Chocolate Frogs and Salty Dogs

Cultural Differences, French Food, Living Abroad

“Wow,” I say to MB.  “You know, I don’t think that I’ve ever noticed this before.”

“Quoi?”

“A whole aisle, I mean, an entire aisle.”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.”

“I mean, look at it!  It’s marvelous, really.”

MB contemplates the grocery store aisle.

“C’est normal, non?”

“Dude.  No.”

You can figure out a lot about the flavor profiles of a country by visiting a grocery store.  Even though I have lived in France for over a year I am still noticing some of these little differences.  For instance, when I first moved here I was annoyed – neigh – horrified by how difficult it was to find a non-sweet cereal that wasn’t corn flakes (MB’s cereal of choice is basically a chopped up candy bar with a handful of granola thrown towards its general direction) but until about two weeks ago I hadn’t noticed the chocolate bars.   Over a year’s worth of going to the grocery store and staring dumb-founded at the endless varieties of chocolate filled, chocolate-covered, chocolate cluster cereals and never once had I noticed that there was an entire aisle devoted entirely to chocolate bars; not candy, not cookies, not any other variety of sweets; just an aisle of different brands and combinations of chocolate.  It is impressive…and it is awesome.

After I noticed this aisle of happiness I started thinking…I mean, come on, just how many combinations of chocolate bars can you need?  It’s over the top!  And then, I remember the cracker aisle in United States grocery stores.  While the French devote large portions of their grocery store to bulk chocolate and other sweet things (there is also an entire aisle just for yogurt) in the U.S. we tend to run more salty.  We have an entire aisle of crackers…how many variety of crackers does one need?  And don’t even get me started on the chip aisle.  There are other subtle differences as well: in U.S. there will be about 10 different varieties of peanut butter, in France you will be lucky to find one, but there will be a variety of Nutella-type spreads available.

Recently, we had some French friends over for dinner and I had made oreo cookie truffles (don’t judge me, they are amazing).  One of them took a bite and looked at me, pleasantly surprised; clearly he wasn’t expecting an American to be able to make a tasty truffle.

“This is very good, it is so interesting!  What is it?”  He said, holding the truffle aloft.

“Oh, just a little something I whipped up,” I said smiling.  WHAT?!  I didn’t need him to know that it was just Oreos and cream cheese; I was basking in the glow of French praise, it is rare thing, one must savor it!

“Well, it is very nice.  I remember this type of thing from all my visits to the U.S. – the combination of interesting flavors.  My first peanut butter and jam sandwich was amazing!”

“Jelly,” I say.

“Quoi?”

“Nothing.”

I never thought I would ever hear a French person discuss the complexity of American faire such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but when you think about it, it makes sense.  A peanut butter and jelly sandwich would be a unique flavor profile in a country where they like their sweet to be sweet.  I mean, sure, don’t get me wrong, we all know Americans consume plenty of sugar (let’s check our diabetes rates, people) but we have a tendency to throw a little salt in there: chocolate covered pretzels, buckeyes (http://www.joyofbaking.com/candy/PeanutButterBalls.html), cheddar cheese on apple pie!  In France you get things that are sugar on sugar, like my favorite pastry, the Success (and what a success it is, har har har) which is some sort of magical combination of chocolate, coconut, and more chocolate.  No peanut butter or salt here!

So from my grocery store research I have concluded that we Americans are salty dogs and the French are chocolate frogs.  Now if only I could figure out a way to get a whole aisle of crackers AND a whole aisle of chocolate bars at the same grocery store!

A little summer homework:  What differences have you noticed at grocery stores in other countries?  Look forward to reading some fun answers!

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