The French and their Food
After a bit of a break, I’ve decided to start a series on why the French drive me crazy. Don’t get me wrong, I love living here (you’ve seen the title of the blog, right?), and have no desire to leave. But the French are probably one of the most baffling people I think you could come across. There are lots of books and sites on understanding the French, but I don’t think that there’s anything about why they make you so f¨%k8°g mad sometimes. I think that it’s worth sharing how nuts these people can be at times.
First up is eating. Eating is a religion in France. It’s like when you are born in France, then it is your native duty to understand about eating properly and eating with manners, and eating with the family, and planning the next meal, etc. etc. Even McDonalds in France is miles better than the anywhere else. See here if you don’t believe me.
France is the only country in the world where you can sit down and be in the middle of eating your meal and then somebody starts talking about planning for the next one.
France is the only country in the world where cheese is not considered a meal in itself. You’ve just had a large steak after a nice onion soup, and you can literally be looked at as though you’re the devil incarnate if you refuse the offer of cheese. So you choose the cheese, but you’re also considered a fool if you can’t distinguish Brebis from Goat’s Cheese from Cow Cheese. You’re also supposed to have a special plate, cutlery and salad to go with the cheese. You can even open a bottle of special red wine to go with the cheese. You’re also supposed to cut the cheese properly from the platter, a bit like a Sushi chef cutting salmon properly. Do it the wrong way, and you get a sniff afterwards. So let’s say you’re the guest, and you cut the cheese the right way, you know your Camembert from your Brie, and you appreciate the strong red wine that goes with it. Imagine actually being the host. Imagine the cost – if you want to do a proper dinner party, you’re literally looking at 30 to 50 euros worth of cheese and wine just for something that, like I said before, is not considered a real course.
Are waiters rude in France? Well, that’s like saying is Paris pretty or is the Atlantic an ocean? The answer is yes. Pretty much exclusively. They actually train them to be rude. They take you, the budding waiter, a nice average Joe who doesn’t like to upset anyone, and then whisk you off to a Waiter Boot Camp for a week in the Alps and they beat all that niceness crap out of you. Here are the 10 golden rules to being a French waiter:
- Never rush up to new clients who are coming in. Rushing is beneath you. The client should consider it a damned privilege to be in your restaurant, so take your time. You’d better be off ignoring them for at least 5 minutes.
- Always walk past the clients’ table at least three times without looking at them before you eventually turn up. This makes them all the more eager to order when you do wonder up.
- Never announce the “plat du jour” (special). Write it up on an obscurely hidden board somewhere and let the client look for it. And when they ask you what it is, interrupt them and say that you’ve run out.
- Never give any advice. If the client has no idea what they’re talking about, then that’s not your problem if they’re undereducated. If they ask for advice, just advise the special before saying that you’ve run out.
- Always smile patronisingly and say “Très bien” whatever they order.
- Run away quickly with the order, looking as though you’re getting right on it, but of course in reality you’re going back to resume your poker game. After 15 minutes, give the order to the kitchen through the walkie-talkie.
- After 30 minutes, go and get the order, however long it’s been waiting out there and rush back again and make sure you portray yourself as someone busier than President Obama, a Red Cross agent in a war zone and an emergency ward doctor. This is important.
- Never admit to making a mistake. This is considered a flogging offence in the Guild of Rude Waiters. If you have committed an error, then never say sorry, just sigh and look as though you’ve been asked to solve World Peace.
- Make the client even wait for the bill, and make sure you leave a couple of cheap sweets. Studies have shown that if you leave 2 sweets instead of 1 then the size of your tip is likely to increase. Of course, if you do get a tip, then do not thank your client.
- When the clients leave, don’t look them in the eyes when you say good bye and thanks, and make sure you say so with enough dripping sarcasm to drown a baby elephant. Turn your back on them as they walk out and make sure they realise that you have forgotten them forever. If they do come back, then under no circumstances pretend that you recognise them.
The reasons why French waiters are like this is because a) the food is so good and b) they actually get paid quite well and don’t rely on tips.
Breakfast is called “Petit Déjeuner” in French, which literally translates as “Little Lunch”. The most surprising things I have seen in France throughout my time here have nothing to do with Lunch at all. If I were to be served small sausages, bacon, eggs, etc. then I could quite accept this name. However, here are some of the things I have been served with at the French breakfast table, and in no particular order, are:
- Bowls of coffee
- Maroilles cheese, which is disgusting and really smelly
- Bowls of tea
- Kumquat and gooseberry jam
- Bowls of “chicory” coffee (yes, bowls of warm drink are common)
- Croissants with cold custard in them
No one has ever offered a fried breakfast to me. I’d say that less than 30% of the population know what bacon is, and less than 2% have actually had a bacon sandwich. Yes, bacon, which is more addictive than cocaine. The sacrilege.
Anyway, the French and their food. Drives me crazy. If you want to try and understand them, then feel free to look for a free course.