, j’ai été malade!alors je n’y met plus les pieds.
      Dis donc, 74 coms,même avec tes reponses, le sujet est porteur, qui l’eut cru?!!
      :o)
      Allez, bon week-end!

  8. Jacques and I are not fast fooders at all.. we”ll pack a small homemade sandwich and take along instead of stopping a fast food resto..
    I must admit to twice a yr fries at Costco:)
    And taking my grandsons..while stealing a McNugget:)

    Love the French McDo ads..We say McDo too of course and pretty much the same way:)

    Moi aussi..I need atmosphere to want to eat with Jacques somewhere..

    • Improvised picnics with homemade sandwiches are always so much fun… and when the local boulangerie offers delicious options to go, it would be a crime to resist. Then again, the children do not get these funny little plastic toys with their meal; there is no free WiFi on a parc bench; and let’s not mention the lack of French fries… What to do, what to do? 🙂

  9. There’s nothing like going to McDo for a beer and French Fries in the late afternoon in Paris. My friend and I were surprised but delighted to find beer at McDo.

  10. Great post…last time in Paris, I walked into a McD but I just couldn’t talk myself into buying anything. (I gave up fast-food joints except in an emergency)

  11. Hi French Girl, and I got here thanks to Nadege, who kindly posted the URL to this piece on my blog. This is a sumptuously illustrated post and yes, McDonald’s has had a hard time conquering the French market, but they have finally succeeded.

    I’ve lived in France for 25 years and have followed McDonald’s marketing strategies here for many years, which is why I too wrote about it a while back. It’s here, in case you’d like to read it.

    http://undertheburningbridge.blogspot.fr/2012/04/mcdonalds-and-battle-for-france.html

    Right, I’m off to have a look around your blog. If Nadege is a fan of it that’s good enough for me! Have an excellent day,
    Frip

    • Ah, McDonald’s. What can you say. They are sort of like the food equivalent of Bill Gates’ Microsoft. People say they don’t like the ethics of either, but most of them use or consume their products with more or less pleasure.

      I go there about once a month, most particularly in the afternoons of summer days when I’m out and about on my bicycle and work up the need to eat at a moment when restaurants are shut. So I order from the takeaway window at my favourite McDonalds, which is in a pleasant street and right next to a beautiful fountain. And I sit on the edge of it and greedily absorb the carbs in my Big Mac and Small Fries.

      Macdo is like anything else in life. There’s nothing wrong with them, but at the same time il ne faut pas en abuser non plus.

      Bonne soirée a toi et a tou(te)s.

  12. Gack! Say it isn’t so! 🙂 Burger King? McDonald’s is much ‘better’. Ahem, not better for us.. but i think it tastes better. Though i always heard that Whoppers are ‘flame broiled’.. or something. I try not to eat the fast food anymore, but once in a blue moon i get a craving. I try to resist, and most often.. i do. But there IS something about a burger with cheese. I think when i finally make it to Paris, though, i’ll skip McDo’s. 🙂 And double GACK! Is that a rotund Mona Lisa holding… fries??!! Eeekkk! lol.

  13. Such a funny post Veronique, I laughed so much at Steve Martin trying to say hamburger, he is hilarious anyway but with a French accent even more so oui! It is a little disconcerting to hear that the ‘am ba ga’ is so prevalent in Paris, quelle horreur! Although I feel sure and for certain (and you’ve shown us here)that even though it is just a ‘am ba ga’ it will be a lot more chic than anywhere else haha!

