One of the things I really love about living in France is the baked goods. Another is the jovial sense of humour with strangers. Mix the two and you’ve got the perfect situation for a practical joke. The Savoyarde folk are very proud of their heritage: many would like to be independent of France, much like Monaco. The Savoyarde coat of arms—red with a white cross (like a plus sign)—is a common sight in farming villages like La Clusaz and major towns alike. And if the coat of arms isn’t apparent enough on the streets, you can even find the Savoie cross in bakeries: le croix de Savoie is a baked good too. The brioche-based treat is, as you would expect, in the shape of a cross, and delightfully filled with vanilla custard. It’s a very tasty treat.
I was discussing the croix de Savoie with a friend of mine and he told me there’s more than one type. He said he had bought one in La Clusaz earlier in the week and that the French baker insisted on calling it le croix de Haute Savoie (La Clusaz is indeed in Haute Savoie, the region north of Savoie) when he rang it up on the cash register. The baker seemed indignant when my friend requested the item without adding “Haute” to its name. My friend did not ask why, and, being French himself, was surprised to hear the baker differentiate his own baked item from the well-known Savoie version.
Me, I’ve lived in both places and eaten many examples of the baked treat and I’ve never noticed a difference. Curious to find out, I went to the same bakery and snapped this photo of the croix de Haute Savoie alongside some other baked treats. The baker was there so I asked him what the difference was. He looked confused, so I explained in my best foreigner French what my friend had told me. “Ah,” he said, “it was a joke. I was just seeing if he would believe me if I called it that and I guess it worked!” At least, I think he said that, based, again, on my best foreigner French. He then chuckled with his visiting delivery mate and the a bakery assistant. I felt I should join in with the laughter despite not understanding just why they found the joke so hilarious. Eventually, I left the shop, with a bread stick under my arm, and left them still giggling about the whole thing.
Later on, I told my friend that he’d been taken in. He smiled and said, tongue in cheek: “There is a difference between the two regions you know. A friend from Haute Savoie told me. She said: ‘The difference between Haute Savoie and Savoie is just like the difference between couture and haute couture.’ There you go, that’s two French ‘jokes’ in one day.