My first French dinner

Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

Dooper's Memories

My mother and her college French professor, who lived on Ridgeland Avenue, remained close for many years and socialized frequently. The professor invited my mother and me to her home one evening when I was 12 years old.

I did not know what to expect regarding the cuisine, but I soon found out.

Before dinner, a drink was offered. The professor, her husband, and my mother each drank a glass of wine, and I was given a glass of apple juice. I  learned that wine is an integral part of French social life, and when a person wants another glass, he or she makes a fist with the thumb extended to somewhat resemble a bottle. The professor's husband did this four times.

It didn't take long for me to realize how much time was spent sitting around the table because, not only was the table the place to gather for a meal, it is also the primary place for conversation. My mother was reasonably conversant in French, so she and the two other adults talked in that language for about 20 minutes while I tried to figure out what they were saying.

Realizing that I was lost, in the conversation, they switched to English.

The meal consisted of five separate courses. After the appetizers, the main course was served, which consisted of both meat and fish. The salad came next, followed by cheese and dessert. The professor insisted we eat additional servings, and I knew it would be impolite to refuse.

As the supper continued, I had to make adjustments from my American way of eating supper. In the French way, I had to stop after each course and wait for the next one.

I was getting antsy sitting at the table for such a long time. At our house, everything except the rarely-served dessert was served at once, so much less time was spent at the table.

At the professor's home, salad was served after the main course as I mentioned before, whereas if we had salad at home, it was served before the main course. Only one type of dressing was served at the professor's home and it was oil and vinegar, but at our home there was more than one dressing available.

Milk was not offered to me during the meal whereas I always drank milk with meals at home. Bread was served in abundance at the professor's home, but bread was not in abundance at our home. The professor did not serve coffee with the meal, which was the opposite from our meals.

Another form of sign language was displayed whenever the professor's husband wanted more to eat. He used his thumb and the first two fingers of his right hand to point toward his mouth.

Although the professor and her husband were pleasant people, I was glad when we left. 

In my 12-year-old mind, I swore off things French, but when I went to college and had to choose a foreign language, yes, I chose French.

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