Not long ago we ventured to the Hesdin marché, [or farmers’ market], and got a little carried away. Though our first visit was a different experience. As with most regular local gatherings, we watch to see how the locals do things.
1) Enjoy the market all you want! It’s okay to walk through slowly and gaze at the beautiful fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish, meat, and odds and ends, etc.
2) Don’t touch the food! This is not done. Mais non, non, non! The merchant will serve you.
3) If you don’t plan to buy anything and want to take a photograph [like I usually do], then do it discreetly. Understandably, the vendors don’t love being the focus, year in, year out, of lots and lots of cameras of people who never buy.
4) At the height of the market, it will be crowded, and you will have to wait your turn to be served at the more popular, high-quality stands. If you are a customer, make a signal if the vendor doesn’t realise you’re not just a tourist staring. Then wait your turn. There may not seem to be a line, but there is. The French don’t love orderly queues. But the vendor notices who’s first, second and so on. If they make a mistake, it’s not usually out of malice toward tourists but because too many people are waiting. Sometimes there’s a long wait, that’s just how it is. When it’s your turn next, make a little signal with your hand. Whatever you do, don’t lose your temper. And remember, to begin with, Bonjour! And finish with Merci! Au revoir!
While you are waiting for your turn, don’t expect the merchant to pay you the least bit of attention. This is the difference we found from home to the way the French deal with customers. The vendeuse was completely ignoring him to focus on us – this is the polite, correct way for a vendor to behave in France. In New Zealand, we would expect stall owner to acknowledge us, and say “Sorry to keep you waiting” or “I’ll be right with you.” But to the vendeuse, that would be rude to the person they are serving at the time.
5) If you don’t speak French, no problem! Say Bonjour and do what we do, use lots of hand gestures [in a friendly way mind you] and try to speak as much French as possible. It never ceases to amaze me how much communication can be done without a word being understood by both parties, all good fun! The majority of people under 30 seem to speak a some English. Most have not heard the Kiwi version of English being spoken around this area too frequently!
6) If you are not a regular customer, observe what you are being given! The French way of privilégier-ing their regular customers means that non-regular customers are the ones on whom they try to sell the seconds produce. Feel free to point at a poor choice and say, “No, not that one! That one.” French customers do this all the time. Smile!
7) If you come at the very end of the market, you can get some real bargains, but a lot of the best stands may be out of produce. Also, the market people have to spend quite a lot of time taking their stands down, and they aren’t happy to have a customer show up just as they are putting things into the truck. So try to get to the market before 9 am to grab the best food