Converting the French to the ‘Doggy Bag’

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Doggy bag 3 Converting the French to the Doggy BagIf you’re eating in a restaurant in the U.K. or America you probably wouldn’t think twice about asking the waiter for a bag or box so you can take that nice bit of steak you couldn’t quite finish home for Rover, or even for yourself. in France, however, it’s still not quite the done thing. If you did the same in a restaurant here you might come in for some strange looks from the person serving you, and a good deal of mockery (behind your back) from other diners. But, as a result of the present European year of fight against waste, all this could be about to change. For while most French still tend to make fun of the ‘doggy bag’, in a world where resources are increasingly limited some restaurants, companies and internet sites are now doing their best to promote this Anglo-Saxon invention as a means of combating waste. And in France where, according to a study conducted in 2011, each person throws away on average 21% of food bought (that’s 90 kg of food per year), 8% of which hasn’t even been removed from its packaging, this kind of waste is coming in for more and more criticism.

And it’s the restaurants which seem to be taking the lead. According to a recent survey which questioned 2.700 restaurants in the Rhône-Alpes region restaurant owners’ greatest fear is that their customers will become ill after eating left-overs which have not been kept in the best of conditions at home. In this respect, however, they can rest assured as, legally speaking, restaurants can no longer be held responsible for a dish which was started in their restaurant and then taken away. A total of 31% of the establishments questioned already offer or are thinking of offering a box or bag which customers can use to take uneaten food home.  And 86% of them feel that, since the customer has paid for the entire meal, he’s entitled to take the left-overs away. It’s also a good preparation for 2016 when restaurants will be legally obliged to limit organic waste.

Doggy bag 2 Converting the French to the Doggy BagWhat’s more, some young entrepreneurs see this as a market opening, and are doing their best to make the bag or box more attractive. This is certainly the case with the Trop bon pour gaspiller (Too good to waste) project launched by Laurent and Rabaïa Calvayrac. ‘We’ve lived in North America where the practice is very common,’ says Rabaïa. ‘When we came back to France we decided to try to make it more popular by improving the quality of the box. We think this is very important.’ As a result they’ve produced a luxury doggy bag – a rigid, recyclable, bio-degradable box suitable for both microwave and normal ovens (up to 180°C), and made in France. The problem is that, in spite of its qualities, only small quantities (5.000) will be produced to begin with. And the cost price will be around 1€, a bit too expensive to hope for massive success, even though those restaurants who have shown interest say they’re willing to make an effort as far as the price is concerned.

In addition, Rest-o-Resto, a Grenoble-based company, is compiling an online directory of restaurants which offer a doggy bag or box. At present it has 130 addresses from 11 towns. And the numbers are expanding. ‘The reactions we get vary from one restaurant to another,’ admits Alexandre Teodosio. ‘Some owners are very enthusiastic, while for others it’s unthinkable that a meal should end up in a bag or box.’ The company is in the process of developing a box which will be less upmarket than the Trop bon pour gaspiller one.

France’s Belgian neighbours, on the other hand, have adopted a different approach to making the doggy bag more acceptable. This involves finding not only a suitable French name but – since most left-overs are taken home for human consumption – one less associated with a canine. It doesn’t seem to be an easy task, however, as their site has just launched a Facebook consultation page inviting people to come up with their suggestions. Among these can be found Restopack, Restrobon (Restes trop bons pour être jetés), or even Gaspipa.

The Decline of the French Breakfast

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It has always been an enigma to me that the English, so universally condemned for the uninspired nature of their cooking, could have managed to impose on our planet such a varied, copious and delicious meal as the cooked breakfast; or how their French neighbours, who have elevated cooking to no less than a creative art, could have come up with nothing more imaginative than a miserable slice of bread and butter, or a solitary croissant, and a bowl of watery coffee or hot chocolate by which to start the day.

English breakfast The Decline of the French BreakfastThis is not to say, however, that the French fail to appreciate the qualities of a full English breakfast. But there exists, perhaps, no other country in the world where so many people unreservedly admit that there’s nothing like a substantial meal to get the day off to a flying start, and where so few actually find it possible to believe that anyone can have either the time or the stomach to take it – even at the weekend or during the holidays. This was confirmed to me during a recent trip to Portugal in the company of a group of 20 or so French people. Not only was I the only person among us to be hungry enough to indulge in egg, bacon, sausage, fried bread and tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans, but a great deal of surprise (and in one case horror) was expressed at my stomach’s ability to cope with such copious and varied quantities of food at that early hour of day.

And according to a recent survey conducted by the Credoc (Centre de recherche pour l’étude et l’observation des conditions de vie) on the eating habits of the French, the breakfast in France has suffered such a severe decline over the past ten years that now only one person in five is willing to devote an average of 14 minutes per day to eating it. And they don’t necessarily do this every day. Is this a sign that the meal is on the point of disappearing in France? Whatever the case may be the danger is present enough for producers of breakfast foods and drinks to launch a campaign designed to convince their compatriots that going to work or school on an empty stomach is not the best of ways to start the day.

