Monday, 14 April 2008

The Little Differences

"They got the same sh*t over there as they got over here, only it's a little different.." - Vince, Pulp Fiction

So here we are, being royally pampered in a rustic French style and adapting to les differences. The French have got some really great things. Like bidets, clearly invented by a nation which rightly prioritises carnal activity highly and appreciates efficiencies of hygiene thereof. Excellent for honeymooning couples, I can tell you.

Three-hour five-course lunchtimes are also still very much the norm. During her time in France, my Mum has developed the ability to knock up a daily mega-course feast in the blink of an eye. Today we had fresh vegetable and home-grown white bean soup, followed by poireaux mimosa (leeks cooked in long lengths and served with vinaigrette and hard boiled egg yolk pushed through a sieve so it resembles the flowers of a mimosa), then pasta with wild morels (collected yesterday by Mum's man, Jean and their friend Jacques), after which the cheese course and then coffee and pistachio ice cream to finish with.

In this household, soup is a must with every meal (including breakfast for Jean, who customarily starts the day with a piece of cake and a bowl of soup rinsed out with a glass of the local red wine) as, of course, is bread. Currently there are a lot of "mon dieus" being said about the price of bread which, in France as everywhere else, is going up sharply because of soaring wheat prices. Since the French revolution, the importance of bread to the people who live here cannot be overstated.

The big meal is eaten at lunchtime with a smaller supper at about eight in the evening. Mind you, I say smaller, but it still tends to be three courses comprising soup, a main dish and cheese. But it makes sense to do it that way round, especially if you've got the option of a siesta, as that much digesting can be a tiring business. And you really should try and reign in your natural greed and keep your courses very modest. I reckon Theo and I have more than made up for the starvation that began our honeymoon, thanks to the "gastro" we both endured in the days after our wedding. This afternoon we've resolved to go for a run to try and shake off some of the extra carbo-loading.

The other interesting aspect of eating here involves the cutlery. They don't bother with special soup spoons, dessert spoons will do. But most importantly, you have your own knife - a pocket twist knife (Opinel, ideally) which you keep sharp and use for everything, whether it's opening oysters, cutting bread, picking wild champignons or slicing up your vegetables. Jean and his good friend Norbert are also very specific about the exact type of glass they use for their wine, but there isn't time to go into all that now.

Since we arrived, we've met a good number of Mum and Jean's friends, which has certainly been useful in cranking up our rusty French. On the whole we've just about made ourselves understood, Theo doing rather better than me (well, he did study French to A Level and a good deal more recently than I did). The people have all been very friendly to us and we have been made to feel very welcome. But probably our most successful mode of communication has been through playing cards, largely Belote and Ascenseur, with Mum, Jean and Norbert. Not quite the vernacular to be used in polite company, but "putain" and "con" are excellent all-purpose exclamations and we're now pretty adept at telling apart our coeurs, carreaux, trefles and picques and have more or less got our heads round the eccentric (to English eyes, anyway) mode of scoring points in continental whist games.

And finally the French computer keyboard, as alluded to by Theo earlier. The different placing of the A, W, M, Z and Q in particular can lead the unwary English touch-typist into strange avenues of written Franglais and this, plus the unexpected placing of punctuation marks, accented letters and the fact my Mum's laptop has a stubbornly sticky D key, can make computer work exhausting and only possible in short doses. The word "putain" comes in handy there, too.

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