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Meet the Parisians at Work

Inexpensive shop and studio tours in English and French

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ABOVE: Véronique Mauclerc makes bread the old-fashioned way: with wild yeasts, organic flour, and a wood-burning oven. INSET BELOW: Laurence Monclard is the owner of Meeting the French, and Claude Esnault presides over the oldest boulangerie in Paris.

photoLaurence Monclard's Meeting the French service has offered in-home dinners with Parisians and gourmet walking tours for foodies since 2005. In 2006, Meeting the French teamed up with the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau to offer a new product for upscale visitors and budget travelers alike: low-cost Meet the Parisians at Work visits to workshops, factories, and other businesses throughout the city.

photoThe guided tours are priced lower than a movie ticket. They take you behind the scenes at locations such as bakeries, chocolate shops, designers' ateliers, artists' studios, and even cultural and sporting sites such as the Longchamp racetrack and the Paris heliport.

Most tours are bilingual, which means you can listen and learn in French and/or English, as you prefer. (If you're a French student, these tours offer the chance to improve your comprehension and ask simple questions in French.)

We've enjoyed two "Meeting the Parisians at Work" tours:

photoBoulangerie Patisserie Au Grand Richelieu, the oldest bakery in Paris, where Claude Esnault and his predecessors have served up bread and pastries since 1810.

photoLa Boulangerie par Véronique Mauclerc near the Parc de la Villette, one of only four bakeries in France that still use wood-fired ovens (and the only such bakery to be owned and operated by a woman).

Each tour lasted about 45 minutes. On the first tour, there were three other guests (two French, one from another European country); on the second, we met an Australian woman who lives in Paris with her husband.

During the tours, the proprietors showed us how they worked, provided tasting samples, and answered questions that ranged from "How many loaves do you bake each day?" to "What's the name of your cat?" (An English-speaking guide from Meeting the French was on hand to translate.)

At the end of each tour, we stocked up on breads and pastries, but there was no pressure to buy--the artisans seemed pleased just to have visitors who were interested in learning about their businesses and aspirations.

For a tour calendar, or to book in advance with your credit card, visit the Meet the Parisians at Work page at Meetingthefrench.com.


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