I remember when I first moved to France having trouble understanding what to buy at the grocery store. On the surface, French food and American food are nearly the same: aisles of dairy, meat, canned foods, fresh fruit and vegetables… yet somehow it was still very confusing. I didn’t get what lardons (=chopped up bacon) were used for. I came home with things I wouldn’t eat today, like pre-packaged croques monsieur.
Anyway over six years my diet has more or less settled, and living with a Frenchman has given me some insight into French food rules, and made me miss and wonder about some American ones.
So here are some things I’ve learned and/or adjusted to…
- Cheese after the main dish. In Poitou, this is very often goat cheese, and though the cheese aisle still overwhelms me a little bit (J accuses me of buying three new cheeses for every one left in the fridge), I’ve become a big fan of the cheese course.
- A warm or cold entrée before the main dish. J likes to cut open an avocado or tomato, and every once in a while we buy something small and hot from the butcher or the grocery store. Something with lots of flaky dough and meat or fish on the inside. Things I’d definitely never seen in the States.
- Yogurt after the meal (though not always if I’ve eaten cheese). Like the cheese aisle, I’m also a fan of the yogurt aisle, and all the yogurt-like dairy products: faisselle, fromage blanc, yaourt grec.
- Apéro! The apéro is such a wonderful part of French eating, yet it’s also possibly the least healthy. J managed to shed weight this year just by quitting all those gateaux apéritifs. We call them gateaux but they aren’t sweet, and they aren’t even remotely cake-like. They’re typically store-bought things like pretzls and chips, and we’ve tried to switch to cherry tomatoes and humus over the past year.
- Le petit quatre heures: This one I have trouble with. When kids come home from school, they have their goûter: normally cookies or something to carry them through to dinner. So French afternoon snacks are sugary and not salty. In fact J told me yesterday that what you need in the afternoon is sugar and not salt. I have no idea if that’s true, and I hope not, because I love salty snacks. Sweet food at 5 pm will never tempt me. I’ll always miss my American snacks: Pirates’ Booty, cheese puffs, flavored pretzls, veggie chips… sigh.
- A hot meal at lunchtime: Though I take a sandwich to school (I can’t be bothered to prepare a hot meal in advance), when I’m home, I never eat a cold lunch.
And here are a few American rules that no one observes in France:
- A glass of milk with dinner, for kids.
- No cookies for breakfast. Though J hardly ever eats breakfast, contenting himself with a coffee, when he does, he often goes for cookies. In fact breakfasts in France are always sweet, even if the cookie-eating is maybe a bit extreme.
Know any other “rules” out there that are totally different from one culture to another?