Tuesday, January 20, 2009

the peculiarities of french dining

I'm really fascinated by how the French eat. I may already have touched on this subject, but I think it deserves a lot of space because it really is fundamentally different from how Americans eat. And having been in France for a mere week, I am hardly an expert. I'm just going to recount what I have seen so far.

French people really do walk around with baguettes under their arms. It's a stereotype, but it contains a little grain of truth. I find this to be truly endearing for many reasons: 1) I am a romantic, especially when it comes to food; 2) you can't carry merita bread under your arm, thus exhibiting the hardiness of the baguette; 3) seeing bread walk past you on the street all the time is a testament to a cultural phenomenon that gives me hope for the future of good, crusty bread. I could go on in this vein, but bread might not be as interesting to you as it is to me.

I have very quickly fallen in love with the café. Sure, there are cafés in the US, but they tend to be superfluous and pretentious, serving things like skinny-triple-caramel-mocha-with-whipped-cream-and-grated-nutmeg. I exaggerate, but we've all been there, standing in line behind the creep who has the nerve to order something that will take 10 minutes to make. Here, there is none of that. You have your coffees, your espressos (and darned good espresso at that), your cafés au lait, and your chocolats chauds among a few other simple drinks, but that's it. If you want a dessert, you go to the pâtisserie or the chocolatier, not the café. I also love the way they serve these boissons chauds (hot drinks)--with a little cookie or sometimes a piece of chocolate or a chocolate covered almond. Nothing much and certainly not fancy, but the attention to detail is magnificent. Oh, and the tiny spoons they give you for serving are absolument mignon!

Tonight I witnessed another intriguing tidbit: French people eat pizza with a fork and knife. I am not alone. For years, I have eaten finger foods like pizza, bananas, and even pb&j sandwiches with a knife and fork. I don't really know why. Maybe because I tend to be a self-conscious eater or because I watch some people eat and think, ''why not just stick your face in it; you're halfway there already.'' In any case, I feel vindicated. But really, French people are impeccable diners. They eat slowly (these are generalizations based upon what I have seen--I'm sure there are French people who are exceptions to everything I will say on this blog, just as there are Americans who are atypical), even thoughtfully, usually holding their fork in their left hand and using their knife or a piece of bread to move food onto their fork. I'm sort of clumsy with my left hand, so this will take some getting used to. They eat heartily, but because they take their time the food isn't a strain on their stomach, and typically there is a lighter and a heavier meal of the day. I think traditionally lunch was the heavier meal, but since most people work, dinner is generally the heavier meal.

And then, there's the French enigma: how do croissant-eaters stay so thin? Enigma no more, my friends: lots of walking or riding a bike and very few snacks between meals. Going to lunch today, I walked a good 20 minutes. After lunch I visited one of the public gardens and walked around for a while before heading back to the house, which was 20 minutes more. I did the same going to and coming from dinner tonight. Walking is excellent for the digestion, so there's little wonder that the French (again, in general) stay reasonably thin.

Let me reassure all of you once more that, come Thursday or Friday, there will be photos. I will not forget.

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