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.

  • charlie

    speaking of bread, what is the best style of bread for a tartine beurre?

    • Any type bread can be used for a tartine beurrée, since it just means the bread is sliced and buttered, but if you order it in a café, it will most likely be a split baguette.

  • Tia

    I especially like this idiom. It rolls nicely off the tongue :)

  • In the US (as well as presumably England and the British Commonwealth), the expression “Not my cup of tea” is slightly similar. It means something one wouldn’t do or doesn’t like — although whether it’s dismissive (like “Ne pas manger de ce pain-là”) or apologetic depends on the speaker’s tone of voice and the context.

    • Thanks for mentioning that one. To my ear, the meaning of the French idiom is somewhat stronger, but you’re absolutely right, it’s really a matter of tone.

  • Très bonne explication de ce proverbe !

    Another french expression related to bread: “Cela ne mange pas de pain”. In english: “It doesn’t eat bread”.

    When bread was the primary source of alimentation in France, it was a very notable ressource. In this expression, “eat” means “cost”. So, “Cela ne mange pas de pain” could be translated into “It doesn’t cost much”.

    By extension, this expression significates that doing something is not a big deal and can, therefore, be done.

  • greentea00

    thanks ..i love this one..
    i’ve been following ur blog for awhile but just too lazy to leave any msg..thanks for sharing ur recipe with us..hope u can post more french idioms here as well too!

  • wilson

    Fascinating proverb! I can think of something similar in Chinese which literally translates as ‘I will not bend/bow my back for five pecks of rice’. Since rice is to the Chinese what bread is like to the French, it has almost exactly the same connotation.

  • Hello Clothilde,

    Thanks for the link.

    “Ça ne mange pas de pain” to say thanks – even a few months later! ^^

  • Alex C

    The phrase “That’s not how I roll” springs to mind here. Please excuse the dreadful pun…

    • Excellent suggestion, thank you.

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