I know I'm not the first person to write about this topic and I certainly won't be the last but the French are fascinating when it comes to food. They have a very distinct attitude and set of eating habits that play in a huge role in the culture.
Le repas du dimanche, ce n’est pas un mythe. One Sunday earlier this fall, I was invited for lunch at a friend’s house. If the midday meal is a two-hour affair during the week, I wondered, what was a weekend lunch like? I soon got my answer when I found myself leaving...four hours later. We had raclette, which essentially involves potatoes, charcuterie and plenty of melted cheese. What's not to love? But even better than the food was the conversation (and plenty of laughs!) shared among friends.
Eating on the go is frowned upon. Three meals per day and maybe an afternoon goûter. Anything outside of that will earn you some sideways glances and maybe a “bon appétit” but eat on the bus and people will stare. To-go food and drinks are not a thing here. For the French, it's incomprehensible to even consider eating standing up. A meal is something to be enjoyed and properly observed – seated at a table. While I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy, I sometimes (okay, a lot of times) find myself snacking dans le bus. Bad habit, I know!
Wine before noon is perfectly normal. Especially with the older crowd. About a month into moving here, I still didn’t have internet at my place. The positive side to this situation was that I got to know all the coffee shops within a 5-mile radius and I mastered the phrase “Vous avez le wi-fi ici?” So there I was one sunny Sunday morning, sitting there with my café allongé and my internet, when I looked over at the table next to me. Seated there was an elderly gentleman serenely sipping a glass of red wine. At 10 in the morning. I tried not to stare as this routine continued to unfold. He somehow managed to produce a baguette and some saucisson (from a bag?). He shared a few slices with his little dog, who sat politely under the table. The fact that all French dogs are extremely well behaved is another mystery altogether. Is there some secret school where all French people take their dogs to teach them proper conduct in cafés and on buses? No one else in the café, including the owner, seemed to think this behavior was out of the ordinary. I vaguely remembered reading about a similar situation in Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (hilarious take on French culture) but there’s nothing like witnessing it in person.
L’apéro dînatoire. Short for l’apéritif dînatoire, this is what you do when you want to invite people over but don’t feel like cooking an elaborate meal. Everyone brings something to share, usually falling into one of three main categories: bread, cheese and wine.
Most conversations à table revolve around la bouffe. If there's anything the French love more than good food, it's talking about good food. From debating the finer points of the many varieties of cheese to the best way to prepare a certain dish, some of the most animated dinner conversations I’ve had here were about food.
Grocery shopping: only buy what you can carry. Right up there with forgetting to weigh my fruit before getting to the checkout line, I've made this mistake time and time again. I tend to get carried away at the store, loading up my cart before I realize I actually have to haul everything home. That means a 30-minute walk up and down a few hills, not to mention the four flights up stairs up to my apartment. After one particularly big grocery haul, I finally gave in and bought one of those little carts everyone seems to be wheeling around here. Now I know why!