And not only has the number of French people who eat a breakfast progressively declined over the last ten years but the tendency seemed to have accelerated last year. Is it because people are in more and more of a hurry in the morning? Or is it just one more manifestation of the present economic crisis? It’s still too early to say – even if the common ingredients of the French breakfast are not outrageously expensive. This 2013 tendency  does, however, confirm recent concern shown not only at the drop in consumption of bread, dairy products, cereals and fruit juices, but the impact not eating breakfast may have on our ability to concentrate later in the morning – especially when it comes to schoolchildren, 29% of whom go without breakfast at least once a week compared to only 11% ten years ago.

The decline is all the more paradoxical as the meal enjoys a generally favourable image in France where 93% of people consider it vital for a good dietary equilibrium. Among those who spend an average of 14 minutes eating breakfast, nine out of ten consider it to be an enjoyable way of starting the day. 95% eat the meal at home (and not in a café), and 88% of these sit at table. However, almost half of them eat alone.

French breakfast The Decline of the French BreakfastJust what do the French favour for breakfast? Ingredients tend to be varied. It goes without saying that bread is indispensable for 75% of them. Bread is followed by coffee (78%), butter (57%), fruit juice (51%), plain milk (38%), yoghourt and pastries (22%), fresh fruit (15%), honey (14%), while the various types of breakfast spreads available on supermarket shelves come last at 10%.

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Are the French Rude?

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Mr Rude French Are the French Rude?You know, I can’t help thinking that the arrogant rudeness some Anglo-Saxons seem to find so inherent in the French is the result of a misunderstanding caused by a different cultural conception as to what constitutes basic politeness. This was once again brought home to me during a recent week’s holiday I spent in Portugal with a group of 20 or so French tourists. Even though I’d had several lengthy conversations with at least two male members of our group (especially at mealtimes when the wine began to flow), it was only towards the end of the holiday when we really started getting to know one another that we began using first names. It goes without saying that, had we all been Anglo-Saxons, we would have been on Christian name, even back-slapping terms right from the start. And the Frenchman in me is tempted to think it is this importance you attach to ‘friendly’ politeness which can cause you to view some aspects of the more formalistic French codes of socially-acceptable behaviour as little more than unamicable aloofness. In this respect, I distinctly remember one occasion when I’d just landed back in Blighty, and the Englishman in me must still have been fast asleep.

The train taking me from the airport was almost empty and I had no problem in finding a window seat. The next stop, however, was a large town where a crowd of people were waiting to board. Pointing to the vacant seat beside me a lady politely enquired, with an amiable English smile, ‘Is anybody sitting here, please?’

‘No!’ I replied, shaking my head, and with what I thought to be a cordial tone of voice.

Now, had this been in France the lady would certainly have gratified me with a primly polite ‘Merci, monsieur,’ and then, without further ado, would have proceeded to sit down. Not so with our English one.

‘I’m asking you if this seat is free!’ she repeated with barely-concealed annoyance.

A little surprised, I retorted, ‘Your original question was, ”Is anybody sitting here?” My reply was ”No!” That means nobody is sitting here!’ And with a gentle smile I beckoned her to take a seat.

She sat down stiffly. Despite having brought to her notice the correctness of my grammar, something in her demeanour made it obvious that offence had been given, and a long, heavy silence ensued. Puzzled, I gave the matter some thought. And, as we rolled along, it must have been my Englishman who began to stir; for it gradually dawned on me that, not only had my response to her first question been far too laconic, but totally lacking in English-style, friendly warmth.  And it could even have been mistakenly construed as ‘No, I don’t want you to sit here!’ In fact, what I should have said was something like, ‘Not at all, go ahead and sit down, love!’ accompanied by the broadest of smiles. But now the harm was done and all my attempts at reconciliation were in vain (she curtly refused my offer to lift her heavy-looking bag onto the luggage rack above). I finally retreated into resigned perusal of my newspaper.

Rude French waiter Are the French Rude?Personally, during the 42 years or so I’ve been living in France I’ve always operated on the principle that if you’re pleasantly polite with others in the vast majority of cases they’ll be pleasantly polite back. For me, at least, this has always worked with the different nationalities I’ve crossed the path of, including the French. Perhaps I’ve been lucky but, apart, perhaps, from the odd Parisian waiter (never address them as ‘garçon’), I’ve yet to come across the arrogant rudeness some Anglophones seem to find so rampant. The only exception was some years ago when I was having a drink in a café with a Scottish friend. We were sitting at the bar and our conversation was in English. Suddenly, an elderly man standing nearby announced loudly to one and all, ‘Ca sent la merde ici!’ and proceeded to storm out. In his favour, I think he’d had too many, and had perhaps mistaken English for German (perhaps he’d suffered during the German occupation of World War 2). So great was the indignation of the café owner (and several people standing around) that he offered us a drink on the house!

 

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The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)

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Parking machine sign 300x113 The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)So, after carefully depositing my vehicle therein I followed the Exit sign and accompanying arrow which led me to two rather mean-looking appliances reposing beneath the notice Ticket Machines. Their ungenerous disposition was confirmed, moreover, by a Ticket Machines Do Not Give Change, while a Parking Tickets Must Be Clearly Displayed At All Times provided another reminder that visible proof of payment must always be shown; and a Tickets Must Be Affixed To Inside Of Windscreen Or Side Window Of Vehicle So As To Be Clearly Visible At All Times provided an explanation of the technique required to satisfy this. In marginally smaller letters below it was made uncompromisingly clear that the operation described was the entire responsibility of the vehicle owner, and that no sympathetic consideration could be entertained should the ticket become unstuck and fall out of view. And the directive Time Paid For Must Not Be Exceeded left me in no doubt that only Swiss-like punctuality was acceptable here.

Traffic wardens The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)As I walked back to the car clutching my ticket another Wheel Clamping In Operation – Release Fee £100 (at this stately home £100 seemed to cover every form of transgression) supplied yet one more dire warning of the fate that would befall the more absent-minded among us. And if any bright spark was still under the illusion that this was all bluff, a Wardens On Patrol and CCT Monitoring At All Times made you grimly aware that this car park’s surveillance system had nothing to envy that to be found in any of her Majesty’s maximum security prisons.

Keep off the grass The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)As I strolled past the turf a succession of notices to Keep Off The Grass served to remind you that in England this type of ground cover is for the eyes alone, and that any intrusion on it by foot is as outrageously profane as venturing into a mosque with your shoes stlll on. A little farther on, however, and a spirit-raising Picnic Area announced that a spot had been thoughtfully reserved for those seeking prandial communion with nature. But it took no more than a couple of strides for a No Picnicking Beyond This Point to make it abundantly clear that nonsense of this sort had narrowly-defined limits. And a minute later a Visitors Must Use Benches And Tables Provided put a stop to any idea Mum might have had of sunning herself on the car rug; while a No Ball Games Allowed made it equally plain to Dad that if he got the bat and ball out for a game of cricket with the kids, he’d be playing on a sticky wicket.*

Litter bins The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)Close by, a Please Use Litter Bins – Fine £100 brought it home to us all that any attempt to apply the principle ‘If you’re going to do it, make sure it’s on somebody else’s doorstep’ would be at offenders’ considerable financial risk. And the sight of a splendid ornamental lake, complete with fountain and ducks, brought with it a No Feeding The Birds and No Feeding The Fish, thereby leaving the animal lovers among us in no doubt at all that it was in their interests to take any uneaten bread home for tomorrow’s breakfast toast. And the triple injunction No Swimming – No Paddling – No Fishing threw cold water on any plans some of us might have had of depositing themselves wholly or partially in this liquid element, or extracting existing occupants from it.

As the house came into view a large Admission: Adults £10 – Children And Senior Citizens £6 informed me that there was a price to be paid for the privilege of viewing the treasures within; and the bracketed parenthesis (Non-Refundable) beneath made you unequivocally aware that once you were in you were in, and that, financially at least, there would be no opting out. And another CCT Surveillance In Operation At All Times served as yet one more stern reminder that Big brother had his beady eyes on us all,  and that any idea we might have had of pocketing a silver teaspoon by way of a souvenir had better be dropped right away.

Queue here sign The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)However, before committing myself to a visit I decided to step into the nearby café and think about things over a cup of coffee. In the unlikely event that some visitors had escaped that genetic programming which lines you English up with much the same fatalistic resignation as lambs waiting to be slaughtered, a Please Queue Here herded me towards the usual roped passage barely a yard wide. And while stoically waiting in the queue I couldn’t fail to observe a Customers May Not Consume Their Own Food And Drink hanging from the ceiling. And below a Food And Beverages Must Be Paid For Before Consumption made it perfectly clear that all that froggy rubbish about only settling after had not the slightest chance of being tolerated here.

Breakges must be paid for The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)While drinking my coffee I gave some serious thought to whether I should proceed to go in.  ‘Why not?’ I finally decided. ‘After all, I’ll certainly see some splendid things.’ But as I was getting up to leave my arm caught the empty cup which went crashing to the floor. Immediately a waitress came marching up.

 

‘That’ll be £5 please!’ she announced.  I proceeded to point out to her that I’d already paid.

‘Oh, that’s not for your coffee. Haven’t you seen the notice?’ she replied, nodding towards an All Breakages Must be Paid For sign I’d somehow not observed. I paid up without a murmur and  decided to spend the day at the coast.

 

Cricket pitch The Rule of the Rule (Part 2)* To play on a sticky wicket = to find oneself in a difficult or delicate position. Derived from the game of cricket, a better understanding of this commonly-used expression pre-supposes an elementary knowledge of this quintessentially English sport – if, indeed, the word ‘sport’ can be used to qualify an activity which my Frenchman assimilates more with ‘ritualized loafing’ (sic). The ‘wicket’ is the name given to the narrow strip of grass where, according to him, ‘most of the little action which characterizes the game’ takes place. On it a bowler pitches a ball at a hitter who will attempt to strike it with his bat. Unlike in the game of baseball, the cricket ball is usually pitched in such a way that it bounces in front of the batter, and when the wicket is ‘sticky’ (i.e. drying out after a fall of rain), the ball rebounds in a frequently unpredictable way, thereby placing the batter in a perilous situation.

 

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