There’s something about French guys… and you just want to hear what they have to say! I’m often asked what my husband thinks about American culture, food, the people and more. Curious minds want to know what French guys think about all kinds of things, so today my husband, Tom, is bringing you the next installment of his series called Ask Tom Tuesdays. He’s answering your questions about whatever you want to know….
We received the question for today’s post almost two months ago but because of how big of an answer it is, we’re going to run this “Best of Both Worlds” series in a few different parts. Hopefully every (or every other??) week until Tom has said all that he needs to say.
The food in France vs. the USA
Today we’re continuing with last week’s question about what is the best/worst about life in the U.S. and France.
For my third post of the best of both worlds question, I’d like to talk about food! So take your napkin, and get ready for a long one, because a French guy can’t just write a short post about food. 😉
I’m going to do this bullet style and run through some major differences since I have a lot to say, so here we go…
- Overall, there’s more variety in the U.S. There’s food from all over the world and many hard-to-find items in France are available in regular American grocery stores. In France, you get variety only in big cities (so not so much outside Paris and the other biggest cities).
- The food in France takes a lot of “space” which is normal because it’s a characteristic of our culture. We’re known for our food and there’s still a tradition of excellence, gastronomy. You can still find high-end, refined cuisine that’s not too expensive. I’ve been to a “gastronomic restaurant” in NYC, and although it was good, I was not really impressed and even less when I saw the bill! Now I’m sure you can find very good restaurants, but I feel like you’d have to spend way more money to get the same quality of cuisine in the U.S. as you would in France.
- I’m not sure that “American cuisine” is really “featured” in the U.S., a lot of what I ate in restaurants there was often Italian, Mexican-inspired food, Thai, etc. In France, French food is everywhere and that makes sense, right?
- Tip (an additional amount in the U.S.) versus tip included in price (in France and other European countries). In France, the good thing is you don’t have to bother trying to calculate a tip and worry about how much you’re going to end up spending ahead of time because the price you see on the menu is what you actually pay — no additional tax or tip necessary. I find it sometimes tricky in the U.S., prob because I’m not entirely used to it and don’t know if tax is included or how much tip to leave.
The good thing with the tipping system in the U.S. is that you get better service, sometimes to the extreme (you can almost feel harassed by the waiter when he asks you for the 15th time if everything is going well!), but overall it’s better — it’s very rare to get a grumpy waiter in my opinion.
- When it comes to food in France, dessert is a must! It’s part of the meal. Now we don’t eat a slice of cake the size of our head and stuff ourselves, but a small dessert is normal with dinner. In the U.S., it seems that Americans usually skip dessert and maybe 20% of the time order it when out to eat. Or feel guilty about indulging and share with a friend. In France, it’s probably eaten 80% of the time and is something we enjoy and expect. The tradition here is to end your meal with a dessert, it doesn’t have to be a big heavy cake, but we’re just used to ending a meal with a little taste of sweetness, either a small piece of cake, an ice cream or even some fruits or fruit salad. I was really surprised when going to restaurants in the U.S. that you really don’t get that many options for dessert on the menu, and that’s when they actually have desserts on the menu because sometimes they don’t!
- The U.S. is better for street food. There is no food truck scene in France really!!! Just a few trucks for pizza here and there and a few more options in big cities, but it’s different. There’s not as much variety for eating quickly (and for delivery). It’s partly cultural I think. Here in France, meals are a big deal (we don’t joke with food!), and people take time to eat (even if the lunch break for example tends to get shorter), the duration of meals is on average longer than in the U.S.
A lot of people still have lunch breaks that are between an hour and two hours long! The day stops for lunch.
- Traditions surrounding food are really important. It’s like the first time Diane came to my parents’ for a Sunday lunch, she then asked me if it was a special holiday or something because she couldn’t believe that a regular Sunday meal could be so long and such a big deal (see, here it’s still a big deal in a lot of French families, you try to make better food, something a little more refined that what you have during the week, you also dress up a little bit, you take time to cook, and you get a full meal!) Aperitif, appetizer(s), entree, cheese, salad, dessert… you usually leave the table full and that’s when you go for the Sunday afternoon walk (to digest)! And why at the beginning, Diane was very surprised to see families all dressed up walking around in town on Sunday afternoons!)
