Yes, McDonalds exists here. Yes, the hambuger and the hotdog are popular, and yes, France has grocery stores full of manufactured food, just like the United States. But the marches, or markets, are also abundant, bursting at the seams with fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, and seafood, much of it organic and local (though I’ll admit being partial to the mandarin oranges from Spain). On a Sunday morning, the market is the most hopping place in the city, and you’re as likely to see someone purchasing broccoli as you are black radishes.
Food exists all across the spectrum, though that spectrum is wider here, from Wonderbread to the freshest baguette, stale within hours, and hot when you buy it. So what exactly IS the difference when it comes to food?
I think it comes down to intention.
When one sits down to eat, one sits down to EAT. Not text, not watch television, not do homework. Meals are a time for conversation, for connection, for enjoying a moment in time. They are for celebrating and savoring the food on your plate. Meals are for laughter and for sharing. This is most apparent at dinner, even more so at a dinner party. There are a few signs that have tipped me off:
1. People don’t rush. If the food needs more time to cook, then you have a little more pre-dinner conversation. You take your time setting the table, laying out little dishes of olives and sliced meat.
2. People wait. You begin eating once everyone has a plate in front of them, and the host/hostess has said Bon Appetit.
3. People eat with care. There’s a reason the dinners take so long. No scarfing, and no mindless eating allowed. You talk about the food, you think about the food. You revel in it.
4. People talk. And talk, and talk. About the weather, about their days. About anything at all, as long as its with each other.
It’s the same at lunch, though marginally less formal. Breakfast too, though I often eat my breakfast alone, because of my schedule. But I’ve found myself making a little plate, sitting down at the table, and just…eating. Sitting with my thoughts, and considering each mouthful of food.
5. People just….care more. There is more ceremony, more pomp and circumstance. For example, when I order tea, it comes out on a tray, with a hot metal pot of water, and a little teacup. The tea is often loose-leaf, and presented to me beforehand so I can smell and choose my favorite. The tea bags are elaborate little pouches of fabric, and something about them screams “Slow the heck on down, and enjoy me”.
I think I might be becoming Zen?