Even here in the (supposedly) laid-back Midwest everyone is in a hurry. If one hesitates a nano-second after the light turns green, the honking starts. Multi-tasking is the rule: People driving, eating and talking on their ‘cell’ phones, all at the same time, all of the time. It’s kind of scary for us country bumpkins from rural France.
When we went to visit my mother we asked the desk clerk where to have lunch. Her advice was a new place, an ‘authentic Irish Pub’ (apparently every pub in Ireland has been boxed up and exported to the rest of the world). Her recommendation wasn’t based on the quality of the food (excellent) or the prices (lunch for under $7.00) but on the fact that the food was served in under 5 minutes.
I have grown accustomed to eating in Europe. When we lived in Andorra we had a regular Saturday lunch with the other expats. Starting with drinks (coffee, usually), then a 3 course lunch with wine, and ending with more coffees, lunch usually lasted about 3 hours. Admittedly this is a bit long for an ordinary lunch, but the 10 minutes allotted here is a bit short. Meals in Andorra, Spain and France (and most of Europe) are a time to enjoy food and each other’s company; to relax and reconnect with our friends and family. Here it’s barely a blip in the day; a pause to stuff ones face, as it were. My son loves having me join him and his friends for dinner: the first thing I normally say to the ‘waitperson whose name is Tiffany’ is to please not bring the starters before we have finished looking at the wine list and wait 10 minutes after we’ve finished the starters before bringing the main course. Said waitperson usually has a hard time grasping this routine, especially since we’re expected to be done with dinner in 30 minutes. The concept of leisurely eating interspersed with conversation seems to have disappeared. Everyone has better things to do; they finish the meal and rush off.
Of course we all have times when we just want a quick bite, that’s why there are fast food restaurants, cafes and, in France, bakeries; but the habit seems to have spilt over into all of the restaurants. One is still eating the soup or salad when the main course is put on the table.
On the other hand, one can get an amazing variety of food here for very little money. Surrounding any shopping area there are dozens of restaurants which are a kind of cross between fast food and fine-dining. One can get Asian, Italian, Mexican and American food; your meal can come in a bread bowl, a frying pan or on a plate. It’s almost always more than one person can eat, the staff is quick to bring the little white boxes to carry it out and the prices are under $10.00. And they’re crowded….all of the time. Everyone eats out.
Uh oh….I just had an epiphany. If no one cooks that means they all eat out, all of the time; which means they need cheap, filling food, a wide variety to keep it interesting, fast service and low prices so they can afford it. That makes sense.
But wait, when I was in the bookstore the other day the cookbook section had more than tripled in the past year. If no one cooks, what do they do with all the books? Why are there kitchen remodeling stores everywhere? Why do new houses have huge kitchens with professional ranges? I’m so confused….think I’ll go to lunch…..