Getting My Culture from
*French for yogurt. Pronounced: ya·ow·oo·ii·ee·uurt
(as one syllable)
by Mad Dog
Lunch is most often a cooked meal, much like our dinner except
they dont use a microwave. And
yes, its standard fare to have wine with lunch, just like with all meals here
|| The French
probably enjoy their food more than any other group of people in the world. To them eating
isnt just a means of stoking the body with energy like it is in say, the United
States. Its an integral part of their life. And judging by the dour look on their
faces, if it wasnt for food they probably wouldnt have much of a life at all.
This is rather incredible, for the truth is French food is so
wonderful they should be smiling all the time. After all, its never more than a few
hours since theyve had their last orgasm-inducing meal. And best of all, they
didnt have to wear a sensation dampening préservatifwhat we call a
condomwhile they ate it, which, incidentally, you can buy from a machine outside any
pharmacie in the country for 10FF ($1.65 as of this mornings market opening).
Even the simplest, most mundane meal here is wonderful.
Contrast this with Englandwhich I just visited last week, but more about that
another daywhere the average meal is a crime punishable by death in most civilized
nations and the best meals are Indian.
Breakfast in France is simple: a croissant, perhaps a pain
au chocolat, and coffee. What more do you need? In the states this is commonly called
a continental breakfast, which at the motels I stay in (which generally have a
"6" in their name and include said breakfast in the price of the room) ends up
to be day-old Krispy Kreme lard-filled doughnuts and a Styrofoam cup of the previous
weeks well-aged bath water. I guess some things just dont translate well.
Lunch in France is, well, a little more elaborate than in the
United States. Everything shuts down between noon and 2:30 (or 2h30 as they like to say
here) except the restaurants, so people can go home for lunch. Now theres a concept.
You cant go shopping, get groceries, or do anything but eat.
Lunch is most often a cooked meal, much like our dinner except
they dont use a microwave. And yes, its standard fare to have wine with lunch,
just like with all meals here. Except breakfast, of course. Thats why they invented
Pizzas everywhere, and it has no relation
to pizza as we know it. Its a cracker-like crust with very little cheese. Or
anything else for that matter. Think of a soggy Saltine covered in red nail polish.
Getting hungry yet?
|| Even the simplest
meal here includes more courses than the average American high school graduate took during
his or her 15 years of school. But youre not really eating mass quantities of food,
its just that the French prefer to eat their food separately, one thing at a time.
Mixing food on a plate is, according to some versions, what started the French Revolution.
Thus, everything becomes a course unto itself: appetizer, fish,
olives, meat, vegetable, salad, cheese, fruit. When they eat cereal for breakfast they
serve the cereal first, then the milk, then the sugar. If youre having it with fruit
you end up with a four-course breakfast.
Contrast this with the English, who mix everything together,
as typified by such culinary delights as Steak and Kidney and Potato and Rubber Boot and
Dead Mans Arm Pie, which as youd expect is customarily eaten in a very dark
pub after four or five pints of Guinness. Their pint, by the way, is equivalent to our
keg. Well, as far as the strength of the beer is concerned anyway.
Heres an example: One night Vincent and I were going to
go out for dinner when his mother said we should come over there since shed bought a
pizza at the marché that day. The idea of sitting around chowing down on a pizza
sounded like a damned good idea, what with all the crappy choucroute garnie, moules,
pâté, coquilles Saint-Jacques, and other fancy-ass stuff Id been
forcing myself to eat day in and day out. In typical French fashion we ended up with a
seven-course meal, the small slice of very thin pizza being the least of it all.
Interestingly, pizzas everywhere, and it has no relation
to pizza as we know it in the states. Its a cracker-like crust with very little
cheese. Or anything else for that matter. Think of a soggy Saltine covered in red nail
polish. Getting hungry yet? I need to get to Italy so I can find out how they make pizza.
I suspect its unlike any Ive ever eaten. Then again, so is the French version.
Among the more common pâtes are foie gras,
which is made from goose liver; lail, which is loaded with garlic; and lapin,
which is made from cute cuddly dead little bunny wabbits named Fluffy.
|| For some reason,
though, pizza is the excuse for a lot of meals. I went upstairs to Paul and Mirèns
one night for an impromptu dinner and it too revolved around pizza. Well, in a way.
Considering we had smoked salmon with blini and herbed crème fraiche,
shrimp with homemade mayonnaise (she whips it up in small batches for a meal like
wed open a can of peas, only quicker), a little sliver of pizza, a salad of mixed
greens like those you find in the gourmet section of an American supermarket with a
mortgage application attached so you can pay for it, a plate full of assorted cheeses,
coffee, and strawberries with chantilly (whipped cream). Oh yeah, and two wines and
several kinds of baguette.
Is it any wonder Im convinced
Im going to return a fat alcoholic?
A few final facts about food in France. First, there are
subtle differences in words that can cause major problems if youre not careful. Pâté
and pâte are two different things. The first is the famous loaf that comes in more
styles than Hillarys hair. Among the more common are foie gras, which is made
from goose liver; lail, which is loaded with garlic; lapin, which is
made from cute cuddly dead little bunny wabbits named Fluffy; and pâté de campagne
which has some of everything in it. Hey, the butcher has to do something with all the bits
of meat that fall on the floor during the day.
Pâte, on the other hand, is pasta. The easiest way to
remember the difference is to order pâté avec boules de boeuf once and try to
choke down liver loaf with meat balls and marinara sauce. You wont make that mistake
The other day Im sitting around thinking
about all of this while eating my croissant frites for breakfast when I come
up with the idea that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, and Ive had some
pretty wild dreams.
|| Next, no matter
what you order in a restaurant, you get frites with it. Frites are French
fries. It would be silly if they called them French fries here because, well, were
in France. Only in the United States do we name food after ourselves, the most well known
being American cheese, which is so named so as to warn you that its not really
cheese at all. In most languages the words "American" and "artificial"
are the same thing.
Speaking of things named American, be
careful if you go into a restaurant here and order something with sauce américaine.
Its not American at all. Its made with white wine, brandy, tomatoes, and
spices, all ingredients most American kitchens have never seen. Except the tomatoes of
course, but thats if you count the three-gallon bottle of ketchup in the frig.
Sauce américaine is used in a number of dishes,
lobster being the most well known. The name, it turns out, was created as a joke since
they think the favored sauce of most Americans is tarter sauce. Hah! Shows how much they
know. Its actually the secret one slathered on the Big Mac.
So the other day Im sitting around thinking about all of
this while eating my croissant frites for breakfast (note that its
never "something and frites", its just "something frites")
when I come up with the idea that will make me rich beyond my wildest dreams, and
Ive had some pretty wild dreams. (Even discounting the ones that include me,
Jennifer Lopez, and a five gallon can of olive oil.)
The French are depressed, right? And they love their frites,
right? So my idea is simple: Ill open a chain of Prozac frites stands across
the country and clean up! People will smile! Children will be laughing in the streets!
There will be a monument to me at the entrance to every city, town, village, and burg
throughout the country with the inscription:
Il est venu, il a vu, Il nous
*He came, he saw, he cured us!
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