Monday, February 15, 2010

Transatlantic Parallel

Welcome to the one month anniversary of Transatlantic Parallel with my divine partner, Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart creator of the stunning blog Through the French Eye of Design.

If you're not familiar with our on-going virtual conversation about our experiences living on opposite sides of the Atlantic -- she married to an American and moi to a Frenchman -- let me explain:  Each week we discuss and dissect the local mores, dwelling on those with which we have come to terms in our own (ladylike) ways: resignation, reconciliation or rebellion. 

As you may know, we agree upon the subjects for debate through a series of undercover e-mails and then go to work on the cultural curiosities we like, dislike, or seriously dislike. (Sometimes you'll note we flip allegiances and prefer the traditions of our new lands as opposed to what we left behind.) 

We see each other's posts the same moment you do. 

This week's topics:

1.) Air Kissing (Just you wait. . .)

2.) Paper plates, napkins and all the rest. (You can probably imagine.)

3.) Restaurants versus dining chez les amis.


Call it "air kissing," call it anything you like -- deep breath, I'm about to take a stand -- I love it. Yes I do. Remember I'm talking about performing the ritual in France. In France it is not an affectation, it is a greeting.

I'm not wildly crazy over all the bear-hugging, back-patting and sometimes lip-smacking, smack on the lips that goes on in the States. I sort of like the bear-hugging, back-patting among men and on the contrary, I'm not wild about air-kissing man-to-man in France. 

Since I can only speak from my experience, Jeanne-Aelia can correct me on the etiquette involved, most Frenchmen I know give a lovely, quick, discreet little kiss on each cheek. 
Some women do, most do not, but often cheeks touch, bodies never do.

That's all I know. Nobody kisses anyone on the mouth unless there's something more going on than, "hello, how are you?" That would translate as, "hello, see you later."

If you wish to incorporate the tradition into your life, go for the right cheek first, then the left. I wouldn't want you to hurt yourself in a mid-air collision. 

Above you see Carla Bruni-Sakozy and Letizia of Spain setting up for their air-kiss. The other kiss is a bise en plein-air. Significant difference as you can see.

The Paper Trial

Paper plates and other paper and plastic items used for dining purposes: I see no point in being coy. I hate them. I do not care how sturdy they are, how well designed they are, how "pretty" they may be; I still hate them. 

 They're fine for children's birthday parties. I am unaware of adults who break plates and the vast, vast majority of households have dishwashers. Why would anyone go to all the trouble of preparing a delicious meal -- or barbecue -- and reduce the pleasure with paper plates.

Even at our fete de village where a couple of hundred people gather to dine under huge tents, we eat off of real, plain white plates. We also have honest-to-goodness forks, knives and spoons. The only deviance is the wine in plastic goblets. Shocking to be sure, but so is the wine. No one cares and glasses break easily. 

(I'm rationalizing because there are fireworks at the fete and I'm willing to drink swill if it's accompanied by un feu d'artifice.) As you can imagine, ordinarily I am 100 percent against plastic glasses and cardboard cups. Oh yes, the coffee at the fete? It's served in china cups.

As long as I'm on the subject, I might as well keep moving along. I don't like paper napkins either. Yes, luxe ones for a messy outside barbecue dinner. Why not? But everyday, at home? Never. 

And my final waffle: even though I have lots of linen cocktail napkins, I really, really do like smart and sometimes whimsical paper ones, depending upon the occasion.

Et voila. Let the wrath roll in . . .

Dining In or Dining Out

Here J-A and I have had divergent experiences. As far as I can remember, I have never been invited to dine in a restaurant at the invitation of friends in the context where that invitation would be extended instead of a dinner in their home. Perhaps for a special occasion, something spontaneous, but not a telephone call saying: "Would you join us for dinner at Le Perigord on March 3rd." Do you see what I mean?

Whereas on several occasions we have had that experience in Paris. Old friends have invited us to dine with them and two other couples at a restaurant, on a "mark your calendar" basis. One evening we had cocktails at their apartment; at 8:30 our host and hostess stood-up, announced it was time to move on to the restaurant and we all walked around the corner in the rain to what was a delicious dinner and a pleasant evening. (One of the guests, which I found outrageous, ordered a pricey wine, not waiting for our host to ask the waiter for a new bottle of his choosing.) 

Until la semaine prochaine. . .

Over to you ma chere partenaire, Jeanne-Aelia.


Jeanne-Aelia Desparmet-Hart said...

WOW!! tu es incroyable! EVERY aspect is so dead on. Bravo., ma chere amie.

Dedene said...

Very good! I have learned to like the french bises now. As far as eating in restaurants with friends, I always thought it was because no one had enough room in their apartment for more than 2 people.

BigLittleWolf said...

I am definitely with you Tish, on the air kissing. Lips are for lovers and baby skin. Otherwise, non merci.

However, I must say that on my planet (Fred), however "un-green" and "un-cool," thank goodness for paper plates and napkins. We also use REAL plates much of the time, but in single parent overload-mode, paper plates are the stuff of this woman's necessity. A bit less so as my progeny gets older, but it's reality quand la vie déborde.

