Sunday, July 26, 2009

What We Can Learn from the French

Today we say adieu to the Tour de France for another year. Although I along with many others had special interest in this year’s Tour because of Lance Armstrong’s return, it gives me a special pleasure each year to share in the beauty of France during the 3 week visit by way of TV. As part of each day’s presentation (available in high definition for the first time), we not only got beautiful pictures of the bicyclists with the mountains and countryside in the background but also aerial views like in this flyover video of the many charming villages.

All too often when Americans think of France, it’s all about Paris and the Eiffel Tower. And unfortunately for many of us who are lucky enough to have an opportunity to visit France, that is all of the country they we will ever likely see. But as wonderful as Paris is, saying that France is all about Paris is like saying America is all about New York City.

Although my work and leisure travel to France through the years took me to the larger cities like Paris and Nice, a company that I had to visit to close a deal was in a place called
San Quentin. No, not the prison but a small city in the northern French countryside away from the tourist traps. It was in a place like this that I could see how the average person ate that I began to truly appreciate the French love for food and life in general.

Speaking from the perspective of a serious foodie, I think it would be safe to say that the best French food and best American food are just about as good as one another. The big difference is in the everyday food of the two countries. Much of the food in America is mass produced and indifferently prepared for people who often have to gulp their meals down during a hurried meal break.

In France, everything from the bread to the cheeses and pastries are made by artisans who take great pride in what they produce. Good food is taken very seriously by everybody. Mealtimes are an opportunity to savor wonderful food along with perhaps some wine and good company to enhance the experience.

Despite their diets that are relatively high in saturated fat, there is the so-called
French paradox of having a lower incidence of heart disease and longer life expectancy than in America. Many feel it is about the red wine and there may be something to that.

But I feel that much of it is also about the overall French lifestyle choices and attitudes. Even for everyday meals, life is too short for crappy food. And like most of their European brethren and unlike most of us in the US, abundant leisure and vacation time is a given part of the culture —
along with first-rate health care for everybody.

Yes we have had our differences with France even going as far as renaming French fries as
freedom fries. But this attitude is changing as some of us are starting to recognize that other countries can indeed have some good ideas that we can and should borrow or steal — or at least learn from.

Bill Maher on France is an entertaining and irreverent video commentary that is worth a listen for those who would not be offended by the adult language used on his HBO show.

And I leave you with this wonderful video clip from the Travel Channel show Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
"Why the French Don't Suck" which concludes with:

You just may find that you not only love the French again, but you may also love life — and ultimately, the world.

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