Monday, September 12, 2011

Histoire d'enseignes. A story about signs (2)

Panneaux. Enseignes. Ecriteaux. Pancartes. If you have been reading this blog for a while, you know I love signs, all kinds of signs. 

As we were traveling in Europe this summer, I took many pictures of panneaux, enseignes, écriteaux et pancartes and saved them in a special folder on my faithful MacBook Air so I could go back and revisit them later. 

My next story is not quite ready for publication, so why not look at some favorite signs captured just a few weeks ago? 

Let's fly to Europe once again. Will you join me?

The trip started in London. Pubs and taverns are everywhere in England. They have the best signs (and coolest names.) Independent pubs also have their own website and I learned a lot about the history of signs there. 

There were other panneaux, in the streets, or... underground. 

Junior impersonating a famous detective in "the Tube"

Old streets signs for sale on Portobello Road

Once we arrived in Paris, things got serious. There is so much to look at in the French capital. Rues, squares et jardins (streets, small squares and gardens.) Parks. Buildings. Art. Two fellow bloggers capture the spirit of Paris perfectly. These two ladies are talented photographers, and I love discovering their daily posts; traveling back to favorite neighborhoods; discovering new quartiers or daily scenes through their eyes. Merci, Genie and Virginia

While in Paris, Junior and I spent an afternoon in Rueil-Malmaison, a lovely town in the suburbs. Le Brother and his family live there. The most famous local attraction is le Château de Rueil Malmaison. It was the home of Napoleon's first wife, Joséphine de Beauharnais. The young Bonaparte (as he was known back then) bought it for her and she lived there after their divorce.

Château de la Malmaison

Later on, impressionist painters flocked to Rueil to paint the Seine River that flows nearby. To me, Rueil will always be the place where I worked for ten years with American Express France. 

During our visit, I was surprised to see that the area known as "le Vieux Rueil" (the old town) had been entirely renovated. It has become a wonderful little village (just 8 miles away from Paris), complete with specialty shops, pedestrian-friendly streets, boutiques and restaurants. While Le Brother shopped for dinner that afternoon (being very French, he likes to make at least five stops at five different shops to buy the food,) Junior and I tagged along, taking pictures: de parfaits touristes. 

"Le Vieux Rueil"
I counted at least 8 boulangerie-pâtisseries on a 5 block radius:
Bienvenue en France! 
Le Traiteur: the indispensable deli

Citrouille (pumpkin): This word challenges most of my French students,
 but it sounds delightful!
Children's stores have the best names and signs.
("soulier" is an old-fashioned word for shoe)

I found my favorite signs as we were traveling through France over the next two weeks. If you have ever driven on the great French roads (routes nationales for interstate highways, or départementales for state highways,) especially in Southern France, this photo will look familiar. Do you remember those long, straight, two-lane roads, bordered by ancient planes trees (les platanes) ? As you slow down to enter small towns and villages, a familiar signpost greets you.

Arriving in Montignac, home of the Lascaux prehistoric cave, Périgord
Départementale D 65

Some of the best enseignes can be found outside restaurants. Sometimes, reading the menu is almost as good as eating the food served inside. Almost.

The aptly-named "Coat of Mail" in Carcassonne's medieval city

La Trappa: a tapas restaurant in Nice
La Chèvre d'Or  (the Golden Goat): a 5-star hotel-restaurant in Eze
"La Bedaine," Sarlat (The Potbelly)

This restaurant's best customer, digesting

The French can be quite creative with street signs. Styles vary with each city, or region. 

Many streets in France are named after this French statesman,
remembered here on an iconic Parisian street sign

Cheerful Collioure, where street names are listed in French
 and in the old Occitan dialect

Colorful Nice
Main street, Eze

A sign can bear good news...

This old fountain, in Saint Paul de Vence, supplies drinking water

... or bad news...

Castel-Merle Inn (Périgord) is popular and welcoming...
... as a result,  the "no vacancy" sign often pops up on the main gate
 as early as 2:00pm

Signs have one raison d'être: information. Some take this mission seriously.

Cimiez Monastery, Nice

This sign goes the extra mile and tells us about the origins 
of the famous Place des Vosges square, Paris

Other signs lead us to interesting, and "must-see" places, such as museums and historical buildings...

If you enjoy visiting museums, go to the Marais neighborhood in Paris
The medieval Gisson manor in Sarlat (Périgord) 
is a renowned local museum

It tells the story of the French justice system from the Middle Ages
to the Revolution


Signs can be creative. The owner of that Carcassonne wine bar catches our attention with his clever display of "Le Guide du Routard" covers (a popular collection of French travel guides) as an endorsement. 

