A French Superstition
The French are a superstitious lot. They have many traditions that predict whether good or bad luck will follow a certain action.
One such superstition states that you should never lay bread on the table upside down. It’s widely known that this action invites bad luck – maybe even the devil, himself. But why? How could upside down bread invite misfortune? What could be the reason behind this belief?
It seems that to find the answer, we have to look back to the Middle Ages when public executions were widely held. They would normally be scheduled at times when lots of people were out and about – on the morning of market days, for example. The idea was to show everyone what happened to people who broke the law, so the more people to see it, the better.
The morning the example was being made, the executioner was a busy man. He would have to sharpen his axe, and make all the preparations. He wouldn’t have time to stop by the bakery to pick up his daily baguette: that would have to wait until later.
The baker certainly didn’t want the man with the axe to arrive and be turned away because he had sold all the bread, so he would turn a baguette – probably his best baguette – upside down. That meant that it wasn’t for sale. It was reserved for the executioner and no one would touch it.
The “man of death” was someone that no one wanted to have a chat with, so he would just walk into the bakery, take his upside down loaf of bread, and be on his way. In fact, the executioner had the right to go into any shop and take whatever he could hold in one hand. And no one ever argued with him.
So, to get back to our superstition, laying bread upside down on your table was seen as inviting the executioner into your home, or by association, inviting in some kind of evil, or even the devil.
So, be careful with that bread!
* More about France – You can read more stories like this in my book Berets, Baguettes, and Beyond.
More about bread:
- History of the French baguette: Legends, Laws, and Lengthy Loaves
- Bread delivery: Les Porteuses de Pain
- History of the French Croissant
- Cocteau, Picasso, and a Tale of two Breads
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