Du pain sur la planche

Bread on my cutting board

Take a bite of my favourite loaf. It’s soft and dense, still warm from the oven, fragrant with rye and walnuts. Delicious, right? Then why is having ‘du pain sur la planche’ equated with having a lot of work?

Perhaps it is because the baker – le boulanger – has his work cut out for him. Kneading and rolling, at the ovens before dawn, the baker on every corner must have fresh baguettes and épis and pains de campagnes ready early each morning.

It seems the expression, ‘avoir du pain sur la planche’, has morphed over the years. At first, having bread on one’s board meant wealth. That was back in the day when the bread was made to last a long time. Then, sometime in the last century, the meaning changed. Perhaps because people began to buy their bread fresh each day. And the skinny, white baguette, delicious just out of the oven, is stale soon after.

I’ve had plenty of bread on my board so to speak for the past several months. As a freelancer that can be a double-edged sword. You are grateful for the work coming in but you never know where the next job will come from, so you really need to be thinking ahead, networking and taking care of finding new clients. That is the part of the freelance life I enjoy the least.

But I need to do it to keep the bread coming in.

Come to think of it, equating bread with work makes perfect sense. You can’t have one without the other. To have a lot on your plate, as we say in English, isn’t so different.

Sometimes lately it all feels so overwhelming. Here in France we are in a phase where there is so much to do, at every level of society. It seems that everything is such a mess. People are out protesting in the streets each week. Beyond our borders is no better. Even the weather has gone crazy.

Yet the birds are back singing and signs of spring are unmistakable. Each day the baker manages to turn out little marvels like this loaf.

For that, I am grateful.

Et toi?



  1. 355101pkl · February 28, 2019

    Moi aussi,
    Bread is civilisation! At school our RI teacher told us its no coincidence that the words in the most popular prayer are “Give us this day our daily bread”. My own thoughts on the matter ? “Bread, dough its all leads to the same prayer “. Never mind about forgiving our trespasses 🙂

    • phildange · February 28, 2019

      I’m sorry to disappoint you but this story of bread is a sort of betrayal of the Christ’s words, betrayal managed by the first “Fathers of the Church” when they provided the first Latin translation of the Gospels, which is called “the Vulgate” . This Latin Vulgate was since used as the source of all our modern Gospels . The original Gospels were written in old Greek and in them there was no idea of physical bread to feed our bodies .“Give us this day our daily bread” is a scandalous translation when the Greek term is “ἐπιούσιον”, which means something non-material, best translated by “superessential” or “transsubstantial” nourishment . You can see the different level of spirituality …

      • MELewis · February 28, 2019

        Phil, I am no student of Latin or Greek, nor I am religious, but I do find fascinating the idea that spirituality was somehow brought down to a more material level through translation. Clearly, as you point out, a different level of culture. I am reading a novel at the moment that talks about ‘manna from heaven’ in the bible. It is described as a sort of seed or bread that fell to nourish the children of Israel in the desert. Any thoughts on this?

      • phildange · February 28, 2019

        The manna didn’t suffer from the same uncouth translation . In the Torah they say it looked like coriander seeds and tasted like honey “galettes”, so obviously something to eat . And to enjoy as it seems . Maybe some bakers somewhere received the recipe and the power to make it yet ?
        (I’m not religious either, impossible since I am strongly concerned by spirituality) .

    • MELewis · February 28, 2019

      I will agree that bread is civilisation! I can forgive a lot of trespasses if there is bread to be had.😊 Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Joanne Sisco · February 28, 2019

    I have many vices but I’m grateful that bread isn’t one of them. Having said that, there is nothing quite like a fresh Parisian baguette.
    Du pain sur la planche is not an expression I was familiar with but my husband recognized it right away. Thanks for adding a new expression to my vocabulary 🙂

    It’s been a number of years since I was last in France and I’m really looking forward to returning this spring in April as we’ll be touring the northern coast. I’m sure my painful French will get a workout!

    • MELewis · February 28, 2019

      How lovely that you are coming to Paris in April! We are having such amazing weather at the moment — I hope it lasts (or that we get some rain before but that your trip gets good weather!) Agree that baguette right out of the oven is pretty amazing. I try to avoid such indulgences but cannot give up bread completely. Glad you are enjoying the blog! 😀

  3. phildange · February 28, 2019

    I hope for you you’ll keep on allright with your freelancing, with its ups and downs .
    The connection between bread and work is also visible in another expression for “profession” . Sometimes people say “Je gagne mon pain en réparant des voitures” (i earn my bread by selling cars) . Have a good piece of cake .

    • MELewis · February 28, 2019

      Good one! I had forgotten the ‘gagne pain’ expression which I think is also a noun. No cake for me, thanks. I have to save my carbs for good things like bread and beer. 😫

  4. Mary Katherine · February 28, 2019

    What a lovely post! I’m new to your blog, but really enjoying it. A damned inconvenient gluten intolerance (I blame the pesticides in our wheat) means I must limit my bread, but it’s one of my top 5 favorite things in life, especially warm with good butter. I enjoy your slices of la vie francaise, and look forward to my next visit!

    • MELewis · February 28, 2019

      Ah, butter is lovely with warm bread, isn’t it? I find the French don’t eat it with bread so much, except at breakfast. But the Swiss do! At least the fat helps balance out the glycemic index — or so I tell myself. Sorry to hear about your gluten intolerance. I believe it’s a thing here too, as we’re starting to see ‘gluten-free’ foods in the shops. We are probably all better off reducing it a little anyway. Thanks for commenting and glad to have you on board!

  5. Katherine Wikoff · February 28, 2019

    Your post makes me think about how important all the small, basic things of life actually are. “Give us this day our daily bread” is a pretty fundamental thing to pray for. Sadly, though, I think I tend to devalue the fundamentals because they are so inherently ordinary and in need of continual repetition or replenishment. My takeaway insight from your post today is that those things deserve far more of my attention and appreciation!

    • MELewis · March 2, 2019

      Thank you, Katherine! It’s easy to forget the importance of the small, daily things that make our lives tick. It takes something exceptional — a change in habits, or a loss perhaps — to help us realize how much we value the fundamentals like bread. It’s a fine line, I suppose. Not becoming obsessed or overly attached to little things, yet appreciating the happiness they bring. An ongoing challenge for yours truly!

  6. francetaste · March 1, 2019

    Best of luck with the freelancing. With thousands of journalists laid off every year, the field is getting crowded.

    • MELewis · March 2, 2019

      Yes, indeed. I’m fortunate to have PR clients in the corporate world, although I envy the journalists for the valuable work they do.

  7. Pingback: Encore! – FranceSays

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