Up until a year ago, I never thought about the price of bread. Maybe the price of an avocado. A granola bar, even. But never bread. It’s just one of those staple items that you can always count on to be pretty cheap, right?
Then, exactly one year ago today, I found myself in Strasbourg, France.
I was visiting my friend Bryn in Heidelberg, Germany and her boyfriend suggested we make the day trip. To be totally honest, I just wanted to be able to brag that I’d been to two countries in one week over Thanksgiving break (early moral of the story: never do anything where your highest motivation is bragging rights).
Bryn was relatively new to the German language at that point—she was in her first language class at the time—but I was relying on her wholly to get us to Strasbourg and back. The trip required one train transfer. Well, to someone whose most recent education in the German language was a mix of Duolingo and Inglorious Basterds (Nein! Nein! Nein!) and to someone else whose real education in the German language had only just begun, it was surprisingly easy to mishear which stop was coming next.
The nice conductor who had stamped our tickets when we first got on the train and to whom we nodded when he explained which stop to get off at, paused in front of us and gave us a solemn head shaking. Bryn knew enough German to understand that we’d missed our stop.
We were told to get off at the next one, where we waited in the freezing cold next to some German teenage goddesses with flowing blonde hair, shiny designer boots and sleek jackets. I stood shivering in my late grandmother’s oversized snow jacket with a full bladder and no bathroom anywhere in sight.
Long story short, we made it to glorious Strasbourg only two hours after we’d anticipated and our adventure began. We ate crepes by the Cathedral, perused an outdoor book market, and wandered around the cobblestone streets admiring the scenery. It was quaint, to say the least.
As the afternoon waned, we began our scavenger hunt for some cheese and wine to take home. Finding the wine was easy. And then, just a few doors down, we found a cheese shop filled with large white cylinders emitting interesting smells.
The French woman running the shop was warm and kind. She graciously offered us a few samples and, though there was a language barrier, we walked out of that store with two wedges of cheese for the price of one. I am my father’s daughter, so that quickly became the highlight of the day.
High on two-for-the-price-of-one cheese fumes, Bryn and I were drawn to the tiny bread shop next door, if only for the reason that the enormous cylinders of bread were shaped exactly like the cheeses we had just left.
We wandered in and were greeted by another French woman who was seemingly just as kind. After a few samples, Bryn and I both agreed on an apricot bread. There wasn’t an exact science to conveying how much we wanted, so we kind of just gestured until it seemed like she was cutting the right sized wedge.
The process of cutting, saran wrapping, weighing, ringing up and putting the bread into a bag was equivalent to that scene from Love Actually where Alan Rickman’s character is trying to discreetly buy his office crush a gift while his wife is shopping and Rowan Atkinson keeps adding more and more to the gift wrapping.
Anyway, she finally handed us the bag of bread and the receipt, which read: “36.71”
After a few long seconds we realized that meant thirty six euros.
I’m not sure if this bread was blessed by the Pope, or baked by the president of France, or if maybe the apricots were laced with gold, but somehow it was about thirty nine euros per kilogram.
Bryn immediately turned to me, panic welling in her eyes, as she whispered, “Melizzy, I can’t afford that!”
The correct reaction from me would have been to say, “me either,” then to hand the bread and the receipt back to the lady and walk the hell out of that store. But instead, it went something like this:
With gestures we asked if she could cut the bread in half, but she kept shaking her head, “no.” Theres a chance she thought we were asking her to halve the price, but either way, for some reason the answer was “no.”
Guilt-ridden by the small morsels of sample bread currently digesting in my stomach, I opened my wallet, pulled out my only fifty euro bill and with a shaking hand, begrudgingly transferred it into the hands of the evil bread lady.
In a daze, I took my change and walked out of that bread shop with the heaviest piece of bread I’ve ever held and, actually, my wallet a little heavier too from the change.
As soon as the fresh air touched my face, I came to my senses. It was probably the worst, “what have I just done?” moment I’ve ever had. As an American, sometimes its easy to forget the exchange rate of dollars to euros, but it eventually hit me that I had not spent thirty six dollars on the bread, but forty five. Bryn tried her best to console me, but I continued to stew for the entire walk back to the train station and then on the train as well.
Staring dejectedly down at the brown paper bag resting heavily on my lap, I stated, “I don’t even want it anymore.”
Since Bryn and I are always on the same page, this statement led to us opening the bag of bread and commencing to eat almost half of it.
What does thirty six euro bread taste like? Imagine if fruit cake actually tasted good and only had apricots in it. With an aftertaste of dignity.
I’d like to tell you that I savored that damn bread for weeks, but the truth is that later that evening, Bryn, a British boy named Ross and I finished every last crumb with a mug of gluhwein.
Needless to say, I won’t be going back to Strasbourg anytime soon.
And since you're probably wondering what the moral of the story is: Always, I repeat, always check the price of bread before you even think about buying it. Or sampling it. Or getting it gift wrapped. Because the more you say yes, the harder it is to say no.