Expectation Versus Reality: French Food and Cuisine

Joseph Kalmar
March 14, 2020

When I was preparing to come to France I had high expectations for the places I was going to travel and the things I was going to eat. My expectations for food have been somewhat tempered by two months of experiencing an entirely foreign culinary culture, so this post will consist of my observations of the differences between French and American food.

First, let’s discuss similarities: meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy products other than milk, and other basic staple products taste basically the same in France as they do in the United States. I can just as easily make a PB&J on white bread for lunch here as I could in the USA, although the exorbitant price of the peanut butter and the complete lack of grape jelly are somewhat prohibitive. That’s pretty much where the similarities end, however.

In France, milk and eggs are not refrigerated on grocery shelves due to a different pasteurization process. Eggs taste pretty much the same, but milk has an odd and not entirely pleasant flavor (at least from an American perspective) when you try to drink it on its own. Yogurt is a common after-dinner dessert here, as my host family typically either offers me vanilla yogurt or plain yogurt with honey at the end of a meal. At least with my host family, the typical meal consists of some kind of vegetable soup, then a main course like gallettes (savory crêpes) or potatoes and meat, then the final savory course of salad, cheese, and occasionally bread. I’ve often been served pasta like spaghetti or tortellini with a meal, but seldom have I been offered anything other than butter or maybe pesto to accompany it; I suppose I should be grateful for that, however, as I’ve heard from friends in the program that their host families commonly put ketchup or even barbecue sauce on their spaghetti.

When it comes to beverages, I’m relatively certain that the average French person is chronically dehydrated. Not only have I never seen a single drinking fountain since I’ve arrived here, but also the only time I ever see a French person drinking water is when my host mom has a small glass of water with dinner every other night. I am proud to say, however, that after repeated exposure to red wine I’ve actually developed a taste for white wine; when I ate ravioli with my mom at her Airbnb while she was here, I actually enjoyed the way the white wine we had bought complemented the meal instead of choking it down to be polite. I suppose then that it’s a pity I won’t get to go to Bordeaux with my gastronomy class after all, but I still think I wouldn’t have enjoyed the trip to a Cognac cave.

Experiencing French food has been a lot different than I originally expected. I have absolutely no complaints about my host mom’s cooking or about the cheese and baked goods I was so excited about, but I can’t say I’m not excited to return to the United States with its refrigerated milk and salad dressings other than oil and vinegar.

Joseph Kalmar

<p>I'm a sophomore in college who has studied French for over seven years. In addition to reading, singing, and playing various musical instruments, I'm an avid fan of birdwatching, watching hockey, and traveling.</p>

2020 Spring
Home University:
College of Wooster, The
Bowling Green, OH
French Language
Explore Blogs