  14. B’jour Mam Véronique,
    Fun post as always and straight to the point: fast food is a hit / hot topic for both American and French people.
    Opposite views at home about fast food meals / burgers: son #2 is clearly addicted to it and the rest of the family is more “boeuf bourguignon” and “salade niçoise” (as for Noisette, she is happy with either French or American food). One thing I have noticed though: fast food places in France are more attractive than in the US. Do you agree?
    Thanks for the fun video about Steve Martin. I saw the movie at the theater when it was released and, believe it or not, each time I have to pronounce “hamburger” I am in trouble and I giggle… Call it a trauma!
    Bisous,
    Anne Touraine (Playing with Scarves)

    • Bonjour Anne. I am not surprised most of your family (well, with the exception of son #2) is more “boeuf bourguignon” and “salade niçoise.” With a cook like you in the house, it would be sad if they preferred Am-Ba-Ga’s 🙂

      As for fast food places in France, I did notice *some* restaurants were nicer there than in the US, especially if located in fancy neighborhoods (the McDo near the Louvre is a good example,) but I have also seen restaurants (McDo, Quick,) that look as drab as they do here. Have you visited the McDo on the Champs-Elysées lately? Beurk.

    • Next time son #2 is in France, I will ask him to make a review of the place for me – while I will wait for him outside. McDo is not really my “tasse de thé”…
      Bon weekend ma chère Véronique 🙂 Hugs to you and to the yellow dog too of course!

  15. Bonjour Veronique. J’espere que ca va bien. Hard to believe that people are making such a fuss over the Burger King at the Marseille airport. I will be curious to see what it’s like when we fly into that airport the next time. I have only been “inside” one McDonald’s in France and that was at a rest stop off the autoroute between Aix and Nice. I definitely noticed that the seating and ambiance was much nicer than the McDonald’s I have seen in the US.

    • Merci Michel. Ca va bien, et toi? Please do report back next time you fly into or out of Marignane airport. I still can’t believe people would wait that long (let alone drive to an airport) to enjoy greasy burgers! Have the French lost it???

  16. This is a really funny post. I love Steve Martin trying to say hamburger. Oh it is cruel and we would only way burger now.
    There is a lot of patriotism when it comes to burgers in France the D’où vient ton McDo? campaign really helped I think showing that it was all French produced.
    I am not a big fan of MacDo as when I eat out I prefer to go to a restaurant that cooks something I couldn’t do at home, or couldn’t be bothered to do. My daughter and husband like it. My husband works away a lot and if he is working late he knows he can get a MacDo anywhere. He (along with many other French people) will have a three course meal starting with a salad or nuggets entrée then a sandwich and then desert and coffee. He misses the bear now you can’t get one any more in MacDo.
    When I talk to my students about it they don’t like the Mac Baguette as they find the bread too hard for a burger meal. I find this surprising. I have never tried one but I had assumed it would be like French baguette.
    I am not sure if the French have ‘lost it’ but MacDonalds hasn’t they make a fortune here. My local is next to LeClerc and is always packed to the gills when I go to shop.
    Nice post – great fun

    • Bonjour Kerry. Love that you mentioned that French McDo customer habit: Going to the fast food place BUT still eating a three-course meal, sitting down at the table! 🙂 Ah, the French…

      I had heard about the “D’où tu viens?” campaign… I need to look it up online and see what commercials or ads Mc Do came up with.

      A bientôt!

  17. This reminded me of a visit to a McDo several years ago in France when I was amazed to see salads. It was some time later before they finally arrived in the UK branches! I see they continue to adapt to the host country – le petit déjeuner looks rather nice and ….macarons!!!! I wonder if they will ever reach our shores….maybe I need to visit McDonald’s and see….now that would be a surprise and worth a special visit. Steve Martin is so funny in the clip. I must watch that film again sometime. A fun post! Lovely to see you visiting my blog today – the food at the tea salon really was delicious!
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

    • Bienvenue, miss b. Le petit déjeuner – and some of the desserts – are the only things I would get there if I set a foot inside a McDo in France 🙂 I have tried their sandwiches before and have not found them that stellar to be honest, baguette or not. Then again, I only have the grilled chicken sandwich here in the US and without mayo, so…

  18. Ummm if the French version of McD’s came to the US, I would eat there EVERY DAY. How come we don’t have macarons??! The only places I can find those here (in KC) are at fancy bakeries where each one cost like $4! Grrr!

