Believe me, I’m trying hard to not make every post food-related. This won’t surprise those of you who know me well. But just like a kid with a sweet tooth haunted by what’s sitting un-eaten in the cupboard, I’m not strong enough to resist writing this post.
(Side note: that kid might be me, and that cupboard might contain chocolate-dipped madeleines and tea cookies.)
Anyway, the French have many wonderful traditions, but one of them stands tall above the rest, and it’s one most foreigners never hear about. It’s called a goûter (goo-tay), which is basically a mid-afternoon snack. Children everywhere have one religiously around 4:30pm, and I see that many adults never decided to kick the habit, including very much my wife. Her little euro-stomach knows exactly when it’s 4 o’clock, as it vocally alerts her, me, and anyone else in the room that the time is upon us. A traditional offering is some baguette with a couple small bricks of chocolate, and Charlotte follows this custom like a great white follows a chum bucket. According to family members, nobody’s ever seen her eat anything else for goûter. I admire your determination honey.
Obviously the only arm-twisting needed for me to sign on was that of my own twisting upward to stuff my own mouth. This is one foreign custom I’ve been training all my life for. I don’t usually take the traditional bread and chocolate, but I sure as hell don’t miss a goûter. The beauty of this concept lies in a couple of things, one being the word itself. Like all other French words, saying it just rolls off the tongue in a musical flutter of breathy vowels and buttery-soft consonants. In America you’re a couch potato with a guilt-ridden plate of nachos in between meals; in France you’re having a goûter: a beautiful, jaunty, joyous nod to your country’s gastronomy! It’s our god-given right as Frenchies, a tip of the cap to the lifestyle, an affirmation of it. Clever little trick, eh?
It does serve a real purpose however, this country-wide snack time. Most lunches happen at noon or 1pm, with dinner not until 8, 9, or even 10pm. Note that in the summer we get crazy-long days. You can be outside at 9pm and it still looks like 3:00 in the afternoon, a function of our position on the globe (sharing a latitude with Montreal). For this reason late dinners are commonplace, and waiting so long between meals would be crazy in any culture.
Personally I’m pushing for the induction of a supplemental goûter, somewhere between the usual one and dinner time. Leave it to an American to take a classy act of moderation and supersize it into oblivion.
What can I say France? Your world is my cupboard.