The frikin’ cheese here is awesome. You know what’s a great compliment to the cheese? The bread! I could sit and eat the cheese and bread for every meal of the day without complaint. The best part is that both are super cheap to snag at local store, so you wont even break the bank doing it. Now obviously cheese and bread aren’t the only changes when it comes to food in France but it is one of the most obvious. During my stay I have been pretty cheap and mainly avoiding eating out by eating at one of family’s home for meals (and if any of them are reading this I am truly grateful for it!), and given that they all have a little American influence some things can be pretty familiar but there certainly is still a different style of food. This ranges from the type of food, how it’s eaten, and when it’s eaten.
A key part of the difference in types of food is that food is generally more fresh here and has greater variation. Part of this can be accredited to the fact that in a city fresh and varying food is more widely available but my dad lives outside the city yet maintains the same lifestyle. Lunch is often bought the same day as it is eaten as you pick up supplies for the meal and go home and cook it. This is where the stereotypical French image of a person carrying their baguette comes from because it is true, buying baguette for the day is a common practice every morning as it is eaten with most every meal. It extends beyond bread though as I have frequently accompanied my family to the store where they bought the meat or fish they intended to eat and cooked it as soon as they returned home.
Then there’s how the food all this food is eaten. When I first came to France, I took meticulous mental notes of every detail of how those around me ate so as to fit in. If this sounds like a silly simple thing to focus on, you’re right but you’re also wrong. Acclimating to a country and not sticking out involves more small details than you could ever imagine and each one will identify you as an outsider in an instant.
A premier example of this is how to use a fork and knife. Americans generally use their fork with the right hand and will alternate it the left when they cut meat or something similar. They will often cut much of their meat before setting down their knife and then use the fork to finish the job. Europe has a bit of a different style. For starters, the fork is in the left hand and the knife in the right. The knife is used to compliment the fork as a wall to scoop food up against. Also meat is cut as you go and then eaten afterwards without pre-cutting the meat. The knife is seldom not in use even when there is nothing to cut.
After all this business with knives and forks are done, then there comes the good ol’ bread again. When the plate is finished bread is used to clean up whatever is left. Things like oil and juices from whatever had been eaten are scooped up on bread. The plate is often left almost as if a dog had come up and licked whatever scraps he could find, it’s pretty darn clean. Following the main meal comes my personal favorite part, bread and cheese. Once the plate is clean, bread is cut up and eaten with some cheese to top off the meal. It’s not hug a huge serving or anything but it is common. For lunch the typical last step of the meal is a little cup of coffee to fight off the urge to pass out after a big meal.
That leads to the last point here, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. This is a pretty common difference Americans seem to have with the rest of the world in my experience with those from different cultures but I can only personally attest to France. The insignificance of breakfast can be seen in the French word for it: Petit-Déjeuner- directly translated little lunch. Breakfast can range from the ever famous croissant (usually with butter or chocolate) or just some bread with jelly on it. The more important part to breakfast is drinking coffee rather than eating a lot. Dinner is often extremely late in the day, maybe around 8 or 9, and often consists of leftovers from lunch or whatever else is around at the time. Lunch is king though and it is the longest and most important meal of the day. Eating time for it can range from 12 to 2ish and then from there all that’s left is little snacks before a light dinner.
There’s certainly more little nuances to French food consumption but in the end it’s not something so different or important for integration into the culture. I would certainly say that I enjoy my diet here far more than I do at home but that doesn’t mean that Europeans have such higher standards than us barbaric and gluttonous Americans. The popularity of McDonald and KFC among the French can testify to this fact. I would go far as to theorize that much of the difference in European foods and eating lie in the age of European cultures and traditions as opposed to America’s relatively recent establishment. I will say one thing, I’m going to cry when I look at the prices of baguette and cheese when I return to the US 😦