Call of France

A Trilogy by Barry A. Whittingham

Category: Tourism in France

Thoughts on the French Dunk

 

The English and French Breakfast

It has always been an enigma to the French part of our Frenglish self that you English, so universally condemned for the uninspired nature of your cooking, could have managed to impose on our planet such a varied, copious and delicious meal as the cooked breakfast; and our English half is no less mystified that the French, who have elevated cooking to no less than a creative art, could have come up with nothing more imaginative than a miserable slice of bread and a bowl of watery coffee by which to start the day. Nevertheless, this is not to say that the Gallics do not appreciate the qualities of a full English breakfast. But there exists perhaps no other country in the world where so many people unreservedly admit there’s nothing like a substantial meal to get the day off to a flying start, and where so few actually find it possible to believe that anyone can have either the time or the stomach to  take it – even at the weekend.

A Soggy Mass

What our Englishman finds far more regrettable than the insipid, insufficient nature of the French breakfast is the manner in which it is frequently ingested: for a widespread Gallic practice (as rampant as queue-jumping, street demonstrations, strikes and le Système D) consists in plunging bread or croissant into a breakfast bowl of coffee (or hot chocolate) until the former has imbibed as much of the latter as the laws of physics will allow. The soggily unappetizing mass thereby produced is then popped into mouth, munched with relish before finally being allowed to slide down throat.

 An Ancient Ritual?

Does the practice (hereinafter referred to as ‘the French dunk’) draw its origins from some ancient Gallic ritual which required food to be dipped into a recipient containing the still warm blood of a vanquished foe? Is it now considered to be a pre-masticatory phase essential to a digestive system not yet in full working order at this early time of day? Or does it simply provide a means of adding a modicum of taste to a meal more suited to a prison punishment diet? Whatever the case may be, the habit is endemic enough to constitute an infallible sign of French presence in the breakfast room of any foreign holiday hotel.

A Breach of Table Etiquette

Beyond the doubtful gustatory merits of the French dunk and the nauseous spectacle it presents, what shocks the Englishman in us even more is that this use of bread to perform a function more commonly associated with that of a sponge represents a gross breach of table etiquette: for an elementary rule of good table manners states that solids and liquids may only  be united after being despatched separately down throat.

Other Meals

Our Englishman might have been prepared to grant some attenuating circumstances, had the French dunk been restricted to breakfast alone, which, considering the early hour this usually takes place, would have enabled it to go unnoticed by those non-dunkers still under the influence of their recent dormant state. Regrettably, the same technique is unashamedly presented to fully-awakened public gaze during meals consumed at other times of the day, particularly (though not limited to) ther final stages when most solid matter has been transferred from plate to stomach, and little else remains but the sauce. In this respect, moreover, such is the assiduity with which bread is used to wipe the plate clean that subsequent washing is rendered entirely superfluous.

The Pronged Derivative

The rules of French table etiquette, though making no mention of breakfast dunking, do, in fact, condemn the main-meal habit of using bread digitally to mop up sauce. It would, however, appear to be tolerated when bread is impaled on fork. But even our Frenchman has rarely witnessed this pronged derivative in action, and personal experience would lead us to believe that, like most rules in France, it tends to be ignored. It might also be thought that in this land of rampant individualism, daily strikes and general protestation the nation would have counted an equal number of anti-dunkers. In reality, this is not at all the case. For on this point, at least, the country is resolutely united. Indeed, so much a part of the national heritage is the custom that not only has the verb ‘saucer’ been derived to describe it, but it is systematically inculcated in progeny barely weened from their mothers’ milk.

Attenuating Circumstances?

Though our Englishman remains stubbornly hostile to the French dunk, the Froggie in us recommends that a far more tolerant stand should be taken. For who can say whether even the most well-mannered of English diners would not succumb to the temptation to dunk, were he presented with that rich variety of deliciously-fresh, good-quality, easily-prepared, natural and inexpensive sauces which the French have elaborated to accompany food?  And would it not be something akin to profanation that they should suffer the same cruel fate as their crude, often bottled English and American counterparts whose un-dunked remains are so frequently laid to rest down the kitchen-sink plughole?

 

This blog is based on an article from the author’s latest book Barry’s Frenglish Folies, ‘a potpourri of serious, humorous and seriously humorous reflections on the French and English viewed through the eyes of a split-identity and occasionally demented Frenglishman’.

