A dinner party: what makes the French so French
30 Tuesday Jul 2013
By Jacqueline Bucar
On my recent trip to France, I was reminded of what makes the French so French. No matter how “Americanized” they may become (Mc Do, Starbucks, sandwiches in the street), they still prove that old adage of “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (the more that changes, the more that stays the same). We were invited to dinner by the family of some of our friends. Sitting before a spread of cold cilantro lentil salad, Moroccan carrots, potato salad (nothing like American potato salad), cucumber salad, green salad, roasted peppers, plates of charcuterie, followed by three beautiful tarts (strawberry, apricot and lemon), all made by the hostess and her 18 year old daughter, the conversation was like no other I could ever imagine in the States.
At the table were several generations. As people talked, the conversation started by a 19 year old young man got very interesting. The discussion centered on what it means when you say “I understand your point.” Does that imply you are justifying it? Does it mean that you accept it as valid? Etc. It soon became a philosophical debate with everyone throwing in their opinion, across all generations. As this debate became animated, the 84 year old grandfather sitting next to me started discussing with me his opinion that we have always existed since we could not have sprung from nothing and that we just don’t remember that existence, and that when we die we will become something else. He wasn’t espousing reincarnation as such but many of his ideas overlapped with that philosophy. And again, he was the one who started this thread; it did not follow from anything in particular. So there I was in the midst of two interesting discussions. And I marveled at the scene. First, that all the generations were there at the table talking with each other (as opposed to groupings of generations at different ends of the table, involved in their own little microcosm). Second, that these young people weren’t discussing the latest rock group or just sports but that such an intellectual discussion was not only interesting to them but actually started by them. They weren’t “intellectuals” but there was a real joy in ideas and discussing them, and no one was afraid of disagreeing. There were no worries about talking about politics or religion or offending someone because you disagreed. The interest was in the process, the discussion. It was fabulous!
That evening reminded me of just why I love France and the French lifestyle. Especially the intergenerational aspects of daily life. The next day at the beach, we were all there, arriving at different times. No matter if people were sitting on the beach or standing in the Mediterranean, as each person arrived—old and young alike—each person said hello to each and every person and of course greeted each other with the “bise” (a kiss) on each cheek. It took awhile before you could jump in and swim! But the welcome was all “embracing.”
Jacqueline Bucar is a former high school French teacher, who taught all levels of French for 16 years before leaving to pursue a career in Law. She is currently teaching French at the Osher Life Long Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine and is an immigration attorney in New Haven, CT. Jacqueline received her Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Connecticut, her Masters of Liberal Studies Degree from Wesleyan University, and JD Degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law. For more than 10 years, Jacqueline has been selected by her peers as one of the Best Lawyers in America®; in addition, she has bee selected as a Super Lawyer® in CT and NY; and Who’s Who in Corporate Immigration Lawyers. Despite her career change, Jacqueline is a true Francophile and tries to spend as much time as possible in her adopted country of France.
You may also enjoy A Woman’s Paris® post, Café Culture in Paris, by Parisienne Flore der Agopian. The café, writes Flore, is a pleasurable way of sitting unbothered for hours on end with a book, with friends, or jut watching all sorts of people coming and going. Le Café de Flore, one of the oldest and most prestigious in Paris, where you can meet or observe its famous clientele among the Parisians, tourists and waiters dressed in their black and white uniforms as if they were still in the 1920s. To Flore, Café de Flore is almost mythical, legendary—a real institution. (French)
Smell and Taste, Sensation and Pleasure, by French writer Laurence Haxaire who explains the “smart” education of the French child who is taught to recognize and describe the flavours, the feeling of taste, and most importantly, what they like or dislike. Hauxaire’s introduction to the world of flavour is all about sensations and pleasure. She urges audiences to “tell what you feel.”
Foie Gras – Just Because! by French writer Laurence Haxaire who writes: even if foie gras is the star of holiday dinners at the end of the year, it is a traditional dish all year long. There are thousands of ways to serve foie gras: as hors d’oeuvre or entrées. Recipe included for La Terrine de Foie Gras aux Pommes d’Elké (Foie Gras with apples), Foie Gras à la Vapeur (Foie Gras marinated in salt, pepper and cognac, and steamed), and Foie Gras Poêllé (Foie Gras sautéed with a bit of sweet white wine).
Wherever you go, you always meet a Breton, by Frenchwoman Bénédicte Mahé, who is in her mastère-spécialisé final trimester doing an internship in Paris. Bénédicte, who was born in Rennes, asks us to take out our notebooks and pens and get ready for a lesson on Brittany. Recipe included for Far Breton (with prunes), a crêpe for your sweet tooth!
Oh, so French! Crossing to the other side. Paris-based writer Shari Leslie Segall shares her observations of becoming a little bit French and writes: “To a greater or lesser degree, whether you expected to or not, one day you realize that you’re crossing to the other side.” She offers a very incomplete list of how you know when you’ve arrived. (First published in FUSAC.FR July 5, 2013.)
What’s in a Word? There’s more to French class than you thought. Jacqueline Bucar, French teacher and immigration attorney, invites us to stimulate a way of thinking and learning that expands our understanding of the world and ourselves through the study of a foreign language. She shares “what’s in a word,” a way of thinking, a “mentality” that helps define the people who speak it and their culture. (French)
Text copyright ©2013 Jacqueline Bucar. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2013 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.