When I dropped into the local bakery this evening to buy a loaf of bread the baker himself was at the counter instead of one of his cashier assistants. I've noticed the guy before when he occasionally stopped to serve customers between shoving clattering baking sheets in and out the oven, and remarked how ill he fits the American stereotype of a French baker. Young, muscled, and with two bare arms covered with elaborate tatoos, I think he'd look more at home as a drummer in a rock band.
Tonight, as he politely wished Mademoiselle and me bonsoir and served us our baguette, my eyes wandered to patterns decorating his forearms. He had Chinese characters on one, what looked like geometric forms on another, and across the back of one hand the letters P-A-I-N.
So I left wondering: is this an English word, a badass emblem of his toughness?
Or is it French pain, a homage to his calling?
The French take their bread seriously enough that the second possibility just might be the case, but I doubt I'll have the nerve to ask next time and find out.