Just nearby my old apartment on Rue Mouffetard is the preserved storefront of Au Nègre Joyeux, the name of a chocolate factory that once existed at 14, Rue Mouffetard. It’s truly hard to say what is more offensive: the use of the word negro in a company name, the fact that it was a chocolate factory (or some say, coffee), that it’s been deemed worthy of preservation, or the elaborate painting of the smiling (black) servant/slave eagerly serving the (white) lady of the house. I previously wrote about how it is illegal for the French state to collect census information on ethnicity and other related issues here, and with the subsequent passage of the burqa ban, it is clear that the concepts of minority and discrimination is very different in Europe than in the United States.

Here’s a closeup of the painting:

Here’s what the building looks like now (in a popular roundabout of cafés and restaurants:

In the early 20th century, this was the location of a popular music club and is now, ironically, a supermarket run by minorities. If anybody has more tidbits on this sign or building, let me know!

How to Get There:
14, Rue Mouffetard, 5th arrondisement
Metro: M7 to Place Monge

All photographs by Michelle Young.  Follow UntappedCities on  Twitter  and  Facebook. Get in touch with the author at  @UntappedMich

16 thoughts on “Au Nègre Joyeux (Happy Negro Chocolate Factory) in Paris’ Rue Mouffetard

  1. You’re being kind. Negre means nigger in French. They sell pastry called Tete de Negre without a second thought. I just saw a review of Negre Cafe on Yelp. Negre was always perjorative. The French have a peculiar form of racism but they don’t seem to recognize it unless it comes from the extreme right. I was at a dinner in Paris. A mother gave her son a dessert. She said to him “Here is your Tete de….” She looked at me a couldn’t finish the sentence.

  2. We purchased an oil painting of this picture on a recent Sunday (2013) during an art show in Paris. Sadly, it was stolen from us in a hotel in Monte Carlo.

  3. hi
    on the picture the master is serving the slave, but there are other places where you can see a slave serving his master (“au planteur” on montorgeuil street). there is quite a scandal about it, right about now in france. people are mostly complaining about the fact that the slave is smiling, despite the fact he is not smiling because he is happy to be a slave, but because of the roles being inverted. since it’s protected as an historical monument, let’s give them a plaque, no problem.
    the word “gros” is not short for “negro”, it’s old-fashioned slang (see san-antonio books). but, with the influence of rap, white people sometimes call each other like that, and in the suburbs it’s becoming a regular word, wether “colour” you are. so, add aimé cesaire and the fact that it’s a regular spanish word, the word isn’t used in a pejorative manner no more. slavery is still alive, though.

    1. Thanks Nito, I’m familiar with the painting on Montorgueil as well. I also know of the influence of rap on vocabulary in France, as I also heard the use of n***er last year and found it quite surprising, and to Americans it’s offensive even if it used between whites. Always interesting to see these cultural differences.

  4. It’s not just Americans! Canadians (my present nationality) and Australians (the other part of my dual citizenship) can be no different. Most recently I was instantly objected to when I referred to needing to “man” a table because man is sexist. Again, I took the time to explain that “man” in this case comes from the Latin “manus”: hand, hence manipulate, etc. and that the term had nothing to do with the nature of one’s gonads.

    Such is the spontenaity of the modern tongue police: they hear something and object before researching the reason for the term, picture, etc.

    You are far from being alone, I’m afraid, in being hard-wired PC.

    take care.

  5. The name on this building was not offensive when first given; it was perfectly acceptable at that time and, if taken on a historical level, there is nothing offensive here, except in the eyes of the consumate politically correct.

    The name was given because it was in this building a Madame Barry, a “favourite” of Louis XV, lived and sought out the companionship of the servant. He is smiling not because he has to as he says “Yes, massa”, but because he is genuiunely happy. If you look again you will find that she too is smiling.

    The scene itself is a parody: the man is “serving” the woman – it was a private joke amongst the locals after the discovery of the affair.

    The affair lasted quite some time until it was discovered: Madam Barry was chastised but secretly admired by the members of the court; the negre joyeaux was arrested and guillotined.

    If there is any reason for offense to be taken it is not in the retention of a perfectly legitimate expression of the day, but in the difference in the punishments handed out to the pair of happy lovers.

    1. Thank you Brian for the great history. There should be a plaque there telling the story! We Americans are hardwired to be PC–particularly due to the unfortunate parts of our history involving minorities.

  6. Here the word “Nègre” is really not used, because it is pejorative and old-fashioned, even in conversation. Now some expressions have remained, such as Tête de Nègre for a typical chocolate cake, or Art Nègre if you are addressing the evolution of art in the 20s… And bear in mind that the Caribbean poet Aimé Césaire created a concept of cultural pride of the slave’s history, habits and culture under the word Negritude. Rap music of course brought a lot of words and expressions from the US to here (where do you think Prez Sarkozy got his “Bling-Bling” nickname from?) . So although they are not French words, Negro or Nigger may have been used in the rap scene here, just like it has been overseas… In fact I think it evolved in the very common French expression “Wesh Gros” which probably comes from “Wesh Negro” (wech commes for Maghreb arabian). Anyway, that N world you mention with fear has a History and obviously a future, it really is a matter on when and how you use it… In the mouth of Snoop Dogg it has a different meaning than in the mouth of Jean-Marie le Pen…

  7. The French are totally unrelaxed with racism, which is punished by law in France, as it is not in most other countries. Ethnical statistics are not legal, and any racial comment are by essence illegal…
    But that street sign has another story; it’s an old sign and should be seen as such. The word “Nègre” meant black in the old days, without the pejorative connotation is has today (In contemporary French, it is impossible to publicly use that word without breaking the law, and you would get worried/confused/disgusted looks from the people you talk to in a private assembly)
    But it was a marketing tool in the past centuries. Remember that slavery on the continental French territory was not legal, so only very rich and powerful nobility could afford to have Africans at their service. If an African servant was to come here, that means it was a quality house. Not to mention the exotic/Aesthetic side of it related to the universe of CHocolate and exotic goods, that you also find in old French tobacco signs (instead of using an American Indian, a black person was used here. there’s a good example at the Musée Carnavalet). If you want to enjoy that remain of the old days, you must get your mind ready to think as person of the early 19th century. To see it with our contemporary eyes does not work. Unfortunately, I think it will be taken down, because people fail to take it as it was. Which is also why you have some stone impacts on it….
    Ah, it’s a hard thing to do, to live with History…

    1. Antoine, thanks for your very detailed and culturally relevant reply. When I was living in Paris, I sometimes heard a certain word (beginning with “n”) that was used pejoratively in the United States to refer to African-Americans/Blacks by very educated people. It was likely exported abroad via rap songs, but of course they use it as a way to reclaim the word. I wondered if a misunderstanding had occurred as a result, overseas. It shocked me to hear it but they did not understand why it was so insulting. Do you have any experience with the word?

  8. Hi,

    You’re right, the French are very relaxed on minority/racism issues – I suppose they don’t pay attention to it and it is a sign of normal behavior.
    One can notice this storefront while sipping coffee in the nearby Place de la Contrescarpe.
    All the best

    1. Hi Dan! Thanks for the comment! There’s another similar type of storefront (subject matter and style) on Rue Montorgueil, which I’ve been meaning to photograph.

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