Eating and drinking are different in France. Why? Because the culture is different. If you are going to travel to France –or anywhere, for that matter –why not try it “their way”. If nothing else, it should provide you with an interesting experience and a better understanding of the culture. So, here are some tips for how to do both like the locals. I bet you’ll have a few “ah ha” moments when you realize you may have misinterpreted things in the past!
1. How to order Coffee! Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Well, I don’t know about you but I think it’s complicated wherever you are. In the US Starbucks has turned ordering coffee into a multi lingual tongue twister. In France, it’s very simple –as long as you follow the custom! Cafe au lait (or any coffee served with milk or cream) is a breakfast drink, and not generally served after noon, or with meals. A “cafe normal” or “espresso” is just that –expresso in a small cup, served with a small cold glass of water. that’s served during “coffee breaks”, at cafes, and after meals. Can’t take “expresso”. Then order a “cafe Allonge” (literally “stretched out”) or a “cafe Americaine” –both are watered down espressos –in other words, a typical strength coffee.
2. Dessert comes Before Coffee. Not with. You can’t have it with. The waiter will say yes, but if the place is any good –or even remotely authentic– this won’t happen. Don’t worry. It’s better after! You finish your meal, and get the nice “pick me up” of the cup of coffee. Need something sweet? Never fear. Coffee comes with a little something sweet, always –a chocolate (in the basic cafes) or tiny pastries of some sort in the “nicer” restaurants.
3. Sauces in France won’t make you fat, and don’t come ‘on the side’. “Hmmm”, you say, “how is that possible?” Glad you asked. Because the meals are balanced, the portions, including sauces, are smaller, the food is very fresh, and we don’t snack endlessly on things between meals because the meal itself is completely satisfying. If you order sauces on the side, you will (a) either ruin your meal, or (b) consume more of the delicious sauce than you would have had you let the chef dress the dish with what was probably a teaspoon to a tablespoon of sauce (rather than the 1/4 cup they might bring you).