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US/FR Gastronomic Cultural Differences


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But all kidding aside, with the tougher alcohol/driving laws, more & more places will offer to cork the bottle (it first happened to me in August 2004 at Le Regalade and has happened at bistros but not gasto-restos, since).  Since I'm often eating alone, I find it a nice touch, although more & more places are charging you "a la ficelle" eg as the thread measures the depth; as in "at the mark - twain."

You mean if I order a bottle of wine (well, a demi) and can't finish it they'll only charge me for the portion I've consumed? Cool.

Edit to add: I never drive in France. So I'm guessing this will remain entirely a theoretical possibility for me. :wink:

That is exactly what I mean. What I've found is when asked about something to drink if I hesitate to order a full bottle, the waitperson (may not always, I cannot calculate how often it's hapened, maybe 15% of the time) says something like, we'll charge you a la ficelle or drink what you'd like, we'll figure it out at the end. And they are very honest/accurate.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Yes, heh heh, I too cannot imagine such a thing.

My husband is not a fan of big red wines, so I am often left with 2/3 of a bottle. I read someplace that the perfect woman in France always drinks a third of the bottle but never more than half. So just for appearances, I really should leave some, non? :wacko: That is one reason we enjoy some of the winebars that encourage you to buy interesting stuff and take home the corked remains. It's nice to hear that this might become more widely accepted.

eGullet member #80.

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Drinking too much alcohol is much less of a problem in France than in the US and other European countries. There is something inherent in French culture wherein it is considered very poor form to drink too much and/or become inebriated.

Of course it is still a problem, but to a much smaller extent than in other countries and the US.

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My husband is not a fan of big red wines, so I am often left with 2/3 of a bottle.  I read someplace that the perfect woman in France always drinks a third of the bottle but never more than half.  So just for appearances, I really should leave some, non?    :wacko:

In that case I can tell you there are not many perfect women around. And — rats! — I realize I'm not one.

No, seriously, never heard of that one in a context of normal human life.

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Drinking too much alcohol is much less of a problem in France than in the US and other European countries.  There is something inherent in French culture wherein it is considered very poor form to drink too much and/or become inebriated. 

Of course it is still a problem, but to a much smaller extent than in other countries and the US.

I'm as much of a Francophile as anyone. But the French are high alcohol consumers, the highest in Europe according to the table shown below.

It is drawn from a paper, "Alcohol and suicide in 14 European countries - A comparative time series analysis" by Mats Ramstedt of the Stockholm University Centre for Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs (SoRad). It translates consumption into litres of 100% ethanol equivalent, so that a bottle of wine (750 ml) at 13.5% alcogol would count as about 0.1. Hence the table below says that the average French person, 15 years or older, consumes the alcohol equivalent about 215 bottles of wine per year.

Annual alcohol consumption per capita 15 years and older (litres of 100% ethanol)

Low-consumption countries

Finland 6.4

Norway 4.4

Sweden 6.5

Average 5.8

Medium-consumption countries

Austria 13.1

Denmark 9.3

Belgium 11.1

Ireland 7.9

The Netherlands 7.7

The UK 7.5

West Germany 11.4

Average 9.7

High-consumption countries

France 21.6

Italy 15.6

Portugal 15.9

Spain 15.5

Average 17.2

Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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I wonder if this researcher is basing his stats on wine sales. Because I can tell you that here in France we buy cases and cases more than we actually drink (it goes into the cave), and we use wine freely in cooking. A bottle of wine is given as often as a bouquet of flowers in a social situation. I'd say that wine circulates (is bought and sold) much more in this country but I have serious doubts that these stats could be based on actual personal consumption.

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Yes, as I suspected, in the first paragraph of the section entitled "Data and Methods" on page 4, we see that indeed these statistics are based on sales:

Thus we have to use indicators of these phenomena, which are the sucide rate according to official mortality statistics, and the per capita alcohol consumption (sales) according to official statistics. 

and page 5:

Moreover, consumption of tourists in foreign countries as well as sales to tourists from other nations may further distort the validity of the data, especially in popular tourist countries in recent years since mass tourism has developed.

