French dinner party critics
In Australia, a dinner guest wouldn’t think to call attention to a slightly dry piece of chicken, or an under-seasoned soup. Instead, they’d likely just be intensely grateful to have a night off from cooking and cleaning the dirty dishes.
Au contraire for French guests, who consider this not only permissible, but even essential to the host’s future culinary success. It is quite usual for guests to engage in a detailed discussion over how to enhance the entrée, or to point out the flaws of the fromage.
Good food is essential to French culture
The French believe: “La vie est trop courte pour boire du mauvais vin”.¹
And it seems the same is true for food.
It is essential to understand that the casual criticism that seems to flow so easily does not come from a place of malice or even superiority. Inviting family and friends over for a meal is a way for French people to showcase their gastronomic creativity, and the host therefore should expect to be judged accordingly.²
According to one food blog “cooking is an essential part of the French culture, and it adds to one’s usefulness and talents if they are capable of preparing a good culinary meal.”
One should, therefore, not take offence to an invitee’s suggestion to add some fresh thyme to the soup in future. Instead, consider it a generous gesture, as the sharing of food knowledge is an inherent part of French culture.
In France, everyone’s a critic
This habit of offering helpful suggestions, however, isn’t limited to the adult members of French society. Whilst French children might not throw food,³ they certainly develop a discerning palate at a young age. It seems in France, everyone’s a critic.
With this is mind, I can’t help but think back to my days as a nanny in Paris. I vividly recall spending hours baking a chocolate cake from scratch for the 4 year old’s birthday, only to have him respond not with the delight I anticipated, but instead with scorn. He took one condescending look at my cake and declared it ‘not as good as Fauchon’.
Which way is better, French or Australian?
But I wonder if Australians lean too far in the other direction? I personally find it difficult to send a meal back in a restaurant even if the steak isn’t cooked how I ordered it, and I’d never dream of suggesting to a friend that their BBQ method wasn’t up to scratch. But that’s a whole other story.
Who gets it right? Is it better to follow the French approach and offer helpful hints that will benefit everyone in the future? Or is it best to keep your opinions to yourself and be simply grateful that someone else has prepared a meal for you (not matter how burnt or un-picturesque the dish may be)?
What do you think?References:
¹ Popular French Sayings by Rachel Hanson
² Working with the French Culture by Jeff Allen
³ French Children Don’t Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman – review by Michelle Hanson 14/01/12 Image credits:
1. fortinbras on Flickr
2. noodlepie on Flickr
3. miladus on Flickr
4. M.J.S on Flickr
5. leekelleher on Flickr