Stuff French People Like

  • IKEA. In a serious way. A new one opened in Tours a few days ago - an hour and a bit away from Poitiers - and I decided to go with my host parents on Monday morning, because I've never actually been to an IKEA. It was less like a shopping center and more like some bizarre home-decorating-themed amusement park. It was absolutely massive, and absolutely packed. There were probably 20 cash registers, and each one had an hour-long wait. At the café upstairs, equally massive lines. Even at the mini-café/fast food counter downstairs, Bruno must have waited 20 minutes for our sandwiches (still beating Brenda, of course, who was stuck in the check-out line). Fast food is quite the novelty for French people. They have McDonald's (which is not cheap here; also, they sell beer - ah, cultural differences) and a chain called Quick, but that's literally about it. IKEA's version is set up very much like an American fast food restaurant, with self-serve soda fountains - something that is practically unheard of over here. The soda is all off-brand, and the food is along the lines of McDonald's, but people were flocking to it like mad.
  • The dining experience. Not just the food, but the rituals that go with it. Sit-down family dinners are a fact of life; we always set the table (no serving from the stove or fetching your own dishes); someone (usually Brenda) always dishes everyone's plates. And there is always, always cheese after dinner. When we were in Sarlat last weekend at the antique market, the vendors had brought their lunches with them, but there was none of the sandwiches and paper plates business that would have showed up at an American incarnation of this sort of affair. They had folding tables (some of them had brought tablecloths), real dishes and cutlery, wine glasses and bottles of wine. Ice chests held entire pork roasts and salads. And obviously you can't forget the baguettes. A lot of stereotypes of French culture that I'd read about have turned out to be outmoded, possibly by several centuries, but this one hasn't changed - the French are serious about eating.