You can download the free Kindle, Ebook or PDF edition of Barry’s Frenglish Folies by following the link below :

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/691726

French Tourists Abroad

StereotypingWhen the annual summer holidays cause France to pull its shutters down for a month, the holiday reservation site Travelzoo carried out a survey on how their European subscribers viewed the behaviour of French tourists abroad. The 2,398 people who took part were almost unanimous in their condemnation of the behaviour of French tourists who seem well on their way to being considered the worst in Europe. Criticisms only go to endorse the clichés we frequently hear applied to the French. So, what exactly is it they find so hard to stomach?

For one thing all seemed to agree that  French tourists abroad are extremely hard to please, and never stops belly-aching. The French have a high expectation level with regard to their holidays, so everything must be just right – to the most minute detail. Apparently, one of the favourite occupations of French tourists who’ve just taken possession of their hotel room is to go round looking for the slightest speck of dust. And they’ll even look behind that picture frame above the bed! And if their room doesn’t have a magnificent sea view they won’t hesitate to bounce down to reception and demand that it be changed immediately. What’s more, the present economic crisis has made things even worse. The British tourist, on the other hand, will only complain in the most extreme cases, and as long as there’s plenty of sun and cheap booze available, is perfectly happy.

Arrogance French tourists abroad are also considered to be an arrogant lot – mainly because, like their English counterparts, they make absolutely no effort to speak a foreign language. The French are proud of their country, its culture and language, and are inclined to consider themselves slightly superior to others. Not only do they act as if they were still in France, but they expect to be able to find what they’re in the habit of eating at home. Mind you, to be perfectly fair, I don’t think this is a particularly French trait. At the age of 14 I went on a school trip to the South of France. For me it was a paradise on earth, and the food, though certainly different, was for me an absolute delight. But many of my fellow pupils didn’t seem to agree: their main gripe was that there weren’t any fish and chip shops around! And what is more normal with this nation of gastronomes that the French also expect to have not only quality food and cooking available at the lowest possible price, but the high level of service that goes with it. The British tourist on the other hand, as long as he gets a cooked breakfast, is quite happy with a ham sandwich or a mediocre buffet-type meal.

StinginessBut even though the French consider holidays to be extremely important, and will only deprive themselves when they have no other choice, they don’t want these holidays to cost them the earth. This explains the growing popularity in France of the all-inclusive type of holiday where you know down to the last euro exactly how much it’s all going to cost you, and where you’re certain that, if you don’t want to, you won’t have to fork out a cent more. But what contributes most to this ‘stingy’ image is when it comes to leaving a tip. French tourists will only tip when they’re fully satisfied with the service (which is extremely rare), and even then (as, to be quite honest, I’ve personally often been in a position to note), this is far from being a general rule. One of the main justifications for this is that the waiter receives a salary just like them. On the contrary, Anglo-Saxons are culturally more inclined to leave a tip – even when the quality of the service leaves a lot to be desired.

It’s also understandable that in this country of haute couture and designer fashion clothes the holidaying French tend to pay more attention to what  they wear.  And even though they tend to dress more casually, there are still certain standards which they rarely abandon. The British and Germans, on the other hand, will stroll nonchalantly round holiday resort shops clad in nothing more elaborate than flip-flops and shorts.

Seville tour guideNot only do the French want their holidays to bring relaxation and enjoyment, but they also like to come away with the conviction that they’ve added something to their personal culture and knowledge. The guided-tour type of holiday, where you visit different places of cultural or historical interest each day are, therefore, far more popular than with holidaymakers from other countries. So frequently can this be observed that in Seville it has prompted the standing joke that at 4 o’clock on a sweltering summer afternoon only dogs and French tourists are to be seen in the streets. The English and Germans are more inclined to spend their days soaking up the sun on a lounger round the swimming pool, or just lazing on the beach with the occasional dip in the sea.

Why Foreign Tourists Love France

An article I read recently in the weekend T.V. supplement of the daily regional  newspaper Le Progrès reveals some of the reasons to explain why foreign tourists love France.  But when we fall head over heels in love we tend to turn a blind eye to everyday reality. My italicized comments are intended to bring things back nearer to earth .

French Parks. Aynur, 48, a nurse from Turkey.

Jardin publiqueI’ve noticed that French towns have well-maintained parks with statues and fountains. They’re so clean that you can sit on the grass – so convenient for people who don’t  have a garden.

Watch out all the same, Aynur. Generally speaking, the French are an undisciplined lot, and tend to let their dogs do it anywhere … so I’d advise you to look carefully before placing your bottom on that beautiful, clean grass.

