By many, it is considered impossible to impress the French; I have, however, found a loophole.
During my most recent trip to le boucherie with MB, the butcher started chatting to me about being American. Apparently, he had been a butcher in San Francisco for a stint (I’d love to know what that visa was). After discussing the prerequisite things: where are you from, what are you doing here, etc.; he moved on to every Frenchman’s favorite topic…
“In America, you eat this?” He said as he held up the groin of a pig.
As if he didn’t know.
“Not so much,” I responded. “We are a bit precious about what we are willing to eat.”
He looked at me sadly. “Oui.”
I think there is nothing that depresses a French person so much as someone who doesn’t enjoy good food.
Quickly, MB stepped in, “She eats everything though; she is very good.”
I looked at him with an amused expression. Apparently, this was a point of honor for him.
“Ah, mais c’est bon!” The butcher says, smiling at me. “Pour vous, mademoiselle…” He says as he cuts a healthy slice of a gelatinous, multi-colored terrine. “I want to present this to you.”
“Merci beaucoup,” I say without flinching.
“You know what this is?” There is a devilish smile on his face.
“Oui,” I return, pleased that I could get this one right. “ Fromage de tete! I have already tried it before and I like it.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Head_cheese)
The butcher grins from ear to ear; a look of happy approval spread across his face.
BAM! Frenchman impressed!
Upon my arrival in Paris, I ordered not one but two steak tartares on the first day. At the restaurant of the second steak tartare, the waiter tried to get me to order something different.
“Does she know what it is?” He asked MB.
“Of course, it is her favorite!” He told the waiter. “She already had one for lunch!”
I smiled up at the smug waiter sweetly…waiting for it. Slowly his smug look was replaced with one of surprised appreciation.
BAM! Frenchman impressed!
Everyone knows that the French love their food but not everyone knows quite how excited they get about it. MB still tells people about the first time we met and how I told him that cassoulet was one of my favorite dishes; this is what piqued his interest in me…an American girl who loved food (BAM! Frenchman impressed). I remember him looking at me dreamily from across the table as I described how good a hot bowl of cassoulet is on a cold, wintery evening. To this day, I don’t know whether it was me or the thought of cassoulet that put stars in his eyes.
On my first weekend to meet and visit his parents I know they must have been worried; what would this American girl be like? Would she turn her nose up at stinky cheese? What if she is a vegetarian?! * At the first dinner, I could feel the tremor of apprehension in the air as food was set on the table…will she eat it? Foie gras, homemade pate, pickles from the garden…
I almost passed out from excitement.
I pleased them immensely by devouring, fully, everything that was set before me and having no problem accepting the ‘seconds’ that were offered. They were ecstatic. (BAM! Frenchmen impressed!)
The French connection with food is spiritual, in the truest sense of the word. It is an integral part of every man, woman, and child; it is an integral part of being French. Now, you might be thinking that all over the world people get excited about, and love to share, their food. And to that, I say, the French are just like the rest of the world, only more so.**
Therefore, it is possible to impress the French; not just possible but utterly satisfying…on a variety of levels. So, go for it! Don’t order the hamburger or the steak frites; try the fromage de tete, order the tartare. You might discover something that you love that you never knew existed and hey, even if you can’t stand it at least you have the satisfaction of surprising a society that has perfected the art of being blasé.
*I’m not sure that the French government would allow foreign vegetarians into the country, as for the natural born vegetarians…they are tolerated.
**subtle Casablanca reference for those of you in the know