Broken by Breakfast

Cultural Differences, French Food

My French husband (we’ll call him MB) and I are staying at an adorable B&B in Burgundy. The rooms are trés charmant, decorated with seasonal accents, the beds are sublime, we have a back patio over-looking the vineyards, there is even the requisite sweet old dog who roams around and lets you pet her. It is the typical French B&B, delightful and sweet, oozing with charm; but like every B&B in France, for me, it has a tragic flaw, and yes, I mean “tragic” like, “Icharus that sun is gonna melt your wings, dude” tragic. A flaw that destroys the very essence of the B&B…

MB and I enter the breakfast room in the morning and seat ourselves at the table, surrounded by the host and other guests. We all smile and say good morning to each other and then I turn to MB and, silently, we have the following conversation through a series of facial expressions:

My look: One eye brow raised, chewing on one side of face.                                                                                                                                           Corresponding words: I told you so.

MB’s look: Flat, steely eyes, and weird plastic smile at the same time.                                                                                                                                                    Corresponding words: Don’t start.

My look: Both eyebrows raised in accusation while appraising the table followed by a slight shoulder shrug.                                                                                                               Corresponding words: But what am I supposed to do with this? (“this” referring to the food)

MB’s look: Broad smile while picking up a huge hunk of baguette slathered with butter and taking an enormous bite.                                                                                                         Corresponding words: Eat it, weirdo, this is ah-mah-zing.

My look: Curled upper lip while disdainfully picking up a container of yogurt.                                                                                                                              Corresponding words: Yogurt is the lamest!

MB’s look: Staring at me intently while licking the top of the yogurt lid.                                                                                                                                                 Corresponding words: Yogurt is dead sexy.

My look: Full-on eye-roll with a slight shake of the head before getting up and leaving the table.                                                                                                                                                      Corresponding words: You are so strange, this breakfast is SUPER disappointing,PEACE!

SCENE

Okay, so I’m pretty sure that people are going to flip out about this but after careful consideration I’ve decided to “out” myself. So…here it is, y’all:

I do not like French breakfasts.

Man, that feels good to say. Bacon and eggs, did you hear that? Finally, we are free!

Now, before you start coming after me with pitchforks, let me clarify; I love croissant and pain au chocolat (I mean flour, butter, and chocolate…what’s not to like) but that is something that I think should be served with breakfast, not as breakfast (I am not talking weekdays but rather weekend and vacation breakfasts). I am a believer in protein for breakfast, protein and some sort of a HSS (hot starch situation).

(What is she even talking about, a hot starch situation? What does that even mean? She is so weird.)

*AHEM*

I want eggs, bacon, sausage, even smoked salmon will do; I want hash browns, GRITS*, and if I am in the Commonwealth, baked beans; I even want some veggies – tomatoes, mushrooms, avocadoes (yes, yes, I know avos are technically a fruit). Basically, I want salt, fat, and heartiness.

However, this is not how breakfast goes down in France. In a French B&B, the breakfast that you pay for is going to be baguette, butter, jam (usually some fabulously delicious, homemade out of the garden variety served in adorable little jars…you know, if you like that sort of thing), yogurt or faisselle**, fruit, and maybe the aforementioned croissant or pain au chocolat. And ça sera tout – that will be all. There will be no eggs or HSS, no meat whatsoever, and while faisselle is technically cheese, it is rather sweet with the consistency of chunky yogurt and is a different experience altogether than typical French cheeses (think cottage cheese). The French simply like their breakfasts to be sweet, light, and room temperature (you will not find a toaster anywhere near a French breakfast).

Now, I realize for some, that this sounds lovely, particularly if you have had a huge, heavy French dinner the night before; but for my weekend breakfast experience to be complete I want something a little more substantial, maybe something that involves hollandaise sauce and multiple courses. Often, my French friends have marveled in surprise when I tell them about breakfast habits of my past:

French Friend: Mais non, ce ne pas possible! Champagne at breakfast?!

Me: Well yeah, when else would you drink a Mimosa? It’s a breakfast drink.”

French Friend: A breakfast drink?

Me: You know, an “eye opener.” In the U.S., we usually start our brunches with booze.

