Why queueing at French markets is often worth the wait  

Some stalls will have you queueing for longer than others

A queue of people waiting to be served in a market
The longest queue in a French market is often a sign of quality
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One of life’s great lessons is that counter-intuitive actions are often better.

This certainly applies to navigating markets in France, where the longest queue, while invariably being the most time-consuming, nearly always yields the best results.

I learned this at a splendid indoor market in Argenton-sur-Creuse (Indre).

The first thing I saw was a long snaking queue, extending across the neighbouring chicken vendor’s stall, obscuring his produce completely. The other end of the queue was the caisse of a butcher, two stalls long, and with a cheery young patron.

Queue for quality

Why the long queue? Other butchers were not so fortunate in that market, so he must have had a keen advantage. In this instance it was not price, but quality (this is France). The best andouillette and entrecôte, for example.

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I joined at the far end of the poor chicken vendor, and it took ages to get to the butcher’s smile. 

I timed it just as my wife arrived, who, in the same time, had bought everything else we were after, including queueing at each stall in the whole market.

They were out of brains, I regret to say, but maybe another time? The andouillette was the best I have had in France, and the entrecôte at least an equal first. Both were well worth the wait.

I noticed that the queue was a mixed bag of customers, including spruce old ladies of various heights, little old men alone, and smart bourgeois women with and without husbands (usually without). 

Star butcher

There was a camaraderie as everyone there was obviously used to the weekly chore of taking their place in a long and slow-moving queue but did not resent it. They were all in the know that the best meat in the market was to be had here – a source of modest pride, a semi-rural savoir faire.

This butcher also has a smart new shop and butchery about 15 minutes out of town. However, on the odd times we have visited we have invariably turned around and left, as the queue there is nearly as bad as in the market, and being served only by the butcher’s long-suffering wife, is an awful lot slower.

There seemed to be no way around the queueing, until we were drifting through our nearest village one midday, and there was the butcher’s van, serving just two elderly clients with modest requirements.

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We learned it was a weekly fixture, and this really was a service to the community rather than to profit.

Unfortunately, the last time we showed up, the van did not. 

We still have some way to go with deciphering all the secret codes of French life, but in the meantime the longest queue at the market will stand us in good stead.