Friday, 4 April 2014

D is for Déjeuner

Now you may be thinking my theme in this A to Z Challenge is food and drink. Aperitifs, baguette, café and now the subject is déjeuner. It's an understandable mistake to make.

But today I want to talk not about the food aspect of the midday meal in France, but more the idea of it, l'esprit as it were.

A French friend spun a tale about the origins of the long lunch in France. He said that after the Revolution, those bourgeoisie who had kept their heads had lost their property and their staff. Never having been acquainted with the inside of a kitchen, they struggled to provide decent meals for themselves and so their erstwhile cooks and kitchen maids sniffed an opportunity and started providing decent home cooked repas for a small consideration.

Whether this is true or not, it illustrates nicely the idea of le déjeuner. For at least an hour, more often one and half to two, a body can relax and enjoy a proper meal. Some do this in the privacy of their own home, others - the ouvrier on the road in his truck, the salesperson far from home, the office clerk with very few friends - can duck into the nearest hostelrie for a menu, a set meal of three or four courses with wine and coffee for a modest sum.
This long leisurely meal is so enshrined in French culture that all places of work are adapted to it. No one raises an eyebrow that the estate agent is closed when a property hunter drops by. A shopper with money to burn is turned away from the exclusive boutique because, arriving at 1 minute past midday they are too late, fermé. Tant pis if a lucrative sale is lost.

I was finishing an interesting chat with the chap at the bank one day, when I noticed Madame the Directrice was pointedly rolling down the shutters. "Bon Appetit!" she called to me as she slipped through the door at 12 o'clock precisely. I took the hint and left.

Recently, we were in Becherel, a Medieval town crammed with second hand bookshops and tourists. It was lunchtime and we headed to a café off the main square only to be met with a pair of chairs blocking the entrance and a blackboard announcing fermeture. In the dim interior I could make out a party of diners having their lunch - the owner and staff presumably.

As a girl I remember cycling somewhere in France with my father. A hot, dusty day, we pulled into a little town to find everywhere closed up and silent. I thought at the time some disaster had perhaps overtaken the community. I realise now, as I see deserted market places and blinds drawn across the boulanger's windows at precisely the hour you might expect people to be buying food, that this is simply the tradition.

In England, 'when the clock strikes four, everything stops for tea.' In France, from midday until two, we all down tools for le déjeuner. So civilised.

This post is part of the A to Z Challenge. You can find more blogs writing on anything and everything from A to Z at the website:

1 comment:

  1. And in America nothing ever stops, except for me because i'm hungry and it's lunch time! : )