    Oh, and I think it’s amusing that people who live in a country that is known for having the best cuisine in the world are excited about eating McDonalds. I guess the grass is always greener on the other side? Lol. You know what I would love to see here? A french bakery/cafe on every corner instead of McD’s.

    • Ha! Ha! No you would not eat there every day or you would DIE, Jenny. As for your real estate plans for America’s street corners, I approve: Let’s get them French bakeries everywhere! Enough of that vile sandwich bread, for crying out loud! 🙂

  19. “Let’s get them French bakeries everywhere!”

    Hi French Girl, and I find myself obliged to say that I am pas d’accord moi! 🙂

    It’s an unfortunate fact that boulangeries in France are not what they used to be. Far from it. Only 25% of them are authentic these days. The rest? They are ‘points chauds’ (where they reheat or bake baguettes etc which have been prepared in factories and delivered to them), big-money flour producers’ mandated recipe outlets, and other ersatz establishments.

    Hope you’re well and happy, have an excellent evening, and hey, do you have a contact email address?

    • Dear Fripouille. It is easy for you to say, from your corner of France… I think 25% of “authentic” French bakeries is better than no French bakery at all, and since I have spent the last 17 years buying average bread in my corner of American suburbia, I will reserve the right to say – and say loudly – “Heck, yeah! Bring them French bakeries, authentic or otherwise, over here pronto!” After all, driving 45 mn one way into Seattle to buy decent bread is no civilized way to live – PS: Email address is listed on the blog’s main page, under “Questions? Contact Moi.” — Bonne soirée. Hope you find a decent baguette for breakfast in Lyon tomorrow morning, poor you! 🙂

    • “I think 25% of “authentic” French bakeries is better than no French bakery at all…”

      Okay okay, your’e right. Agreed. after all, as a boy my mother would often (and quite rightly) counter my demands for more candy with the wise words “50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.”

      Jesus. No wonder I rarely won arguments against her.
      🙂

  20. I never eat at McDo in the US, and have never considered doing so in France, although my cousin, Gérard, in the Vendée, used to take his grandchildren there for a “special” treat when they were small.

    I do admire McDo’s tenacity and its marketing expertise and the way it always seem to adapt so beautifully to its customers’ expectations, which is really the secret to a thriving business.

    What a great post, and the videos were just so spot on.

    Gros bisous, M-T

    • Bonsoir M-T. Little kids love McDo around the world, I think 🙂 I, too, respect McDo’s marketing and business moves in foreign markets (well, the ones that show a willingness to adapt to local taste and culture, at least…) — Back in the 1990’s it was fascinating to watch Disney’s numerous faux-pas/mistakes when they opened the Paris park. I guess McDo was observing too, as their business started to grow quickly right about then…

  21. Just found your blog which is wonderful! It always amazes me how McDonald’s in other countries is so different from the USA. I went there every Saturday as a child, it was a treat for me, but now I mostly get an iced coffee. I look forward to more of your posts in 2013.

    Rosemary
    NYC Style and a little Cannoli

  22. Hello Veronique

    I am not a customer of McDonalds and find it interesting to see their success in France. Their marketing is clever and the baquette looks delicious.
    An informative post, thank you

    Helenx

  23. Wow Veronique!
    I wish we had McDos French style in our corner of the world. With interior design like that and ingredients and menu like this it would be considered an upscale French cuisine and I’m afraid priced accordingly.
    But obviously the success of McDos happened for a reason, clever and a delicious one.
    Thank you.

  24. Love this post! And I love going to a French McDonald’s when I’m in France – at least once! It’s a different experience than the American version and a better spin off I think. My favorite part is I that I can order a beer at McDonald’s…nobody ever believes me! xx

  25. It is true that McDonald is good at adapting to each country’s taste. In England we had hot tea and crumpets at McDonald and in Indonesia we had special sweet corn pies. I also read that their recipes change according to the countries. For example they use a lot less salt in France and England than in the US, and their meat is also different, as well as their cheese. So, even though people think all hamburgers are created the same – well, they are not.

