09 November 2010

Fine Dining

Ok...first things first...yes, I confess to reading People magazine online.  We all have our vices and if a little fluff reading is the worst of mine, so be it!  Now that we have the shock and awe out of the way, on to more interesting matters...While reading a bit of that vice recently, I came across the following bit:

"Also there: Marion Cotillard, who shared a leisurely dinner – more than three hours! – outside with her friends."

It really spoke to me that the "journalist" wrote emphatically that Mademoiselle Cotillard dined leisurely MORE THAN THREE HOURS!!

To most Americans visiting France, this is one of the most culturally jarring habits they confront.  They cannot understand why - if there are tables in the restaurant that are empty - they are turned away with the explanation that the restaurant is complet. They start eating the tablecloth, the bread, the bread basket during the pauses between the courses. They boil when the wait staff disappears and seemingly must be chased down to get the check.   (I am not talking here about the pit stop to refuel in the midst of a busy day...the French have those just as much as we do...but that is what that sandwich shop is for!)

The French approach these meals completely differently than Americans do. In France, a meal with friends is like a private dinner party. You talk a lot...you drink some nice wine...you eat some really tasty food and you are there to enjoy your friends and the experience. The quality of the conversation is as important to the experience as the quality of the food and wine. You never look at your watch. There is no second seating. The table is your's until you deem to give it up.

The restaurant is the stage for your little party. The chef and the wait staff are there to provide the theater.  They consider their role as important as a director and actors in a play do and sometimes they are just as temperamental. They are not there for your every little whim. They do not introduce themselves to you. They do not interrupt your conversation or that huge bite that you just put in your mouth to inquire how you like your meal...they are just not that into you. They are mostly polite and they will most likely respond to all the adoration and applause that you want to throw their way. The waiter does expect you to politely listen to him deliver his lines as he presents your meal to you in detail. The sommelier expects your full attention as he offers the bottle for your tasting. When you are ready to leave, sometimes you have to chase them down to allow you to pay, but again, they are not focused on your need to leave or for that matter pay...they are self-absorbed and focused on their role at that moment.

So when in France, slow it down. Think how much we pay for that meal.  Shouldn't we slow it down and enjoy it?  Experience a meal or two as the French do and see it as culturally important as the museum or the tour that you take. Have a bit more patience with the staff...as long as your meal and experience were worth it. If you are in a hurry, make sure to let them know...they may or may not speed up the show for you...but if they don't, you will just have a French war story to elicit sympathy from your American friends back home.  Bon appétit!!


  1. I'm totally on the same page with you on this. Our dinner at Le Figuier de Saint Esprit Antibes Alpes-Maritimes would have been such a different experience had we been rushed through like in many US restaurants. It was one of my highlights of that trip and I'm so glad you & Mike were able to be part of it!

  2. Salut!

    I found your blog on Ravelry while visiting the "Knitting en francais" group.

    We are a Franco-American family who loves to eat! Our children just smile when their Sunday school teacher or other adult talks enthusiastically about the "eat together as a family once a week" program. It is our way of life, of course!

    Looking forward to more posts, and to seeing you on Ravelry!