In France, eating is not just about satisfying hunger; it’s about taking the time to share meals with others. When you’re at the Foodist, you’ll likely spend most of your time standing in the kitchen preparing a dish or taking a walk to a local market to pick up ingredients. But in the end, we’ll sit down together to share a meal, just as the French do. After all, if our classes were simply about technique, you’d be missing out on an important part of our culture.
Our beloved French gastronomic meal earned its place on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which makes it so that the government supports and cultivates the tradition of gathering around the table. UNESCO captures this essence when defining the French gastronomic meal as a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements, and reunions. It’s all about coming together, the selection of dishes, purchasing of local goods, and pairings with wine, while also taking into consideration specific actions like smelling and tasting of the items on the table or relating to the food and talking about the dishes with each other.
It’s a tradition that has lasting power in the home. You’ll be hard pressed to find kids who don’t come running to the table after the ceremonious call of “À table,” announcing that dinner is ready. French parents still strictly obey the rule that they, too, grew up with, because the tradition of mealtime is not to be broken.
Sharing a meal is about more than house rules and good manners; it’s about paying respect and giving attention to people you care about. It’s about conversation and interacting with one another – asking about the synthèse in class today or how mamie, grandma, is doing. It’s a moment of escape from technology and separate rooms to come together in a distraction-free zone to share stories and make memories ¬over a common factor – food.
And it’s not just the French home that the tradition is protected. In a world where lunch can be practically be delivered right to your cubicle, the French have been able to resist the workaholic habit of eating in front of a screen.
You’ll see it first-hand in Paris at the bank, for example. Head in a minute too late, and you’ll be greeted with a locked door and a clock indicating the time of the employees’ return. No point waiting out the re-opening at a nearby café; by 12:32, every table will be occupied by workers grabbing a bite – and likely even a drink – with their colleagues, soaking up their time away from the trials and tribulations of le taf, or work.
You may read this and think, “French workers take hour-long lunch breaks every day? How lazy! They must get nothing done!” Au contraire, hungry worker. In fact, France is consistently ranked one of the highest – if not the highest – countries in terms of productivity of workers even with their preference for longer meals.
So now that you understand the importance of the French meal in a cultural context, the most important thing for you to do when you visit Paris is to take part in it yourself. Join in on a celebration, and join in on the festivities. Instead of breaking midday for a quick bite, plan to spend as much time at lunch as you would at dinner back home. And lastly, find a spot where you can happily lounge for three hours as you sip wine and crack the roof of your crème brûlée; the best part about sitting in a French restaurant: as long as you’ve ordered something, no one’s ushering you out.