It is only since I have lived in France for the past few months that I have started noticing a fair few differences between our neighbours over the channel. Apart from the obvious of driving on the other side of the road and speaking a different language these are some of the things that were new to me, all related to food and drink.
1. Coffee in a bowl. French coffee is strong, popular and cheap in small cafés where small dainty cups of espresso are knocked back frequently. But in French homes I have been served coffee in a cereal bowl at breakfast, which at first I struggled with the concept of holding the steaming bowl without a handle and spilling it all down myself. Apparently this is popular at breakfast for people to dip their croissant in as a two in one treat.
2.Kettles are as rare as unicorns*. This is a coffee drinking country and tea is an afterthought so trying to find a kettle in a French house is difficult. At times I had to resort to getting my builders brew fix by heating water in a saucepan or in the microwave. Neither tastes as good as a kettle. I don’t think I have seen a teapot for months. *Slight exaggeration – kettles are rarer.
3. Milking It. Still on the beverage front it seems most people drink sterilised UHT milk. You can find fresh milk in the supermarkets in a small section but it is cheaper and more convenient to drink the warm bottled stuff. Strange at first but I have soon got used to the new taste.
4. Bread is King. Boulangeries (bakeries) are the only shops open every day, usually until 7/8pm at night, with people queuing out of the door to buy their daily fresh baguette or pain. I think they smoke brain influencing chemicals out of secret vents as I can’t seem to walk past one without going in to by a crusty baguette or buttery croissant.
5. Served with a spoon. This is genius and I am adopting this method to use a teaspoon instead of a knife to spread jam/ Nutella/ condiment on your bread/croissant/cakes. It glides on so much easier and you get to lick the spoon after which isn’t recommended with the knife method.
6. Dinner takes time. If you are invited for dinner then expect to be sat at the table for hours while you work your way through the host’s repertoire. Starting with an aperitif, the entrée, possibly a sorbet, the main course, cheese and salad, dessert, coffee and a digestive. Don’t forget the wine and bread basket. Pass me my stretchy pants.
7. Carnivores Unite. My French cousin is a vegetarian and I know she struggles as France is geared towards meat eaters. I doubt the Linda McCartney veggie range is highly stocked in the supermarkets here.
8. Little Nibbles. The aperitif or ‘apero’ before a meal is important and can even be a work of art. The small crackers, little nibbles and sometimes animal shaped savoury bites are all washed down with an alcoholic beverage as you wait for your starter.
9. Be polite. I know it is good manners to wait until everyone has been served a drink to start slurping away yourself, but sometimes this goes on a bit too long. I went to a birthday party and we had to wait until everyone arrived (around 80 people) to be served a drink. It is always awkward at the start of parties but having a glass in your hand makes this more bearable.
10. Wonderful wine. The French are known for their great taste in wine and with a country full of vineyards it means that to buy a half decent bottle is just a few euros. Cheap and tasty which is a dangerous combination.
*Disclaimer: I don’t mean to disrespect either nationality but merely to point out things I didn’t know before living here. Obviously I haven’t met every French person and not all of these things below apply to those I have met but I have enjoyed learning and embracing these slight variations of life. Phew.