- You’d never eat sandwich on a Sunday (not when you invite your relatives or friends) and it’s the same, when you invite people for lunch or diner, you try to offer them good food, not something too simple!
At the grocery store
- What’s funny is that you can actually notice that particular relationship French people have with desserts at the grocery store. The first time Diane went to the grocery store here she was amazed by the dessert (pudding) aisle! She had never seen that many options (yogurts, puddings, specialties all individually packaged in little containers)! On the other hand, I’m still trying to find the dessert aisle in the U.S. grocery store — not a little corner of the aisle! Haha.
- One thing I find great in US grocery stores is that you have specialty food sections for people suffering allergies (gluten free, dairy free…) in France a lot of people would like to have that option, it’s coming (I’ve seen tiny aisles in some grocery stores) but we’re far behind what exists in the U.S.
- On quality: I guess that the quality of food is similar in French and U.S. stores although Diane will tell you eggs and meat taste better in France. One thing though, you have way less of a chance of buying a product containing high fructose corn syrup here (although it’s not banned here, it’s really restricted), and you have no chance of finding GMO products (banned in France). Another reason why food in France might taste better is that we eat only what’s in season. You can’t find strawberries at the grocery store in December, for example. While some produce is imported, it’s to a much lesser extent than it is in the U.S.
- Since we’re talking about regulations, a lot of specific and traditional products are protected here with labels (“a.o.p “ “a.o.c” which are supposed to guarantee the specific provenance of the product, and that they’re made using defined and “traditional” process), like cheeses, butter, seafood, olive oil, even fruits. Companies can’t just disregard regulations to boost profits.
- Something I really like better in the U.S. is how Americans form lines! Well, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I like waiting in line at the grocery store, but if I have to do it, I’d rather do it in the U.S.! Because people are more respectful there, the lines are organized, you go to the register when it’s your turn, here, it’s more like the jungle! People try to change lines when they think one goes faster than the one they’re in (as a proud Frenchman I’ve done that dozens of time, until realizing that most of the time you actually end up in a slower line!)
- When I first went to a grocery store in the U.S. (it was in NJ), I noticed that the milk was refrigerated, I just thought that American people like cold milk, but then I saw the refrigerated eggs and was really surprised (ok they can like cold milk, but cold eggs? what’s the point?). Then Diane told me that’s how they were sold there. Then she was surprised when in France because she was desperately looking for the same cold milk and eggs at our grocery store here (you actually can find the milk, but not the eggs). Now Diane even buy eggs at the farmers market (without fear of catching a disease! What an improvement! Haha). Because, even if French people get most of their food supplies from grocery stores, they’re still really attached to their local markets. They’re very popular here, especially the “food specialists” (butchers, charcutier, fromager, crémier). I’ve never seen any butchers (artisan style) except in grocery stores in the U.S. or specialty markets in big cities. No “regular” stores for food specialties at normal prices. I find that it’s a shame, I love my butcher here. Prices are of course a little higher than I’d like but still reasonable, and the big draw is that the quality is great (you can even see the pics of our butcher with the cows on the wall behind the meat) and he’s really nice, gives you advice, talks. Diane loves him too!
A few specific food items I’d like to find in France
- Coffee to go (and pastries to go with it or donuts of course, I’m French, I need sugar!) is really something I’d love to have in France, even if I’m not a crazy coffee addict, I just love the concept!
- “Salty” breakfast options like scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and not sweet stuff all the time. It’s not easy to find restaurants or places like “diners,” we don’t have them here, where you can easily get scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages for breakfast…
- Frozen yogurt, it’s coming very slowly here! But as a general “frozen treats” lover (ice cream…) I really love it
- Food trucks!