  26. Okay I will admit it. I like McDO! I never took my kids there much, but since we have retired we stop a lot there when on the road. Love their Southwest Chicken Salad. And their chicken snack warps are just the right amount of food. There I said it!
    That Steve Martin video cracked me up…and Mona Lisa needs to lay off the ha ba gas and fires and order a salad !

  27. I loved this post. I was smiling the entire time I was reading. We didn’t make it to a McDo when we were in France last fall and it is definitely on my “to-do” list when we return this year. I’m dying to try the French version. My husband claims he had the best hamburger he has ever had at a French bistro in Paris!!!

  28. The first time I saw a MacDo in France I was floored. I giggled until I walked inside. The one in Nice has a chandelier!! Proper knives and forks are served with the burgers, and the burger costs 7euro. Truth be told, I think that the MacDo’s in France are much better quality than the ones in it’s originating country!

  29. McD was a life saver for us in Cognac when France Telecom would leave us without broadband for no reason for days on end. I used to go there twice a day to use the wifi and have an excellent coffee and pastry in the morning and a McFlurry as a treat in the afternoon!
    The restaurants are much, much classier (and cleaner) in France than in the USA.
    Oh and I love the “Come as you are” ad!!

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La Concierge (the Parisian concierge)

La Concierge (the Parisian concierge)

This story was first published in January 2013. It has been updated.  La concierge aux lunettes – The concierge with glasses Robert Doisneau, 1945 Last week, Junior’s grandma, Mutti, sent me a little note to thank me once again for her Seattle vacation during the Holidays. The message was written on a postcard, and when I…

51 Responses to La Concierge (the Parisian concierge)

  1. What a wonderful real story! It brought (good) tears to my eyes, Veronique. Your mother in law sounds like a good, kind and fun woman. You are lucky to have her in your life. Beautiful post! And i love the photo of the concierge’s kitty! 🙂

  2. Oh, this is another wonderful letter from Mutti! Thank you for sharing this with all of us, Veronique. My husband and I both enjoyed ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG. And thank you dear friend, for the wonderful book. I look forward to receiving it. I’ve sent you an email……..Congratulations on your Anniversary. I look forward to reading and following along in 2013. ~ Sarah

    • Dearest Sarah. Félicitations! I am so glad you won one of the books in last week’s Giveaway. I will be shipping it to you this week.

      Elegance of the Hedgehog was an interesting book, but I think I enjoyed the movie even more because Josiane Balasko was so perfect as “la Concierge…”

      Bonne semaine!

  3. Great story and I love those black and white photos by Doisneau and especially the one of the boy and the cat.

    bon journee’
    Chris

  4. What an absolutely stunning and very moving post to start off your third year of blogging. Even as an adult, the few remaining concierges that I have come across have scared me so I can only imagine growing up under the watchful eye of one! Merci, Veronique and to Mutti for her generosity as well.
    Speaking of thank yous, hooray! I am delighted to be one of your winners and will email you pronto!
    Here is to a wonderful year ahead for FGIS,
    Heather

    • You are welcome Heather. I once knew an “old-fashioned” concierge, and she scared the living daylights out of me, too!

      Félicitations on winning the Inès de la Fressange book. It will be heading your way this week and should reach Arles before long. I am glad it is going to a good home 🙂

    • Merci beaucoup Janey. As I mentioned above to another reader, I am fortunate Mutti is willing to share these stories with me and my readers. History is so important. Even though I grew up in a country that has a lot of respect for it, it becomes so much more real, interesting and “usable” when you meet someone who actually lived through some of the events… Thank you for stopping by!

  5. bonjour veronique!! we have a kind of concierge in our building..she is known as “the guardian”. she delivers our mail, vacuums the stairwell, takes out the trash bins..oh and walks with me to the floor above us to complain about the noise. 🙂
    have a good day!

