We have appetizers, the French have aperitif. Ours is a small food that is eaten before a meal. Theirs describes not just the food, but the gathering, the mingling and catching up over a slow drink and a small bite.
The French talk about food the way Americans talk about Disneyland.
A story I like to tell, is about an experience I once had while waiting for my daughter’s preschool ballet class to end. There was a French grandmère waiting for her granddaughter to finish class. She didn’t speak much English so we chatted in French. She told me about where her granddaughter went to school, and said, “You will not believe what they serve the children for their goûter/snack!” in utter disgust.
I was dreading what she was about to describe to me. Would it be some horrific day glo squeezy cheese that came out of a can? Would it be discs of black filled with a hydrogenated sugary paste?
“Raw vegetables!” she exclaimed.
What’s wrong with raw vegetables? Crudités is a French word after all isn’t it? It is, but it isn’t typically what would be served to a French child for snack.
This conversation was less about the food itself and more about the fact that the French are so passionate about it. I’m not too picky about what my children are fed for snack. Although I somehow seem to have raised a European child because if I don’t serve my son “something hot” it isn’t a meal in his book. But this grandmother was bowled over by this small detail of her granddaughter’s American life.
The way the French eat, and most of Europe as well, is less about the food itself and more about the mind-set and culture around food. It’s not the recipes, the ingredients and the dishes that are so different. We have access to some of the best foods in the world now, including those French cheeses thanks to Formaggio Kitchen and Whole Foods, and your local cheese shop. We can read David Lebowitz’s blog, La Tartine Gourmande, Whisk, Orangette, Chocolate and Zucchini, French Fork, Eat Boutique, Chez Mégane, and Seven Spoons.
What we are still so far removed from, is adopting a cultural attitude that places a priority on something other than working, the rat race, and being ‘busy‘. Our cultural mindset hasn’t quite matured enough to understand that being in the moment, spending quality time around a table daily with colleagues, family, and friends is a worthwhile endeavour. It’s not a luxury but rather an important part of daily life.
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What an amazing cultural conversation to have a preschool