(This is usually when they blink at me, uncomprehending and I being to think, “Wait a minute…is it bad to have a drink first thing in the morning? Are we an entire country of borderline alcoholics? Could this be an unhealthy, worrisome tradition?”)

Me: No, but you don’t understand, it isn’t like a problem or anything, it’s just…um…festive! Yeah, that’s it, it’s festive!

(My French friend continues to look at me, unconvinced.)

Me: Don’t try to get in my head! There is nothing wrong with booze for breakfast! Anyway, you have to have something to get you through all the courses.

French Friend: Courses?

(Now there is intrigue written all over the French friend’s face. Mwahahahahahaha!)

Me: Yeah, for example, in New Orleans brunch is typically a three-course meal***.

French Friend: Mais quoi? C’est incroyable, 3 plates for breakfast.

(I feel an evil streak rising in me as I note the interest and decide to plunge the final nail into the coffin)

Me: Yep, 3 courses, a starter, main and dessert; and at some restaurants you can even have wine pairings.

(That statement usually does it.)

French Friend: But, this is wonderful, this idea. I would like to try this. Really.  Incroyable!

(I smile, basking in the smugness of that rarest of things…a French cultural compliment.)

French Friend: I can’t believe this is American.

(…and, there it is.)

French Friend: Although, you did say this was in Nouvelle Orleans, oui? So really, this is French.

I sigh and wonder if I should try to argue this point, to bring up the simple bread and butter breakfasts of France served with bowls of coffee and nary a menu or champagne cork in sight; or perhaps remind my friend that croissants, that most quintessential French breakfast food, are actually Austrian…but instead, I decide to relent and smile sweetly at my friend.

“Yes,” I say, “Of course. Sometime I’ll have to invite you over for brunch and you can try this Ameri-I mean, French breakfast and see what you think.”

…because after all, no one should be denied a 3-course breakfast and morning booze…particularly, not myself.

* Grits are the most magical of foods and I highly recommend them to everyone.

** Faisselle is actually a big favorite of mine and is often served for dessert at dinners in France or in place of the cheese course. When my Mother was in France a couple of years ago, we woke up to find her raving about the yogurt served for breakfast. “This is the best yogurt I have ever tasted in my life,” she said. We then looked down at the container and told her, “Well, yes, because it isn’t yogurt, it’s cheese!”

*** In case you don’t believe me: http://www.commanderspalace.com/_asset/gx7zq5/3-22-14web.pdf Just reading that menu makes my mouth water.

 

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Sweating in Jeans Town

Cultural Differences, Life in General

Oh.  Okay,” I think to myself as I wave at the friend I am meeting.  “So THAT is what we are wearing.”  I walk across the street, briskly, in my spandex pants, sports bra top, and tennis shoes.

After the obligatory kisses hello, we begin our stroll towards the Bastille.

“Are you going to be able to hike in those,” I ask her, looking at her feet.  She is wearing ballet flats, skinny jeans, a fashionable sweater, and a floral scarf whereas I look like I’m about to rip open a protein pack with my teeth while simultaneously checking my heart rate.

“Ouais….,” she responds with a shrug.  “I was out shopping so I just thought I would meet you from town.”

“Alright,” I say, totally unconvinced as I look up at the Napoleonic Fort we are about to attack.

To be clear, the Bastille is not a particularly long hike, only about 3.5 kilometers one-way but, in that 3.5 kilometers, there is a level difference of 300 meters.  You basically feel like spider man scaling a rocky cliff.*

Now, for me, that means wearing shoes made for athletic performance and sweating, probably within the first 5 minutes of the walk (yes, I am a super-sweater) but my European friends and the French seem un-phased by this (Alien alert).    I often meet friends to walk up the Bastille and never once have any of them had on tennis shoes…never.  Not only that, often, they like to stop along the way, take in the view, smoke a cigarette or two…I mean, WHAT?!  This is exercise, people, not a nature walk or Friday night at the bar – it is a serious business, we are here to sweat, to work, to realize how out of shape we are!