It is difficult to trace back the origin of signs. Romans used them already. In France, and in other European countries, shopkeepers and artisans started posting signs outside their shops as early as the Middle Ages. Just like today, they helped potential customers find a workshop, or a boutique. Les métiers (craft, occupation) are often advertised on les enseignes hanging on buildings. It can be a bit of a guessing game to figure out what the artisan makes or sells as there may not be another inscription on the façade. Many people in the Middle Ages were illiterate. Signs and illustrations had to be self-explanatory if they were going to be effective. Before we wrap our Tour de France of signs, can you guess what these businesses specialize in?

St. Paul de Vence
St. Paul de Vence

Founded in 1850

Until next time... A bientôt.

Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. What an exciting series :-)

    While I agree that it's nice to read about the history of Place des Vosges in Paris, it's also quite distressing to see the number of 'no' signs below it : no dogs, no playing ball, no walking on the grass... :-(
    Paris gardens are as proper and well-mannered as the city's inhabitants.

  2. I love french signs. They are creative for sure! I really like the fat dogs that hang near the signs. =)

  3. This post was downright delicious. I myself really enjoy and appreciate the variety of signs.

  4. Chère Veronique,
    Merci beaucoup for the mention of my blog and the link. You have now inspired me to capture signs the next t rip to Paris!!!

    BTW, did you know that Genie and I met when she contacted me after following my blog? She and I have been to Paris together and conspired to create her blog right here in my home! We are the best of friends now. Blogging is a wonderful way to meet interesting and fun people, n'est-ce pas?

  5. v-lost my comment so i am trying again...i adore all the pictures of signs...little snipets of history/art right before our eyes...but my most absolute favorite this time aroung is... the GREAT picture of jr. in the underground alongside one of my favorite literary characters..that boy has style...and certainly his mom and dad have some part in that!v-i so enjoy my monday mornings with you ... always a bright spot no matter what else is going on. looking at the french word for pumkin...i know i would have trouble with it like armchair, piece of paper, welcome(not bienvenue)...any word making use of type sounding matter how much i practice...have a wonderful week..your happy reader on the opposite coast!!-g

  6. -- Nathalie -- Welcome, and thank you for leaving a comment. I agree, all these "no" messages at the bottom of the sign are a bit distracting. Parisians may be well-mannered but they are not famous for following rules ;-) I distinctly remember seeing dogs inside the park when I stopped by... V.
    -- Sandy -- Great to hear from you. Don't you just love that chunky yellow lab? That dog has a good life, let me tell you!
    -- Olga -- Thank you for stopping by this morning. I did my best with the pictures. Your signs would have looked a lot better ;-)
    -- Virginia -- I had guessed you and Genie were good friends, and I agree with you. I have "met" some wonderful people through blogging. Who knows? You, Genie and I might actually meet in person in France one of these days...
    -- g -- Welcome chez French Girl, dear friend from the opposite coast. It makes me feel good that you look forward to my posts on Monday mornings. I will let you in on a little secret: I look forward to your comments! ;-) I will pass on your compliments to Junior. He has not been wearing the Fedora hat much lately and has switched for a biking helmet (he got a brand-new bike this weekend!) A bientot!

  7. I love these!
    I also love taking photos of signs (along with doors and windows) and this series is wonderful.
    Merci Véronique!

  8. Wow, you certainly do have a passion for pancartes, as this prolific collection attests, chapeau ! Some real gems in there...

    I too have a strong urge to photograph certain signs from time to time, as a few previous posts can illustrate, should you have a spare moment or two, there are only about 57 currently indexed as sign-posts, no pun intended :

    You sure do cover some ground when travelling !

  9. Love your photos of all the signs. Great stories! Mon prefere, le dernier fois je suis allee en France: "Autres Directions" Tres drole!

  10. -- Chez Loulou -- You're welcome. I enjoyed your last post too-- and the sign!
    -- Owen -- Ha! Thanks for letting me know about your 57 signposts! Will have a blast looking at all of them.
    -- Kaydee -- Merci mon amie. I actually had a shot of a sign that said: "Toutes Directions" and almost added it. Will forward it to you!

  11. Another amazing post with a wealth of information about the signs. Of all, I think that the "Flanerie" is my favorite for its detail and lush setting among the green. The road signs as one drives in France are not as confusing as those in Tuscany where one navigates by quickly scanning the last four or five letters to discern the town while zipping by... the list of six towns all have similar spellings!

