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The French and Ice


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My daughter speaks four words French: "merci," "pardon," "frites," and "canicule". Our two summer visits to France have coincided with the two worst heat waves in memory. Brutal as it is to survive temperatures in the 40s -- upper 90s and over for you Farenheit-dependant Americans -- without air conditioning, there's a certain logic to the lack thereof: a/c is expensive to install, you're in 300-year-old buildings, it's not that hot that often etc.....

But why no ice? Here in America, every 7-11 has 10 pound bags available cheap and every bar and restaurant has an icemaker in the back, chugging away. You go to a hotel here, and you ask for a room far from the ice machine, because there's one on every floor, and it's noisy. In France, you might get two ice cubes in your coke, one in your pastis. The wine bucket has -- in American terms -- barely enough ice to chill a single Diet Sprite, much less the liter of rose you just ordered. I just spent three weeks in France and saw one single ice cooler, and it appeared to be out of service.

This summer saw the first big heat wave since 2003 (my last visit) and the newspapers were full of advice on how to survive. But did any of the articles mention an ice machine? No! What's up with that? France is a modern, Western, technologically sophisticated nation. Every Frenchman has access to a fine health care system, weeks of vacation and a guranteed pension. Why not ice?

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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This is not just a French thing, its a European thing and I've even seen this happen with Israelis as well. I think they beleive that if you put too much ice in a drink or if you serve a drink with ice, its getting watered down and you are not getting the full drink. Its a bit weird considering that when you order a soda you usually get the bottle with it, but I think this is a carryover from an older time when beverages were poured into glasses for you.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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my college son did his first euro tour last summer. he loved the food, including the best pizza ever---just tomatoes, but he said the flavor of those tomatoes (insert kissing of fingertips icon here). he was, however, pining a bit for american food by the time he landed at lax. having done my due diligence, i drove him straight to the nearest "in n out"......the hamburger didn't get a second glance until he had peeled the lid off the coke, and gazed adoringly at the abudant ice cubes. he said "there is more ice in this cup than in all of europe". then puzzled about this phenomenon. "they HAVE the technology", he proclaimed, "they've got water, and freezers...i know, because of all that gelato! why do they refuse to use the technology?"

i believe he's making a business plan to sell ice in europe to hot americans! (he will support me in my old age!)

"Laughter is brightest where food is best."

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Author of The I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook ,The I Love Trader Joe's Party Cookbook and The I Love Trader Joe's Around the World Cookbook

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Don't get the Europeans started on this. They are totally contemptuous of American ice-consuming habits. They say things like "Americans are born with refrigerators in their mouths!" I even had one French lady lecture me on why ice is the reason we're all so fat. I'd definitely lay off this subject. You won't get anywhere with it. It's just one of those intractable cultural divides.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
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Definitely a European thing -- not just French. Remember, the British also drink warm (room temperature) beer.

A Swiss friend admonished me not to drink cold beverages when eating hot food, because it would interfere with proper digestion. It's always been my understanding that by the time a cold drink makes its way down your gullet, it has been warmed to body temperature -- but a couple of months ago I read some ayurvedic Indian advice (maybe a link from eGullet?) essentially recommending the same thing.

SuzySushi

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A European thing for sure.

A better question, perhaps, might be "How do we cure Americans of their ice addiction?"

Although in France you don't get lots of ice cubes you do get your beer or pop served cold, you get cold water served in restaurants and most othe food items served at an appropriate temperature.

so, who needs cubes?

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It’s definitely just a cultural thing; there’s not a lot of ice because people don’t really use or like a lot of ice in their drinks. It’s not even something that anyone would think about. I think it has to do with the way people drink their drinks here. How many people drink soda with dinner in France? Not many. It’s either wine or often bottled water, so you don’t need ice. Soda is often something you would have in a café, where you sip your drink and relax, so ice would just water down the drink.

www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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Could it be possible that when something is chilled to 33-34 degrees F it has no taste? But if you drink 3 gallons of diet Coke a day it probably makes sense that you don't want to taste it.

Four vignettes: (1) Back good old days, as defined as when airplanes were empty and someone paid for me to fly first-class, the cabin staff and I repeated what had been reported in one of the national dailies, that once the liquid is chilled and blinded (so you couldn't see the color) the taster cannot tell the difference between a cola, diet cola, uncola, etc - it was true. (2) During this canicule 2006, my next door neighbor put a room A/C outside his door, I assumed because he was repainting, but I later inquired and said I was curious how well it worked, I was on my way to buy one myself - he said take it, it takes up too much space, is ugly and makes it too cold. (3) An American friend married to a French woman, when encountering cheap, barely drinkable red wine, quickly asks for ice and fills it to the top, insisting that that's how she taught him to deal with such plonk. (4) My French "father," (a wine entrepot owner and wine buyer/advisor for restos,) when I was on the Experiment, insisted that water was "English poison," and that I learn to drink undiluted, uniced gin before, wine during and fine digestifs after dinner.

