Lost in Translation

Traveling overseas or to areas that are geographically and culturally distinct can be both exciting and surprising. I mentioned a few days ago that what I found most surprising when I studied abroad in Madagascar, was that the Malagasy were just like me. In other words, their ultimate, basic human curiosities, interests, etc. were the same. Cultural traditions, taught value systems, religious traditions, celebrations and so on are, as we know, often quite distinct.

Living in France I have gained further insight into the differences between cultures that often arise from distinct languages and cultural traditions. The first is that after spending some quality time with a different country’s bureaucracy and daily life, you learn that many “rules” and cultural certitudes are simply arbitrary. The second is that there are certain ideas and phrases that do not have direct translations from one language to another. Even something as simple as sugar can be quite confusing!

Sugar Daddy

I am not a big fan of sweets. Most sweet things are in fact “too sweet” for my tastes. However, I love to bake. And real baking requires sugar. The first time I went to the store to buy some sugar to bake a cake, I was stumped. Despite France’s reputation for pastries and sweet delights the grocery store only seemed to sell bags and bags of powdered sugar and raw sugar. I was a bit confused, as I’d never before considered whether the French used the same kind of sugars as Americans to bake.

I decided to buy a bag of each. It turns out the “sucre de poudre” is what an American would likely call table or baking sugar. Powdered sugar that we’d use for icing or special recipes is “sucre de glace” or “ice sugar.” Cassonade is brown sugar, but it is generally sold with bigger crystals, similar to raw sugar in the US. I’ve been told that American style brown sugar can be found in some health food stores, but I haven’t yet done the research.

The French also sell quite a bit of sugar in cube form to put in their coffee and tea. British take their tea with milk. The French take it with sugar. Sugar cubes can be found in white sugar and also in raw sugar form or “sucre roux.” This one is confusing to me as the word “roux” is generally translated to the color red, and raw sugar is not red… Caster sugar is “sucre de semoule,” a fact I learned looking up the recipe for making real French Macaroons. Corn syrup doesn’t exist in France, although you can find “sucre inverti” and “sucre liquid,” either for making candy or alcoholic drinks, like a mojito or rum punch.

One thing that is consistent across all cultures, is that children love sugar. And children that have eaten sugar are sticky. I’ve tested this.

And lastly, one of the most amusing aspects of sugar shopping in France, is that one of the main brands of sugar is called “Daddy.” So, if you are looking for a “Sugar Daddy,” you may not need to go any farther than the baking aisle of a French supermarket.