    Thank you, Véronique, for linking to my blog and I do hope to enjoy meeting up with you, whether in France or in Seattle! Merci mille fois, ma chère.


    (Do I get extra credit for spotting the Wallace fountain in front of the pâtisserie? hehe)

  12. -- Genie -- Extra credit indeed, student Genie! You have a great eye for detail (but of course I already knew that ;-) Thank you for stopping by. As my friend Kaydee pointed out in her comment, driving in France is not that hard: When looking for a specific place, just follow the "Autres Directions" or "Toutes Directions" signs until you find it!

  13. what a lovely trail through signs and place names - and many i recognise from my home city London and where i am living now around Nice - lovely post,,,,,,,

  14. I loved your posts on Eze and Nice. I also love Nice. It has been a while since I went there with my husband and youngest daughter – at least 10 years. Since then I went to Antibes, alone, but took a train to Nice for a day. Looking at your pictures made me homesick for Nice. I did not know your family was from Boufarik. I stayed there once, for work. The house in front of the hotel was exactly like the house my grandparents had built in Courbevoie near Paris, so it must have been from the standard French “pavilion” architect. Your pictures from Cours Saleya were so inviting! I bought two dozen of the hand-milled perfume soaps in Marseille two years ago and placed them in my carry-on; the dogs at the US Customs sniffed my bag – I told them it was only soap – but I had to empty my bag!

    I loved your post sur l’école – cela m’a fait bien penser à la mienne. Oui, on avait des encriers et l’encre était violette. Mon grand-père était Alsacien et était né pendant que l’Alsace était allemande mais je ne connaissais pas les bataillons scolaires. Le post sur les enseignes et autres panneaux est très intéressant – quelle variété!

  15. -- Catherine -- You are one lucky lady if you can actually see some of these signs in your neighborhood right now ;-)
    -- Vagabonde -- It was wonderful to read your long, thoughtful comment and to hear about your own experiences sur la Côte d'Azur. So your family roots are in Alsace, a beautiful part of France as well. Did your grandfather teach his children any German while they were growing up? It must have been so difficult to live in Alsace way back when. Some people like your grandpa were German one day, and then expected to become French the next. Crazy times. Come back soon.

  16. Dearest Véronique,

    This is almost like being home... Guess that through the French occupation, my province of Limburg has so much French influence that it is similar in many ways. Like the boulangerie-pâtisseries is a way of life in your home country, also in mine. Here you have to make do with a limited selection at the grocery store. Not the same as the smell and display is a feast for the eye in itself.
    Enjoy your weekend, we just got back yesterday at 2:00 AM after a 16-day trip to The Netherlands and Germany.
    Love to you,


  17. -- Mariette -- Thank you for visiting. I am glad you have experienced life in a neighborhood where you could take daily visits to a boulangerie! There is nothing quite like it the world. ;-) I certainly hope you will be posting some pics of your recent trip. I have never been to Germany but used to visit the Netherlands on a regular basis. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  18. Veronique, I am a bit of a sign junkie too, so much so that when we named our house, I went to the local Quincaillerie and ordered a typical French blue enamel street sign with white writing, for our gate post, the shopkeeper was a bit surprised to begin with, it was a first for him and he explained it could take few weeks as it had to be ordered from a special place! When I went to collect it, the sign was perfect and me and the shopkeeper admired it together, he thought it was tres originale and wondered if he should start offering it as a normal service!

  19. -- Dash. Now I know you and I really have to meet. We are kindred spirits ;-) I have a few signs outside of my Seattle home too, some personalized ;-) That was a great idea. You will have to post a picture of the sign one day. V.

  20. You notice the things the rest of us take for granted.

  21. Merci d'avoir partagé ces photos des enseignes à Paris. Je les aime tant. Pourquoi, croyez-vous, sont les enseignes en France plus créatifs qu'au Canada ?
    Lucie |


Bonjour! I love hearing from you, my readers. To quote a fellow blogger, my friend Owen, "Comments are the icing on blogcake... Comments are the UFO in the twilight sky bearing news from other planets... Comments are raspberry vinegar in salad dressing... Comments are the cool balm of after-sun moisturizing lotion... Comments are the moment the band comes back out onstage to play an encore... Comments are the gleam in the eye across the room in a smoky bar... Comments are the rainbow after the rainstorm..." Merci for your comments! French Girl in Seattle