But in France, there seems to be a different idea about things.  Left to his own devices (read: my not nagging him to death), MB would go hiking in leather driving shoes or even flip-flops* while I won’t even go hiking in jeans (sweating in jeans is pretty much the worst thing of all time).  Now, obviously, it’s not as though you won’t see French people dressed in appropriate workout attire, of course, you will but they do not deign to wear it unless they are doing something pretty hardcore.

I remember making a remark to MB once regarding a group of women who we passed on the way up to the Bastille one weekday afternoon.

“I don’t get it,” I said to him.  “I mean, did you see what they were wearing?”

The women were in skirts, hose, and slip-on shoes. “How do you exercise in that?”

“Ouaaaaaaais,” he had responded, between panting breaths.  “But they aren’t really exercising, just taking a walk.”

I looked at him like he was crazy as I wiped sweat out of my eyes.  Weren’t we on the same “walk” as these chicks?  Why did we look like we were in the first stages of a stroke while they waltzed blithely by?  Is there some magical European trick in which you can decide whether or not you will exert yourself regardless of the terrain?

I pondered this as we continued the hike up the mountain, happy that I had on my sports bra and wasn’t sweating into the padding (yeah, it’s like that) of one of my nice Victoria’s Secret ones.   I mean, I can just imagine how this would go down in an American workplace:

Coworker: Hey Mike, where are you going for lunch?

Mike: Actually, I think I’m going to climb that mountain outside the office and have lunch up there.

Coworker: What?  Right now?

Mike shrugs. 

Mike:  Yeah.

Coworker:  But…I don’t…I mean, did you plan to do that?

Mike:  Nah, but it seems like a nice idea.

Coworker:  Mike, you can’t just decide to hike a mountain.

Mike:  Why not?  It’s there, it has a trail.

Coworker:  But…what are you going to wear?  You can’t wear your suit!

Mike:  Oh sure I can, do you want to join me?

Coworker:  No thanks…I’ve got a session at the gym with a personal trainer after work…(then under his breath)…like a normal person.

Mike: Suit yourself!

Mike waves and then leave the room.

Coworker:  Geez, I hope Mike isn’t having some sort of mental breakdown or spiritual crisis…maybe I should call his therapist.

SCENE.

In the meantime at a French office…

Colleague:  Bonjour Michel, you are going to the canteen for lunch today?  They are serving Tartiflette!

Michel: Non, merci, I’m actually on my way to meet a personal trainer for a session.

Colleague:  Ah ouais, pourquoi?  You have an injury or you are training for an event?

Michel:  No, no, just to exercise.

Colleague:  Mais, quoi?  Why is it you need to pay someone to exercise?

Michel:  I don’t know, it is nice and organized.  I have a definite start and finish time, I’ve got the showers and all the equipment, you know.

Colleague:  Bah non, I do not know.  To me, this sounds cree-zee.  You want to exercise, go outside like a normal person! (A French person would not bother saying this under their breath)  You know, Michel, there is a mountain right there!

The Colleague points out the window towards the Bastille and Michel just shrugs.

Michel:  Still, I am off to the gym.

Michel leaves the room.

Colleague:  And he doesn’t even stay for Tartiflette…pfff…incroyable.  He must secretly have a very bad injury and is trying to hide it.  I must discuss this with everyone over lunch in the canteen.

SCENE

***

I look back at my well-dressed friend and sigh, I suppose I will forever be the type to “miss the tartiflette,” ensuring that I am always prepared for any potential physical exertion; and I can’t help but worry that in doing so, perhaps I am losing out on the joys that come with having a spontaneous moment in nature.  I mean, is it really so awful if I sweat a bit in clothing that won’t automatically whisk it away from my skin?  Am I so precious that I can’t get a little grime on my feet or dirt under my bra straps? 

“MERDE!”  My friend shouts and I turn around to see what has happened.

Thick, wet mud is oozing out of her black flat and she is flailing about as the miniature swamp beneath her foot threatens to swallow the shoe entirely.

I answer my own questions: yes.

*In my original post I had a bit in here about rate of incline but I am too moronic at math and had it incorrect so I have removed it…and all references to numbers which is wise because they just confuse me. 

** I am not exaggerating.  I have seen him go on hikes wearing flip-flops.