THE markets in France could be a tourist destination in themselves. They are where you can connect with the locals and find true insight into their culture.
The French view a market visit as a social occasion.
On any early Saturday morning all over France, people are out greeting each other with exuberant cheek kisses, filling their wicker baskets with fresh produce carefully chosen for its flavour, quality and price.
It must be locally grown of course. Offer a French man apricots from Spain and he will snort with contempt. Try to sell him asparagus not grown down the road and he will huff in outrage. Dare sell him goat cheese from a goat with no French pedigree and he may never speak to you again.
We love browsing the markets in France tasting samples of saucission, nougat, terrines and an overwhelming variety of cheeses.
We never tire of watching glistening olives being scooped from wicker baskets for eager customers and we are always awed by the displays of asparagus, all militarily upright like soldiers on inspection.
What we really love about French markets is the way locals shop with focus, and then sit down at one of the surrounding cafes, baguettes poking jauntily out of their baskets, to enjoy a glass of wine at 10am.
"If they can drink this early in the morning, then so too can we," is our attitude when in France.
The only drawback is the French can enjoy only one small glass of wine in the morning before going home to prepare lunch with their market purchases.
We Aussies, unfortunately, have no such restraint. It simply is not in our DNA. Long after the French family has settled for a Saturday afternoon nap after preparing and eating a multi-course lunch involving rich pates, creamy rabbit braises and, perhaps, a citron tart, we are still drinking at the market (which by this time has packed up and gone home as well.)
You have to love different cultures.