Text and photos by Corey Amaro.
What are the subtle differences between French and Americans?
I am an American, my husband is French. I moved to France when I was thirty years old and have lived here for 22 years. Our children, Chelsea (20) and Sacha (18) were born in France. They have visited the States every year, sometimes twice a year since they were born. (Have you ever traveled an eleven hour flight with two children under three years old. If you haven't you are the wiser one.)
Chelsea and Sacha are in California this year: Chelsea is an exchange student at SFSU and Sacha is living his dream (gap year) of going to high school with his cousins. Both are experiencing a bit of culture shock and a ton of pleasure.
Chelsea's first remarks were based on food... "The grocery stores are nearly empty! Do people eat? Most of the food is pre packaged, food is expensive, how do you know what is a good brand, and what is what? Chicken broth and pork lard are in everything! Where is the creme fraiche? Mom, I am on a diet because I am lost in the grocery store, I barely recognize anything? But thank God for tortillas!"
Sacha's first remarks were and still are about greeting people... "In France, at school (or anywhere for that matter) each day when you see someone you know you greet them. When you know a person well you kiss them on the cheeks and say, "Ca-va?" and they say, "Ca-va." And if you don't know the person very well, then you shake their hand when you see them, and say "Ca-va?" and they say, "Ca-va."
"But here in the States I am confused about greetings. When I see someone I know in the hallways they walk by like they don't know me, or don't see me, or are too busy to say, "Hi." It seems they are not being rude, but I am lost with what is the right thing to do? Also, mom it is strange people in the school talk to me on FACEBOOK, but when I ask them why they don't talk to me at school they say they are too shy."
"When or how are you suppose to greet someone?"
When I first came to live in France... Oh I remember the grocery store like it was yesterday. I can still smell the smell, see the check out person, the aisles and the labels in which I did not understand a word. I remember wondering what the differences were between the brands? Where was the cereal? Ice cream? And how was I suppose to order cheese if I couldn't ask the salesperson for it? I pointed, and shook my head yes, often.
I found out that before I went to the check out counter I had to weigh the fruits and vegetables I wanted. In the fruit and vegetable section there was a scale that had a list of the fruits and vegetable on it. All I had to do was find the word (not a simple task), then click on it and a ticket with a price would appear.
Years later my Dad went to the French grocery store and came back with a head of lettuce that cost $25. I looked at the ticket, he had clicked on fresh herbs and not lettuce.
I bought sour milk instead of fresh milk. The fresh milk was in a box without a spout, and as it was located by the dry goods, I had no idea what it was. I was surprised it was not refrigerated. Later I learned that it could last three months in the cupboard if not opened, and only when opened needed to put in the refrigerator.
Eggs were sold without cartons, we had scrambled eggs often.
Creme Fraiche is not sour cream.
"1) Should you place your napkin in your lap immediately after being seated?
False. Once the hostess places her napkin in her lap, other guests should follow suit.
2) Do you put your bread in the upper left edge of your plate, or on a bread plate?
False. Bread is placed directly on the tablecloth, on the left above the fork.3) Should you tear your bread into a bite-sized piece before eating it?
True. Always! It is very impolite to take a bite from the whole piece of bread.
4) When the aperitif is served, do you wait for the host to give the toast before drinking?
True. You should wait for the host to lead the way, whether an aperitif or dinner course. Once everyone has been served a drink, the host will generally make a short toast after which the glass-clinking begins. It is polite to make eye contact as you say, “Santé.”
Note: Also never cross over someone's arm when toasting, it is considered bad luck.
5) When serving wine, should the glasses be filled up to five millimeters from the brim?
False. When pouring wine, stop when the glass is three-fourths full.
6) It is acceptable to eat pommes frites (French fries) with your fingers?
False. While fast food has made its mark in France, eating foods with your fingers is still strictly limited when you are at the dinner table. If in doubt, follow the lead of your host. Mayonnaise or Mustard is the choice topping.
Also when eating pizza at a restaurant or someone's home a fork and knife are used."
The comments yesterday were wonderfully said. If you haven't read them and you want to know more about differences between the French and the Americans you might want to read them.
Yes, some French take two hour lunch breaks, but not everyone. Though when the French have breakfast, lunch, or dinner they don't eat... they dine.
The French table is more than quenching hunger. It is the center of their lives. It is an art form, poetry of conversation, a feast in motion, it is a source of pleasure, it is the gathering of family and friends, a daily celebration of living.
It is never on the go.
When my mother in law came to visit in the States (before French Husband and I were married) we went to have lunch before going somewhere... I ordered pizza, grabbed a bunch of napkins, and some drinks. In the car I gave her slice of pizza, and a napkin. She gave me a startled look, uttered something in French... in which case I put the piece of pizza in my mouth, and with my hand imitated her to do the same.
She gasped. It took years us years to understand one another.
Sacha also said, "Mom, the school lunch break is so fast I barely have time to chew my food, let alone finish my meal!"
School lunches are one and half hours in France.
More to follow tomorrow....