(B)log date: 1/10/2016
It has been six days since my arrival in France. Still no sign of a bidet. I am beginning to question whether they exist at all, however I remain optimistic.
In almost a week of living here in Grenoble, I’ve started to notice some of the vast differences in our cultures. One of the most striking things is the French relationship to alcohol. Not only can teenagers wander into their local pubs, supermarkets, and gas stations to buy a 40 without getting carded, but my university sells beer in their cafeteria. In their cafeteria. Where college students eat. In the daytime. Is that not the most counterintuitive thing you’ve heard all day? What a country. I should probably point out that this doesn’t mean students and professors are drunkenly stumbling to their classes. Hilarious as that might be, the relaxed position of alcohol in Europe results in responsible behavior; having a beer with lunch, a wine with dinner, going about your day in total sobriety.
In a less agreeable light is the French relationship to coffee. Coming from Seattle, I’ve become accustomed to hooking up an IV of Sumatran blend as I do my makeup in the morning, and keeping a few packs of Folgers Instant in my wallet to snort in case of emergency. I need my coffee, and France leaves a lot to be desired in that respect. Yes, they drink it—they don’t call it a French press for nothing—but their cups are tiny. You know those 8oz coffees your mom orders from Starbucks that don’t make any sense and you wonder how she can even keep her eyes open let alone drive to work and pay your tuition? That’s a French cup of coffee. Sure it’s espresso, but that doesn’t mean what you think it means. It has a higher caffeine concentration per volume, but is generally too small to have as much as a standard cup of regular coffee. Thanks Wikipedia. At least they’re cheap. I can down three café au laits or two café crèmes in under 30 seconds. Impressed yet?
Next on the docket is the French and their food. I’m a vegetarian, but even so, French cuisine really is incredible and blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all before. What I find more interesting are the weird things they do to their food. Have you ever heard of Kinder Surprise? They’re German chocolate eggs, about the same size as Cadbury’s, but instead of a caramel or cream center, they have a little toy inside. Not ringing a bell? That may be because they’re illegal in the United States. Something about parents worried their kids might choke on the little throat-sized hunk of plastic hidden in their delicious chocolate ovoid. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the French. They up the ante with a little gem called La Galette du Roi. The King Cake. So named after the biblical three kings from the nativity story (who weren’t actually kings, by the way, and were more than likely just travelers—but where’s the mystère in that?). Good on them that they’ve left behind a legacy as distinguished as the Galettes; these harbingers of dental devastation run rampant through France in the time between Christmas and Mardi Gras. They’re very tasty—usually filled with marzipan and sometimes fruit or chocolate fillings—but they have one quirk: a tiny figurine embedded somewhere in their sugary depths. Traditionally, the figurine is a little plastic baby, which is meant to represent Jesus. What’s a better homage to the son of god than accidentally swallowing him in his infancy? These days the festive little choking hazards are less infanticidal, assuming the form of little enamel crowns, or tiny wooden books, or itty bitty porcelain flags. Whoever finds the trinket (la fève) in their cake and manages not to swallow it or asphyxiate, is the king of the feast. It’s a sign of good luck, bestowing upon the king a little crown and the task of honor of purchasing the next galette. Here’s a picture of the porcelain crown on which I chipped a molar at my first meal in the Antoine Saint-Exupery airport. Next to the crown, for size reference, I’ve placed an American penny. You can see Mr. Lincoln, who was kind of a king.
It must be lucky—my periodontist told me I needed a crown replaced…Badoom-Tss!
Really though, I have my doubts about the fortuity of la fève, considering immediately after that my travelling partner and I missed our shuttle to Grenoble, and subsequently our professor’s free ride from the bus station to the city. Here’s a snapchat of us on the later shuttle:
We’re smiling, but there is fury in our eyes.
Monoprix, the French equivalent to Target, has a spectacular campaign for their king cakes right now. Instead of a trinket, ten lucky customers across the nation might find a diamond in their bite of cake! I say ‘might’ because anyone who’s ever seen a diamond before knows that they’re not too big. Even the French, savoring each bite as they do, have at least a 20% chance of swallowing that little treasure. But hey, I’d rather pass a diamond than the baby Jesus.
I’d better sign off now. My host family and I are about to go take our baguettes for a walk.
À tout à l’heure,