I now prefer water that's not over-chilled and ask for it without ice; note, bottled water is rarely over-chilled, carafes, ordered by the like of us, usually are. Vive la difference!

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Indeed, it is a European phenomenon, not just a French one. I remember many years ago, on a high school trip to Europe, staying with a German family overnight. They had obviously read their tip sheets on the care and feeding of Americans, and served plentiful ice with our Fantas at dinner. When the family's own children asked for ice, however, they were severly "shushed" and told "Das ist kalt genug fur du" -- "it's cold enough for you."

I did notice some acknowledgement of the record heat wave this year: people were dropping ice cubes in their wine (vin du pays, of course, not the good stuff) and our inevitable demis of rose started arriving in icebuckets, rather than just being sat on the table.

The truly troubling aspect of this ice-free existance was when we picked up a cooler and those re-usable "ice" blocks at the Carrefour, thinking that we'd hit the market on the way out of Uzes and have a stock of cheese, cured meats, oysters etc. for the next few days. We never did find more ice, or a hotel room with a freezer for the fake ice, and so by the third say we were unable to open the cooler for fear of causing an environmental disaster. Luckily, we had gotten ride of the oysters early on.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Yeap! It's not just a French thing!! I just cannot get used to all the ice that is put into a drink in the States. If there is no straw available, I either end up with brain freeze or the drink all down the front of me in an attempt to get to the beverage. My husband is Cuban American and we live in Puerto Rico so he also is an ice aficionado. The other thing that drives my crazy, is not just all the ice, but the ice crunching afterwards.. it gives me the heeby jeebies. They look at me as if I'm mad (or that I just got my Spanish wrong) when I ask for my water with no ice.

At our recent wedding in Ireland, I think that was the only complaint any of the Puerto Ricans or any of our American guests had.....where was all the fecking ice?

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A Swiss friend admonished me not to drink cold beverages when eating hot food, because it would interfere with proper digestion. It's always been my understanding that by the time a cold drink makes its way down your gullet, it has been warmed to body temperature -- but a couple of months ago I read some ayurvedic Indian advice (maybe a link from eGullet?) essentially recommending the same thing.

It was also explained to me by a Chinese friend that the Chinese traditionally prefer not to drink ice cold drinks with hot meals, as it affects the Chi. That's why they drink hot tea, although this practice is changing. I frequently see Chinese families at Dim Sum having Cokes and Ginger Ales along with their hot tea.

Edited by Jason Perlow (log)

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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A Swiss friend admonished me not to drink cold beverages when eating hot food, because it would interfere with proper digestion. It's always been my understanding that by the time a cold drink makes its way down your gullet, it has been warmed to body temperature -- but a couple of months ago I read some ayurvedic Indian advice (maybe a link from eGullet?) essentially recommending the same thing.

It was also explained to me by a Chinese friend that the Chinese traditionally prefer not to drink ice cold drinks with hot meals, as it affects the Chi. That's why they drink hot tea, although this practice is changing. I frequently see Chinese families at Dim Sum having Cokes and Ginger Ales along with their hot tea.

But isn't it the opposite in Japan? Hot sake with cold courses and iced sake with hot? Is Japan a nation suffering from indigestion?

S. Cue

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Definitely a European thing -- not just French. Remember, the British also drink warm (room temperature) beer.

This is a misconception, if not an outright urban legend. British beer is not served warm, nor at room temperature (although the term "cellar temperature" is sometimes used) -- British beer is served chilled, just not as much as US beer.

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A European thing for sure.

what about spain? everything i got in the several cities of spain i've been in came with plenty of ice. maybe it's because i'm american.

but it's so nice, sitting in the central cafe kind of area of cordoba, order a nice drink, dude comes out with the glass full of ice cubes, pours gin till you say stop, sets down the little bottle of coke, and you gradually dilute your drink by refilling with the soda as you sip at it.... man, i wish i was there right now.

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Definitely a European thing -- not just French. Remember, the British also drink warm (room temperature) beer.

This is a misconception, if not an outright urban legend. British beer is not served warm, nor at room temperature (although the term "cellar temperature" is sometimes used) -- British beer is served chilled, just not as much as US beer.

Thank You!!! Irish beer either. The original guinness is not cold cold, but it is not warm either. Now for those that want it cold, you now have that option.

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Could it be possible that when something is chilled to 33-34 degrees F it has no taste? But if you drink 3 gallons of diet Coke a day it probably makes sense that you don't want to taste it.

Diet Coke is the nectar of the gods (she says, downing the last of the can she started with lunch)!

I definitely think it's true, though, that some folks have a tendency to chill, say, white wine, to the point where it loses a lot of flavor. My mom tends to do this, and to put ice cubes into it, which I just think is so sad. Especially since she really does know about and enjoy wine.

Perhaps this is the sort of behavior that breeds the contempt...

My thought was that electricity (and therefore, freezing things) is more expensive in Europe than it is here, hence the ice rationing.

