Ne pas manger de ce pain-là

Pain au levain

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, “Ne pas manger de ce pain-là.”

Translated as, “not eating that kind of bread,” it means refusing to act in a way that goes against your values, steering clear of a situation or behavior that you think is beneath you.

Example: “Il faudrait que je fasse des ronds de jambe à la directrice pour obtenir une place pour ma fille, mais je ne mange pas de ce pain-là.” “I’d have to kowtow to the principal to get a spot for my daughter, but I don’t eat that kind of bread.”

Listen to the idiom and example read aloud:

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

As I have explained before (see ça ne mange pas de pain and long comme un jour sans pain), bread in idioms often figures as a symbol of sustenance, the staff of life, which essentially means you’ll live if you have it and die if you don’t.

And what this idiom does is oppose two kinds of people: those who would do anything to get a piece of bread, and those who would rather go hungry than eat bread that was acquired in a way that doesn’t sit right with their sense of ethics or morals.

Rather than pass judgment on what we might do when faced with life-or-death dilemmas, the expression is used metaphorically to draw the line between those who would stoop to anything to make money, to get ahead in the world, etc., and those who won’t compromise their values even if it means passing on a profitable opportunity. When someone says he won’t eat de ce pain-là (that kind of bread), he positions himself in the latter category, the one with the higher standards.

Note 1: “Je ne mange pas de ce pain-là” is the title of a 1936 book of poems by French surrealist Benjamin Péret (1899-1959); it is also the epitaph that was engraved on his tombstone at the Batignolles cemetery, which I think is pretty cool. In its English translation, the book is called “I Won’t Stoop to That.”

Note 2: Pictured above is one of the very many loaves I’ve made adapting James MacGuire’s recipe for pain au levain, as printed in Art of Eating, issue #83. Let’s just say we’ve been eating a lot of ce pain-là.

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