French Calm. Maika, 27, a sales assistant and Rachel, 27, a web editor from Spain.

We find the French aren’t as noisy as the Spanish. It’s very pleasant when you’re sitting in a café or restaurant. At home people talk much more loudly – especially in the evening over an apéritif. Sometimes you can’t even hear yourself speak.

In my own experience, when it comes to hearing ’em before you see ’em, there’s nothing much in it between the French and Spanish. Personally, when it comes to loudmouths, I find Italians are the worst of the lot.     

Terrace de café

French Cheeses. Urszula, 25, a museum curator from Poland.

FromagesHow lucky you are to have such a great choice. At home there are only a few cheeses, and they’re all a bit bland. The family I was an au pair girl with in Lyon introduced me to goat’s cheese, Comté and Roquefort Blue. Yum! Yum! I also like your ritual of all dining together. At home people eat alone in their little corner.

Yes, Urszula, I would agree with you about French cheeses. But the downside is that, as General de Gaulle found out to his cost, how do you govern a country which has two hundred and forty six varieties of cheese? And I didn’t realize you Poles were such an unsociable lot.

Provence. Paolo, 55, a department head, and Stefanie, 53, a housewife from Italy.

We were  enchanted by this region. The villages are charming and the countryside is unbelievable. And the lavender fields are just magic. France is really a very romantic country – even more so than Italy!                                                                                                                    Champ de lavande

Yes, yes, Paolo and Stefanie. You make it sound like two teenagers falling in love for the very first time. But aren’t you both old enough to know that once you’ve lived together for a while the  charm can begin to wear thin?                                                                                                                                           

French Bookshops. Kuang, 22, a student from China.

LibrairieI’m really impressed by the number of small bookshops in France. There’s a lot of choice at all prices. I really love books on art, illustrated by numerous photos. My suitcase is already full of them.

Hurry up, Kuang, because all those bookshops are fast disappearing. More and more French people are buying them on Internet. Apparently, it’s much cheaper.

French Confectionary. Katherine, 19, a student from the U.S.A.

Patisserie

I worship French cakes and sweets, especially eclairs and macaroons – they’re so delicious. What I find astonishing is that they’re so refined and light without being too sweet. It makes a change from cheese cakes.

Go easy on that sugar and cream all the same, Katherine. We don’t want you getting as overweight as most of  your compatriots.  

      French People. All, 39, a doctor from Australia.

CommercantSome  friends told me the French never stop moaning. Personally, I find it’s the opposite.  We’ve visited several towns in France, and each time people offered to help us when they saw we were a bit lost. And the shopkeepers are really so pleasant.

Perhaps you’ve been lucky so far, mate. As a general rule, the French are not always noted for being over-helpful to bewildered foreigners, or being convinced believers in the principle that ‘ the customer is always right’. And they do love protesting. Look at all those street demonstrations.

French Weather. Nigel-Mohammed, 41, a Managing Director from Trinidad and Tobago.

Here the sky changes from one day to the next.  You also have as many hot days as cold with rain and wind. It’s so varied! At home we have a tropical climate with a temperature of 30° C all the year round. Mind you, the tourists love it.

Come off it, Nige! If you’d had to endure the kind of summer we’ve just had you’d be glad to get back to that horribly monotonous 30° C temperature you get all the year round back home!

Ciel et nuages

French Bread. James, 29, a school manager from England.

BaguettesWhat a delicious smell you get when you walk past a bread shop! It really makes you want to step inside and buy everything. The person who invented the baguette was a genius: it’s delicious – even though there’s nothing inside. The bread you get in England has no taste to it.

It’s true the baguette has a light and airy crumb, but you seem to be saying that the ‘nothing inside’ tastes delicious. Or is it just the crust you like? And James, not all English bread is as tasteless as you’re trying to make out. Small bakers do exist. Why not try a nice, crusty, home-baked country loaf?

Old French Buildings. Amelia, 36, an interior designer from Singapore.     Vieux batiment

At home the buildings are mostly modern skyscrapers which have far less charm. Foreign tourists have the impression they’re travelling back in time, and each town has its own style. The other thing I love is blanquette de veau.

Hey Amelia, you might not know it, but not all the French are still living in the Middle Ages. They do have modern skyscrapers, too! I agree with you about the blanquette de veau, though – provided the calf hasn’t received too many growth hormone injections. Believe it or not, a friend of mine once bought a joint of veal from his local supermarket, only to find a syringe embedded in it!

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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