Bonjour. Çava? Comme çi comme ça.
Hello. How are you? So-so.
That’s the extent of my french, or as Eddie Izzard would say, “Le sange est sur la branche,” which translates to “The French I learned in school is totally practical and has opened a new world of possibilities for me.”
If you’ve never watched Eddie Izzard’s standup, I’m sorry. If you speak French, I’m sorry.
I took two years of French in high school, and I can’t say I took much from it (see above). My vocabulary is basic if you could even call it that, and I would say my literacy is better than my conversation skills.
My first job ever, was at a “French” bakery and cafe.
I was a salad tosser, barista, and cashier. They served all the stereotypical French things you’d expect at an American chain restaurant including french onion soup, croissants, and the notorious French dip sandwich (not French at all). Our uniforms featured berets and gingham pants. Every time a guest walked in I was encouraged to say, “Bonjour!”
What a great opportunity to practice all the French I learned in school.
I’ve been to France once.
It was a school Eurotrip organized by EF Tours (AKA the cheap, but ‘educational’ option that preys on students). I was a junior, going to be a senior, that begged my mom to go on this twenty-one day excursion that ventured through the UK, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, and Turkey. Having never been to Europe, let alone a trip without my family, it was the first time I ever ventured out on my own.
Unable to convince any of my close friends (or their parents’ wallets) to come along, I paired up with a girl in my class that I had worked with, though we weren’t close. The majority of the kids on the trip were popular, eager to spend as many nights partying as they could while being under the legal drinking age.
Me, being the quiet, awkward teen that I was, had never been to a real party. I didn’t drink or smoke and found the architecture in Paris more satisfying than going to the corner store to buy some hard liquor. Buying a Bacardi Breezer without being carded was about all the adrenaline I could handle. So rebellious.
For my first trip semi-solo, twenty-one days was a long time.
It was a long time to be spent in random hotel rooms, not staying long enough to call any one room home, not staying long enough to unpack without having to pack up your life yet again. I’ve been on a few long trips since then, and I’ve found that two weeks is too long for me to be away. I find solace in my time alone at home, it’s definitely the introvert in me.
While I was in France (we stayed in Paris and stopped in Beaune for an afternoon) I tried my best to blend in, to not seem like the obnoxious American that we’re often stereotyped as, and ‘tried’ to practice my French. Though I could only muster a very quiet “Merci” after purchasing something.
Sadly, I don’t remember much of the food I ate there, it was a cheap school tour with questionable dinners and breakfasts included. I also wasn’t the foodie I am today back then, so I can’t say I had the intention of exploring the food scene. I legitimately have zero pictures of anything I ate while there (that would be ridiculous these days).
What I do remember is having a Croque Monsieur at a sidewalk cafe. Imagine an American grilled cheese, with ham inside, but the cheese is Gruyere instead of American, and it’s topped with melted cheese as well. Mmm.
Thoughts on French food
My mom loves French food. My experience with it here in the US involves a fancy restaurant with white tablecloths, the occasional dress code, and amazing food. It’s also at times a small bakery with trays full of fresh croissants and colorful little desserts in a glass case.
In my mind French food seems complicated. It’s often romanticized with beautiful plating and french descriptions that make it seem even more sophisticated. You see all these chefs on tv and on social media that have trained in France under master-chefs, skillfully handling pans filled with browning meats, serving them with perfectly cooked vegetables on perfectly arranged plates.
It’s an art without a doubt, so I’m definitely intimidated, but as I’ve mentioned before I’m not aiming for high-end restaurant food here. I’m looking for what French people cook and eat at home. What’s for dinner on Sundays? What’s a typical breakfast? What’s a French snack?
Time to find out. Happy hopping.