Not so long ago my team and I had a team night out. It was great for work colleagues to have the chance for a good get together, have a few beers and some food, and talk about things that were UN- work related. It was a pretty good evening, all arranged by me I might add, and the pub I chose for a meeting place was just opposite Manchester’s Chinatown, so when we were all ready it was just a case of popping across the road for our meal.
I was not amused then when the evening was hijacked by one of our group who wanted to go to a tapas bar on the other side of town. To cut a long story short, I had far too much to drink and gave some no holds barred stick to the perpetrator of this infamy, who just so happened to be my boss!
Next week at work I approached my boss meekly with a prepared apology only to be stopped in my tracks.’ Steve’, my boss said, ‘what happens on the night out, stays on the night out!’
Due credit to the boss for his understanding attitude and in a roundabout way that brings me to another thought on this last night of my French holiday :
In previous years, as well as stocking la voiture with French wine, I always used to take back a considerable supply of cheese -not anymore! I’ve come to feel that French cheese, as much as I love it, doesn’t sit well on an English table. Our food doesn’t suit the cheese, and drinking and eating habits change when we get home. So leave your French cheese in France, in a sunny pavement cafe, where you can enjoy it with some French bread and a lovely glass of French red.
The French have a rather unjustified reputation for rudeness in my opinion. OK, Parisian waiters are not the most polite and neither are Parisians for that matter, but take a drive out of Paris into the country and you will meet the real French. The French who appreciate that you try, in only perhaps a small way, to communicate in their language. In a bar in the Loire that I always return to, every drinker that arrives will say ‘bonjour’ to everyone in turn, regardless of whether they are like me , strangers or foreigners and will say ‘au revoir’ when they leave and as for food, well, I will be the first to say that French cooking is not always the gastronomic delight that it is supposed to be but I do like the French way of eating. I like the ‘formule’ menus you see in French restaurants, the starter, main and cheese or dessert for sometimes as little as twelve euros or even less. And don’t forget the ‘plat du jour’, the French dish of the day.
Saumur, one of my favourite French towns is beautiful, not too busy but full of lovely restaurants. One I always frequent has most of its seats and tables on the pavement, what they do in the winter I do not know as the main brick part of the establishment is small!
The starters are small but full of flavour. The mains are wonderful and the cheese and French bread, exquisite! All washed down with a carafe of water and lovely French wine. A good meal does not need to be large but it needs to have a rhythm and those three acts, starter, main and cheese are a wonderful way to enjoy food, though it’s not just the food that is important. The wine, the service, the mood, all that comes into play and when that last mouthful of bread and camembert are gone, its time to call; ‘l’addition s’il vous plaît’.
I’m coming towards the end of my three week stay in France. I do love it here, I really do. My fiance and I spend most of our weekends at vide greniers and brocantes. A vide grenier is literally a loft sale, the equivalent of a UK car boot sale. A brocante is slightly different, a cross between a flea market and an antique sale. Many of these events in France are combined with a village fete and have a bar and a food area which can range from a full three course French sit down meal to merguez (French sausages) and frites (chips to UK readers and fries to you in the USA)
There is also always a bar, hey we are in France after all. Eighty cents for a glass of vin rouge, two euros for a glass of beer, and nothing stops these events. Rain shower at a UK car boot -forget it! Event over! Everyone leg it to your car and pack up. Are the French bothered by a downpour? No way! Put a bit of plastic sheeting down on your goods and quickly make way to the bar for a glass of red. Open up again when the skies clear. Now, here’s another thing; All these events are pretty well attended which means there are people about inhabiting these places but- and this is an important question. What do the French do when there isn’t a village fete on? Where do they go? What do they do and where do they do it!
Okay, deep breath needed here. I don’t mean to get excited but I’ve travelled for three weeks and here’s the thing; French towns close at 12 midday on the dot. Shops close. The only places open are the restaurants because nothing, and I mean nothing interferes with the French lunch. Nothing! Everywhere shuts down until two pm. Okay, I’ve noticed in recent years the supermarkets have started to stay open, which is a good time to shop for all us UK tourists. But even in the late afternoons French villages are still and quiet. UK villages are full of people, cars, traffic and kids. Where do the kids go? Why aren’t they kicking balls about in the middle of the street like normal kids? Where do the people go and what are they doing? If you know the answer, let me know!
This is what we need to do. Not so long ago on BBC there was a pretty interesting documentary about cats. The BBC team wired up all the cats in a village, had cameras and tracking devices on the cats and worked out what the cats did, where they did it and in fact the whole pattern of their behaviour. What the BBC need to do for a follow up programme is to attach cameras and gps tracking to a village of French people and report the results as soon as possible!
We need to know!
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