So all of the wine purchased by tourists is counted as French "consumption". Lets face it, wine is a major major industry here, and well integrated into the tourism industry. A whole lot of it is sold here and delivered abroad, but I doubt that if you counted actually what the French are drinking, you would get anything close to the figure above.

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Interesting question.

I don't think bleudauvergne's argument that it is being stored is a good one, unless the amount of wine stored in cellars is going up year on year, which is unlikely.

Here you can find the official French statistics : 14.0 litres per year of which 61% is wine.

So it's a bit less than the figures mentioned below. The difference between perception and reality is striking. Certainly comparing UK to France in terms of alcohol.

Edited by balex (log)
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The difference between perception and reality is striking. Certainly comparing UK to France in terms of alcohol.

Hmm, the figures don't tell most of the story though (do they ever??). First, many, many British people buy a large part of their alcohol in France where it is a lot cheaper. That skews the figures.

Second, it is not so much levels of consumption as patterns of consumption which are important. I don't think many people would be surprised if the French drink rather more than the British, because regular but moderate consumption is more normal in France. By contrast, Britain's problem with heavy drinking is one of people (particularly young people) drinking little in the week, but then binge drinking at the weekend - ie drinking a lot, with the specific aim of getting drunk. The latter pattern, but not the former, is directly linked to increased crime, injuries, etc and hence is getting a lot of attention in the UK as a social problem. (And like all such problems, there's a lot of media exaggeration and some dubious definitions of 'binge drinking'...).

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Lies, damn lies and staitistics. Yes, you are right to be sceptical about these analyses.

These are estimates of consumption not sales, so one would hope that they have adjusted for this obvious fact.

I think you are spot on about the patterns of consumption. It's the half bottle of wine ten times a week rather than fifteen tequila slammers on Friday night. The French don't have quite the same taboo against drunkenness as the Italians, but it is still frowned upon.

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Here's an on line resource I came across that looks pretty reliable. Go to the searchable data base under "Population, Health, and Human Well-being" and scroll down to "Public Health: Per Capital Alcohol Consumption." Extremely groovy capacity to search all sorts of different parameters---you'll eventually be asked to register to use the site (after a couple of searches) but it's free. You can also re-access it via google and it will let you search again without getting the prompt to register.

The source of the information is still key, of course, in large part so that you don't end up comparing apples and oranges, but in this instance it's the WHO, about as good as it gets for these sorts of data. In 2000 the consumption for France is listed as 13.3, for the U.S. 9.1.

Drinking patterns vary not only by country, of course, but by region within that country and socioeconomic group. Drinking patterns (how much, when, what sort) in the U.S. differ markedly if you compare coastal and inland regions, for instance.

Can you pee in the ocean?

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I find the waitors (in Provence ) very professional and not friendly until you have been there several times, after that I get kisses.

Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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. . . .

Second, it is not so much levels of consumption as patterns of consumption . . . .

My guess is that the consumption of alcohol is more widely spread in France than in the Scandinavian countries where a smaller number of drinkers consume more than their share, but the average guy drinks very little. Incredibly high sin taxes probably have a lot to do with that. As a student, I brought an inexpensive bottle of wine I had bought in France to a Danish family and it was treated as something very special. A bottle of French wine was a really extravagant treat.

I'd guess that even wine brought as a present is eventually consumed, even if it's regifted. What I think does skew the figures for France, Italy and Spain are the number of people who are actually drawn by the wine (and food) and who come precisely with the goal of drinking more than their share, but who don't figure in the population count. France, Italy, Spain and Portugal differ from their neighbors in that wine has traditionally been a food with an honored place at the dinner table. Of course those who buy wine in France for export are another factor as has been mentioned.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 2 weeks later...
Excellent summary of the water issue, Meg. 