ETA: I don't understand the over-air conditioning phenomenon. It can be kinda nice when you're coming out of the heat, but beyond that, ick! I hate having to tote a sweater around with me all summer long, especially because it feels gross to carry it outside.

Edited by Megan Blocker (log)

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

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Definitely a European thing -- not just French. Remember, the British also drink warm (room temperature) beer.

This is a misconception, if not an outright urban legend. British beer is not served warm, nor at room temperature (although the term "cellar temperature" is sometimes used) -- British beer is served chilled, just not as much as US beer.

Grub - depends upon the beer. The British serve what they call lager (light, Bud type beers cold, just as everybody elese does. BUT

Ales, stouts, bitrers & so forth are served at barrel temperature. Which sort of means cellar temperature since the barrels are traditionally stored in the cellar under the pub.

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Could it be possible that when something is chilled to 33-34 degrees F it has no taste? But if you drink 3 gallons of diet Coke a day it probably makes sense that you don't want to taste it.

Diet Coke is the nectar of the gods (she says, downing the last of the can she started with lunch)!

My thought was that electricity (and therefore, freezing things) is more expensive in Europe than it is here, hence the ice rationing.

What, are you kidding? The French get something like 80% of their electricity from nuclear power. These days they can make ice at a fraction of the price of we fossile-fuel addicted Americans.

I am half-convinced that they French actually have warehouses of the stuff, but you have ask for it in a particular way that -- like the subjunctive -- is almost impossible to master if you are not a native French Speaker.

Three years ago, during the killer canicule of 2003, a friend of mine came back from France with what she considered an astounding tale of triumph. She had answered a bartender's rebuff of her request for extra ice ("this is France. In France you get one ice cube in your pastis") with "this is France, it's not supposed to be 43 degrees either," and won an extra cube for her 51.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Could it be possible that when something is chilled to 33-34 degrees F it has no taste? But if you drink 3 gallons of diet Coke a day it probably makes sense that you don't want to taste it.

Diet Coke is the nectar of the gods (she says, downing the last of the can she started with lunch)!

My thought was that electricity (and therefore, freezing things) is more expensive in Europe than it is here, hence the ice rationing.

What, are you kidding? The French get something like 80% of their electricity from nuclear power. These days they can make ice at a fraction of the price of we fossile-fuel addicted Americans.

Hmmmm, fair enough. I guess I'm remembering the lecture I got before going to do my homestay in Montpellier (granted, this was about 10 years ago, though the lecture did come from a French person, so I trust it): water and electricity are expensive here, so don't waste it. Maybe he just meant "expensive in general, you spoiled American brats." :wink:

"We had dry martinis; great wing-shaped glasses of perfumed fire, tangy as the early morning air." - Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado

Queenie Takes Manhattan

eG Foodblogs: 2006 - 2007

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A European thing for sure.

A better question, perhaps, might be "How do we cure Americans of their ice addiction?"

Although in France you don't get lots of ice cubes you do get your beer or pop served cold, you get cold water served in restaurants and most othe food items served at an appropriate temperature.

so, who needs cubes?

Well, if you like wine, as we do, especially roses in the south when the weather is warm, and have a habit of picking up bottles at different places en route with the thought of tasting them at the end of the day, properly chilled, not being able to find any ice to chill the bottle down with is cause for consternation.

Yes, we could - and do - head out to the closest bar/cafe to enjoy a pre-dinner drink, and order wine with dinner, where there is no such problem, but it would be nice to have the option of relaxing on the terrace with that special bottle bought from the winemaker that morning, instead of trying to cool it down in a sink full of lukewarm tap water.

We don't often stay in rooms with minibars, but when we do, we empty it out and put the wine in to cool off, but this usually takes several hours - a very long wait.

Otherwise, we don't miss ice at all and rarely, if ever, put any into our drinks.

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Definitely a European thing -- not just French. Remember, the British also drink warm (room temperature) beer.

A nearly universal misconception. They [we] drink draught ale cellar temperature, which is in the low middle fifties fahrenheit.

Mass-produced [as opposed to artisanal] American beer, on the other hand, should be drunk as cold as possible, short of freezing it into a popsicle, so as not to be able to taste it. :raz:

EDIT: My apologies to those who have already made this correction; I hadn't finished reading the thread.

I've gradually come to the conclusion that we Americans are less prepared than the rest of the world to accept our environment as it comes. Our buildings are too cold in summer, too hot in winter; that's partly why, with five percent of the earth's population, we exhaust close to a quarter of its resources.

Every slight environmental discomfort is over-corrected, whether it be the temperature of our bodies (both internal and external), the mode and speed of our travel, the effort of adjusting our TVs, or the inconvenience of preparing our own food, let alone walking to the market to buy it.

In the unequal battle with boredom, sensations are boosted to their maximum: drinks must be bitingly cold, chilis searingly hot, music deafeningly loud. I came to Europe for the gentle life--with a bit of searching, it's still available. :biggrin:

Edited by John Whiting (log)

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

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