Changer de crémerie

Crémerie
Crémerie photographed in Marseille by Boris Drenec.

This is part of a series on French idiomatic expressions that relate to food. Browse the list of idioms featured so far.

This week’s expression is, “Changer de crémerie.”

Literally translated as, “changing creameries,” it means taking your business elsewhere when you’re unhappy with the current (and possibly long-standing) arrangement.

Example: “Certains généralistes se sentent obligés de délivrer des ordonnances même quand ce n’est pas strictement nécessaire, de peur que leurs patients changent de crémerie.” “Some family doctors feel pressured to write prescriptions even when it’s not strictly necessary, out of fear that their patients might change creameries.”

(Cultural note: this sentence is to be understood in the context of France, where patients typically feel that they didn’t get their money’s worth if they come out of the doctor’s office without some kind of prescription. It is one of the factors that explain the considerable deficit of our health system, since the cost of these not-so-necessary medications is covered in part by the sécurité sociale.)

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:


(If no player appears, here’s a link to the audio file.)

This idiom appeared in the early nineteenth century.

The word crémerie is to be understood here as the place where one buys cream, butter, and cheese. (The modern term for that is fromagerie, an interesting illustration of the shift of focus these shops have undergone.) But at the time the expression was formed, creameries often doubled up as simple working-class restaurants, and the term was used more broadly for any drinking or eating establishment.

It’s hard to say why this idiom was built on the idea of the creamery and not, say, the bakery, the café, or any place one would frequent on a regular basis, but such are the mysteries of language.

Finally, I’ll draw your attention to the fact that there is some dissension regarding the accent in the word crémerie. Although the word crème has a grave accent on the “e”, both crémerie and crèmerie are acceptable. Crémerie was considered the proper form throughout the twentieth century, but the 1990 spelling reform, which sought to remove irregularities where possible, proposed to make crèmerie the main accepted spelling. Many of the modifications proposed in this reform have been ignored, however, and I personally prefer to stick with crémerie.

  • http://www.dinnersanddreams.net Nisrine M.

    Interesting idiom, Clotilde. I’ve never heard of that one.

  • http://bureauodd.blogspot.com/ bureau chief

    Merci Clotilde

    Edible idioms are my favorite feature of your blog. They’re interesting, amusing and contain a free French pronunciation lesson.

  • http://www.kimberlybelle.com The Dinner Belle for KimberlyBelle.com

    Thank you for this!! Had so much fun reading and learning about the word. Had no idea that it used to mean a working-class restaurant – very fascinating.

  • http://www.aplumbyanyothername.blogspot.com A Plum By Any Other Name

    The French have the best idioms and this one is no exception. I came across “it’s none of your onions” awhile back and I thought that one was pretty amusing too. Thanks for sharing!

  • http://www.eatlovedrink.com eatlovedrink

    I’m so happy to have learned that. Love etymology…and it’s even more fun in French. If I had heard that on the radio I would have just assumed I misunderstood…no more!

  • http://parisbreakfasts.blogspot.com parisbreakfast

    Do people still use this idiom?
    It seems a bit oldie-worldie perhaps..

  • Chloe

    The curious French (and Belgian! I’m Belgian and we swallow as many pills there, I’m sure) obsession with healthcare always makes me think of this story

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