Mangetout does not mean ‘eat everything’
Rue du Pont is not French for ‘rude to point’
A scarf isn’t only for winter
Pain doesn’t hurt
…and butter is only at breakfast.
It’s this last thing that I want to talk about.
French eating habits.
Each culture has its own rules and ways of doing things. I want to know what theirs are so that I never, gauchely, ask for butter with my bread at lunch or dinner again – a serious faux pas, apparently (could I get any more English words of French origin into this sentence?!).
On hand, I have the lovely Lucie as my cultural expert. Lucie is not French, but she may as well be. I met her in France where we have been staying over the summer. English, she’s lived here since her twenties (Paris, then Provence, now Brittany) and is married to a charming Frenchman, Jean-Nöel. Locally, she’s called Jane Birkin because she really is that fabulous.
Here’s a shot of her from her Paris days
If anyone knows, she does. And what’s more, she’s happy to share.
1. Butter is at breakfast and is only on bread. Croissants au beurre – as the name heavily suggests – are baked in butter, so don’t add anymore.
2. The French are natural followers of Atkins – not that they’ve ever heard of him. For them, the one thing that butter does work with is raw radishes. Yup, a big chunk of demi-sel beurre, somehow, does not look out of place in this context. Weird.
3. Monday is traditionally the day when French women eat very little, to off-set the excesses of the weekend. But even though they’re being abstemious, they never miss a meal (I like them more and more).
Breakfast on a Monday is typically a hard boiled egg and a cup of black coffee. In support of this national effort, French cafés always used to have hard boiled eggs out on their counters but this has now been phased out by the EC who have deemed unfridged, lurking eggs as unhygienic. They may have a point. Lunch might be a single slice of jambon blanc with a small green salad sprinkled with lemon juice and olive oil (always homemade vinaigrette, never the pre-bought stuff which, as everyone French woman knows, is full of sugar). Monday dinner is a plain yogurt and a piece of fruit.
4. Be frugal with bread. It’s all about quantity. If they eat it, they eat the equivalent to about half a pre-sliced piece of Gardenia.
5. Six course meals at parties are commonplace, but they are all seriously low-carb coupled with the fact that the portion sizes are what we’d probably serve to a child. The menu for a typical Christmas might look like this: oysters or smoked salmon to start with, foie gras next followed by a fish course, then a meat course, a cheese and salad course and, finally, pudding. Pudding is the only part of the dinner that contains carbs.
6. It goes without saying that the French woman does not drink beer. Wine is her tipple and there is absolutely no guilt in having two glasses a day. There are no strong feelings between whether those glasses contain red or white wine.
7. Cereal is only for children. There is not an adult in the whole of France who thinks breakfast is a bowl of muesli.
8. Stairs are important. People in Paris love living in the flat on the top floor. How else do you think they keep their legs so lovely and toned? (Not by going to the gym which, apart from the odd class, is generally for retired people.)
So now you know. Pass the butter, please, but I’ll skip the radishes.
Lucie & Jean-Nöel own and rent out Chateau de Chamballan. For more info, click here
Top image courtesy of Inès de la Fressange’s much acclaimed book Paris Chic