I will add that sometimes when visiting someone's home you may be offered ice.  If you say yes, expect one single ice cube.  :smile:

Unless you ask for a "whisky glace" which always has two ice cubes.... :biggrin:

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What is this thing with the flowers we come bearing to dinners - coming in odd numbers only?

In Germany it is supposedly (according to my husband) bad luck to give an even number of flowers. Not that this explains anything...

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But the French are high alcohol consumers, the highest in Europe according to the table shown below.

Hence the table below says that the average French person, 15 years or older, consumes the alcohol equivalent about 215 bottles of wine per year. 

Low-consumption countries

Finland 6.4

Norway 4.4

Sweden 6.5

Average 5.8

Medium-consumption countries

Austria 13.1

Denmark 9.3

Belgium 11.1

Ireland 7.9

The Netherlands 7.7

The UK 7.5

West Germany 11.4

Average 9.7

High-consumption countries

France 21.6

Italy 15.6

Portugal 15.9

Spain 15.5

Average 17.2

I'll tell you what the table really shows. It must be more than 16 years old, because "West Germany" don't excist any more. The Reunification of "West Germany" and the "DDR" was in 1989. Since than the country is Germany.

H.B. aka "Legourmet"

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  • 3 months later...
Many French restaurants will split an order for you, often with no charge.

Is that really so?  If it is, I'm so glad.  Dh and I eat lightly, but we love to eat well.  I'd hear somewhere that sharing meals in France was a big no-no.

I was in France less than a month ago. As a Chinese with a not-so-big appetite, it seemed the most natural thing to share the food. This was greeted with mild amusement at best to downright disapproval by the French restauranteurs. Interestingly enough a Frenchman I know was asked in Hong Kong if he would like to share his food, and he was utterly amazed at the prospect. I think its time we learn to accept different cultures and customs.

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Many French restaurants will split an order for you, often with no charge.

Is that really so?  If it is, I'm so glad.  Dh and I eat lightly, but we love to eat well.  I'd hear somewhere that sharing meals in France was a big no-no.

I was in France less than a month ago. As a Chinese with a not-so-big appetite, it seemed the most natural thing to share the food. This was greeted with mild amusement at best to downright disapproval by the French restauranteurs. Interestingly enough a Frenchman I know was asked in Hong Kong if he would like to share his food, and he was utterly amazed at the prospect. I think its time we learn to accept different cultures and customs.

I think one of the reasons that French restaurateurs frown on sharing is purely from an economic standpoint. Since most French restaurants won’t rush you to give up your table (although this isn’t as true as it once was) and probably only have one or two seatings per service at most, they must count on the fact that customers are there to dine—which in France often means three-courses plus wine. Labor costs are very high in France as are the taxes, so I think it’s pretty hard to make a lot of money in the restaurant business.

This might be an interesting question to ask restaurant owners, as suggested by Phrederic in the thread Tourists make restos touristy ?

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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As I posted in the thread you quoted, one major difference I noticed in France is that no one ever comes by periodically to ask, "Is everything OK?" Some North Americans feel neglected if this does not happen. (sometimes, they are)

Oh, I just reread this and must say I have the opposite problem; I'm asked after every dish and have to do some fancy footwork to avoid insulting some chefs (I'm writing an article for elsewhere on the subject).

As an aside, this thread had/has legs.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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  • 2 years later...

I'm not sure where to ask these questions, but during my search this seemed to be the best fit...

How does one eat Pâté de Campagne? Do you cut off a bit and smear it on some bread? Or do you cut it in chunks, as with a piece of meat? If you are provided with mustard, what do you do with it? If you are eating the pâté as a chunk of meat, do you dip it in the mustard? If you smear it on some bread, do put mustard on the bread first?

And how about Mille-feuille? I was taught to stick a fork in it, use a spoon to slice a piece off, then use the fork to push the piece onto my spoon and eat. I've yet to successfully slice off a piece without squooshing all the filling out using this method, however, so I'm looking for an alternative. Can I tip my Mille-feuille over onto its side and then do the stick/slice/push method?

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