    • Bonjour Pam. Today’s “gardienne” is alive and well, and I guess she is la Concierge’s modern successor. La gardienne tends to be friendlier, and her role has shifted a bit: Once the war was over, and France was trying to get back on her feet, more and more people started buying real estate. Former tenants became landlords, and la Concierge did not have to spend so much time collecting rent anymore. Mutti may have to tell me a couple more stories about post-war France so I can write a “sequel” to this story…

    • Merci beaucoup Nana. Yes, that concierge was a kind and brave woman. She was probably under some pressure from the Germans or the French police to reveal the family’s new address when they disappeared. They knew she would have forwarded mail to them if nothing else. These were dangerous times. Yet, small heroic acts happened every day, even if nobody talks about them… but some people, like Mutti, remember.

  6. Dear Veronique, I don’t recall if I read your mother’s D-Day letter before, tears. I heard so many stories from my Grandmother’s great friend who lived in Brittany and their town was destroyed.

    As to the concierge…actually my son’s building in Paris had one who was somewhat responsible for the loss of a lifetime of photographs. I’d piled all the albums, cards, newspaper clippings etc into a large, heavy box…and took it to my mail place in San Francisco for it’s long ocean voyage to France. When it arrived at the building 6-weeks later the building concierge for some reason refused it while my son was out and it started the return trip back to SF. The day it arrived at Filmore and Sacramento I was busy leaving town and had just run in to pick-up mail. I couldn’t carry it home, they really didn’t want it left there for a week, so I sent to my mother…thinking she could throw it in a closet till I thought how to resend and bypass the concierge. It never made it to her, and never returned to me.

    The only photos I have of my son and I were the few framed ones I always keep on my desk. Life…

    • Dear Suzanne. What a shame this happened to all your family pictures! La concierge – or la gardienne, I suspect, in that case – should have done better. I am guessing this was before the days of digital photography, when photos were hard to replace…

  7. What a wonderful mother-in-law you have (and / or what a wonderful daughter-in-law you must be) to receive this kind of messages. I have also had some concierge experiences in previous flats (not where I live now). They have all been smiling and helpful, younger (and better-looking) than the ones we often refer to. They loved our kids, went to pick them up at school, when I or my wife couldn’t… I guess I’m also getting nostalgic! 🙂

    • Well, not all concierges are old and ugly, that’s true Peter. I am glad you clarified things a bit 🙂 I am not surprised to hear yours was a great help to the family. Concierges had a reputation for being protective of the buildings – and the tenants. Thank you for stopping by!

  8. “Councièrge” en niçois. Je n’en ai jamais eu mais il y en a avait une chez ma grand-mère Parisienne, effectivement, une vraie terreur!Ici, elles sont juste “ficanasses” (=cancaneuses)
    “L’elegance du Hérisson” est un des plus jolis livres que j’ai lus ces dernières années (pas vu le film, allergique à J.B.)
    Ma crèche fait deux metres de long , certes , mais tu n’as vu qu’un tout petit bout de l’appartement.. :o)
    Heureux bloganniversary again!
    Grosses bises et à bientôt!

    • Bonjour Madame La Niçoise. “Ficanasse:” Je m’en souviendrai. On dirait bien une expression du Sud! 🙂

      Je ne suis pas fan de JB d’habitude, mais dans le Hérisson, elle était tellement parfaite! Tu devrais vraiment voir le film. Tu seras sans doute surprise…

      A bientôt.

