My Life in France by Julia Child is a "playful memoir of the famous chef's first, formative sojourn in France with her new husband..." --Publishers Weekly.
le troc (trok) noun, masculine
Synonyms: échange (m) (swap), commerce (m) (trade)
L'amitié n'exige rien en échange, que de l'entretien.
Friendship demands nothing in exchange, except upkeep. --Georges Brassens
A Day in a French Life...
by Kristin Espinasse
When our newly-hired carpenter, Joseph, opened the back doors of his fourgonette* I noticed the custom shelves he had built along the aluminum side walls. They weren't noble--indeed, if I had seen the shelves (which were rough-edged and built from scrap) before signing the kitchen contract, I might have questioned his workmanship. But the shelves serve their purpose--keeping Joseph's tools tidy and at hand. Besides, I reasoned, Joseph's too busy working on others' shelves to have time to worry about his own. (You know the old saying about how the cobbler's children have the worst shoes in the village: 'Les cordonniers sont les plus mal chaussés'.)
"This is for you," Joseph said, reaching into the back of his van and handing Jean-Marc a plastic bag. Jean-Marc accepted the bag, surprised by its lourdeur.* Next, my husband set the bag down and we all three peered inside.
"C'est du loup." It is wolf fish,* Joseph explained.
"Loup!" I thought.
"Loup?" Jean-Marc's face appeared skeptical.
We examined the fresh catch, whose bulging eyes and sharp tails were intact.
"You'll need to gut and scale them. Do you know how?" Joseph asked.
"Oh, yes! Jean-Marc knows how," I assured myself, almost tasting the fish.
"Merci, Joseph," Jean-Marc began, "but we can't take all of them... two or three would be--"
"Take them. They're yours!" Joseph insisted.
To my understanding, Joseph was sealing the deal we had made earlier when we chose his devis* above the others, selecting him to fit our kitchen with a new countertop and shelves. I kissed our new carpenter on both cheeks, thanking him for the dozen loups which we would barbeque, bake, marinate, powder with flour, pan-fry, drizzle with lemon, freeze, reheat and smack our lips over encore et encore.* And to think, just this week, I was remarking how we don't get enough protein--"it's always pasta this, pasta that!" While I was giddy about the fish and all of its savory incarnations, Jean-Marc remained hesitant. But before long, my husband's face lit up and he invited Joseph over to the garage-cum-cellar to offer him one bottle of Provence rosé and one bottle of Bordeaux from his stock as a wine merchant.
"Only two bottles!" I thought. Either it is really good wine (in troc* for the fish) or poor Joseph is getting the short end of the stick. "Have you got a case of champagne?" Joseph inquired, perhaps thinking about short sticks.
"A case?!" I thought, no longer worried about Joseph, who could fend for himself. Mentally, my arms weighed the dozen fish on the one hand and the wine and champagne on the other. The scale tottered, searching for equality between the wine and the wolf fish. "Could it all equal out?" I now wondered, thinking about the devis and the labor Joseph had agreed to in exchange for euros and centimes. Could money be superfluous at this point? Couldn't we settle woodwork with wine as well... by practicing l'économie de troc?*
This seemed to be an idea that the carpenter and the cork popper were presently weighing, as they leaned against an old wine barrel and, full glasses in hand, toasted to the first of what would surely be many trocs to come.
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la fourgonnette (f) = a functional light van with two back doors; la lourdeur (f) = weight; wolf fish ("le loup de mer"--also called ocean catfish or sea bass); le devis (m) = work estimate, quote; encore et encore = again and again; le troc (m) = barter, trade; l'économie de troc = barter economy
Listen: Hear the word 'troc' pronounced: Download troc2.wav
Expressions: faire du troc = to barter
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety