How Do You Say “Oops” in French?

Our first attempt for crêpes at home. Was it our finest work? Nope. Was it still a crêpe in France? Bet your ass. For this one I went with potatoes, goat cheese, crème fraiche, and lardons, a cross between ham, bacon, and sweet heaven.

This is a good lead-in to part one of what’ll likely be many posts on la cuisine française. This chapter: how silly an American can look without even trying.

As a disclaimer, in my experience so far the cliché about rude judgemental frenchies has been almost non-existent. Charlotte’s family and friends have been extremely welcoming, particularly around the dinner table. As they should be, they’re damn proud of what their culture has pulled off in the food department for centuries, and you see that permeating into simple home meals every day around here. While most occasions resemble their american counterparts closely with their relaxed vibe, those hundreds of years of aspiring towards the manners and traditions of the royal court linger in interesting ways. An example:

Dinner at father-in-law’s (after the marathon rallye mentioned earlier). Me, Charlotte, and about 8 other family and friends. After the main course I bounce into the kitchen where I find a spread of delightful delights: plates of cheese both round and triangular in those tasty hues of off-white and yellow. A bowl of vibrant salad tossed with a restrained dressing that’s only there to accentuate rather than mask. Fresh-cut strawberries with cream. And of course random loaves of bread just to complete the never-ending still life.

As I dig in and start filling my plate with cheeses (one of each, please) and a pile of berries and cream, I further introduce myself to an older couple as hailing from New York, and they give me the obligatory huge smile+nod+”Ah oui, Noo Yohrrrk!” I then try to follow that big opener with a showcase of my cheese cutting skills, which I’d learned last year is more specific than you’d think: one must always maintain the triangular shape of a cheese offered to you. It seems that lopping off the front spike leaving behind a trapezoid on the plate is roughly akin to pissing on La Tour Eiffel. On a small scale it’s like dissing the integrity cheese everywhere (I guess).

But just after taking my perfect tranche de fromage (slice of cheese), all the while bragging about how I had this rule down pat, I hear Charlotte’s step mom’s polite voice,

“Non Corey, on prend pas le fromage et le dessert en même temps.” (You don’t take the cheese and dessert at the same time)

Giggling at my own American gluttony, I look up at her ready to give the “haha, guess I just like my food, well I’m off to the table now” look. But the woman who’d always been nothing but timid smiles and kind words looks a bit more serious than usual. Enough so that I promptly compromise by sliding the strawberries and cream onto another plate. It seems after the main course you pause, then have cheese, followed by another pause, and then dessert. Hence the legendary reputation of endless French dinnertimes. She and the other couple were kind enough to ease the slight tension by assuring me that if I wanted to add salade to my cheese plate, I was more than welcome.

And to further drive home the point, upon rejoining the rest of the crowd at the table, it took no time at all for someone to ask me what the hell was the pinkish smear on my cheese plate. This double shot of awkward guaranteed a lesson learned, and another chance to one day brag about my grande adaptation to french culture.

Which will undoubtedly be a great warm-up leading into my next faux pas.

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