  9. I certainly do remember that moving letter from Mutti to your son and here we have another interesting story. I was not only fascinated to learn about the concierge but also Mutti’s escape to a safe place. I’m sure your mother-in-law has so many stories to tell – she could write a book and I’m sure it would be a best seller!
    PS Congratulations to the winners of the books.
    http://missbbobochic.blogspot.co.uk/

  10. Thank you so much for sharing Mutti’s story. Wonderful story. It makes me remember
    Of my morher’s friend who worked and lived at a hotel in Toulouse. She worked the front desk. We would visit her during lunch time. I believe she had a cat. I was really young and don’t remember more than that. I love the photos you provided. 🙂

  11. Thank you for this wonderful insight into the life of a concierge in Paris and yes! It is totally different to what I woul envision when hearing the expression Concierge.
    I’m sure Mutti would have many stories to tell and I’ve loved reading this one.
    Merci Beaucoup

    “All Things French”

  12. You seriously offer the most fascinating posts in my google reader. And that’s saying a lot because I follow a TON of blogs lol. Now when I think of a concierge, my image is going to be a LOT different!

    PS. Your mother-in-law writes very eloquently. She’s clearly a very articulate and intelligent woman. 🙂

  13. What a poignant story from Mutti. She has quite a way in telling her experiences. You are blessed to have her in your life.

    I love The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and have read it twice. I have not seen the movie, preferring to have my own literary images of this particular tale.

    Bises,
    Genie

  14. j’ai donc appris “bignole” et “demander le cordon” (pour une parisienne issue de générations de parisiens, hmm, shame on me!). ps: “ma” concierge, euh pardon gardienne, a accroché dans sa loge une boîte de chocolats (vide je suppose) sur laquelle se trouve la reproduction d’un portrait de l’impératrice sissi!

  15. I remember our concierge in our apartment building in Paris – she was nice though. When I would have to walk down the 6 stories, plus one to go to the cellar when we had the air raids going during the war, if I had forgotten my pillow she would bring me one, and if there were many air raids that night she would let me sleep in her loge rather than walk back up the 6 stories with my mum (my father could not go down as he was injured.) But you can tell your readers that there is a common expression “c’est une vraie concierge” meaning someone who talks a lot, or gossips.

    • Oooh, ma grande, I’m really late to the party on this one. What a wonderful post. My father spent the last 18 months of the war in a forced labor camp in Germany. He was liberated by the Americans, which is probably why he always had a soft spot in his heart for the WW2 GIs.

      Happy Blogger B-day, and many, many more.

      What great pictures, comme d’hab.

      bizzz, M-T

  16. Ah, la bonne vielle concierge. I have known a couple since I came to live in France but in this age of digicodes and intercoms they have begun to disappear, slowly but surely.

    But the best concierge I ever had wasn’t just one, it was half-a-dozen. I used to live in a quiet and very narrow ‘passage du…’ type street in one of the poorer areas just on the edge of Bordeaux city centre. 19th century apartment buildings, cobbled streets, it was postcard France personified. That street also happened to be the workplace of Bordeaux’s older and as-French-as-they-get sex workers, who, of course, had a clientèle of local and older men, who would come by for company as much as anything else. They were wonderful women and I used to chat with them when I walked by on my way to and from home. It was impossible not to because they used to sit on little stools outside their apartments whilst waiting for clients.

    Better still though, was that they were the eyes and ears of the street and its activities. Sure they could be a bit too inquisitive at times, sure they would say unwelcome and matronly things like “ah? late for work again?” or “I’m not sure that you should park there because…” etc but they were a godsend nevertheless.

    The children of local residents loved their kind words and felt secure in their company, which is why – rare in the France of tody – their parents would allow them to play out in the street because they knew that they were under the watchful and protective eyes of the ‘concierges’.

    And it goes without saying that burglaries and similar crimes were almost none-existent there, because nobody entered or left that street without knowing that at least a couple of the concierges had seen them, and it would have been impossible for a stranger to walk out of a building carrying someone’s computer without being seen instantly and reported to the police.

    Yup, concierges. I for one love ’em.

  17. Brilliant post Veronique, j’adore the Doisneau photos, such an inspiration for modern day photographers oui. I will definitely try and find ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’. Your family is so very fortunate to hear these stories of what life was like in those times from Mutti who lived them. I have a feeling that the ‘concierge’ was also a character known in England.

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