And that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the real napkins and good china, when in France.

joelle said...

I posted this comment on the wrong post, so here I go again.
As far as drinking wine, any wine, in plastic cup or glass, I beg to differ. I would rather eat out of a paper plate, something I detest, (or not eat at all) than drink wine in a plastic glass.
First of all I think alcohol attacks plastic and I imagine I am drinking those toxic components with the wine. Also, bad or so-so wine would definitely taste even worse in plastic whereas it may not be that bad in glass. Fun blog nonetheless.

Metropolitan Mum said...

Urgh. You know what I don't like about la bise en plain air? When the greeting is turned into an affection, and the fat estate agent smothers your cheek in saliva. Eewwww.

Apart from that, lovely post! Gros bisous (the above could be called gross bisous, btw), Deborah

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Bonjour Tish! Great post, it makes me feel right "at home" in my home away from home, as I sit here on a cold, freezing day off from work.

Please come by and visit when you get a chance; I mention your fabulous blog...

Bisous sur les deux joues!!Anita

Trouvais said...

Hi Tish. I'm taking notes. Like the pretty little paper napkins for standing about nibbling pre-dinner. Like some of the snarky ones too... for those less formal affairs. XO (make that hugs and air kisses) Trish

hostess of the humble bungalow said...

Oh my March 3rd at Le Perigord...I would LOVE to go!
I do not like plastic cups or paper plates...prefer mixed up combinations of patterns or rental china. I am such a snob, but worse...styrofoam cups when they squeak on your teeth....ugh!
Look at that photo of those 2 perfectly coiffed French gals. air kissing....I want my hair to look like that!

Jacqueline said...

Dear Tish,
We were out last night with English friends who always do both cheek kissing.....I really don't like 'air kissing' though. It seems so false. You know what I mean, when they don't even touch any part of your face? I don't like that.
.... and paper plates and plastic cutlery..YUK. Can't stand it AND I'd rather not have wine if it's in a plastic cup (and that's saying something !! haha).
... and, quite honestly, I don't care whether I'm eating in or out as long as I'm eating !!haha.
Hope that you had a lovely day, yesterday, Tish and enjoy the new week ahead. XXXX

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Oh Tish! Thanks for coming by! You certainly are so welcome to be a part of my world! I so love your blog and your writing style is so keen and sharp. I can't wait to see what you have up your MANCHE....I will keep on the look-out for your next post!

Bisous, Anita

metscan said...

What fun! My jeweler does the greeting the French way, but then, he has lived in France in the past. Here in Finland older people do the hugging ( my MIL does the shaking ), younger people do the air kissing, but often it is limited to only one! The etiquette here says, that it is for the woman to decide. Shaking hands is the most common way to greet. I once went to a small reception, where the husband was celebrating his 60 years birthday, There were not many of us, but a cheap bubbly something was served from dishwasher washed dim plastic cups. I had a hard time getting the stuff down.

The-Countrypolitan said...

As much as I dislike paper plates... I would rather have one of those than a plastic cup for my wine!

As far as eating in or out... doesn't matter as long as one is in good company!

Lorrie said...

Another great post!

Air-kissing is a perfect greeting in my book. With a touch of the cheek in passing. Living in Ecuador we became accustomed to such and I miss it here in Canada.

A couple of years ago I decided to use only cloth napkins. Visitors, used to paper, sometimes think I'm too fussy, but now the "green" excuse is easily accepted.

Like others who have commented, wine in plastic cups - blech! And blech to paper plates and plastic cutlery. As you say, most of us have dishwashers.

I'm looking forward to hearing what the transatlantic view is!


Semi Expat said...

Great post again Tish... And I love huge 'proper' napkins too - not paper.... my favourite ones came from France...

My Carolina Kitchen said...

You're right on Tish about everything. I really dislike paper plates and the plastic forks and spoons are horrible to deal with. I'm not so sure about the wine in plastic cups, but glasses do break. I never entertain that many people in my home anyway.

I really enjoy this posts and hope you continue them. I always learn so much about you and the French.

knitpurl said...

Here in flyover country, bear hugs happen frequently. Maybe we are looking for warmth and hugging someone who is also dressed in a warm jacket/sweater, well, we just squish each other. Come warm weather, we still hug. Air kisses and versions thereof would be pretentious.

The use of paper products (beyond the cocktail napkin)for indoor adult meals is tacky I think. But in summer on a concrete patio or wood deck, I use paper for safety's sake. Chilled adult beverages in summer need glasses, but one must know ones guests and adapt accordingly.

Meeting guests in a restaurant happens when it is a necessity.

Note to knitting-up-a-storm Marsi, I am attacking an entrelac scarf --aargh!
Great topic Tish, xo Carole

Sara Louise said...

I'm finally getting used to the kissing, except when someone decides to go for the triple kiss instead of the double. That drives me crazy, they have some code, knowing when it's double kiss time, or triple kiss time. I don't think I'll ever get it.

And as far as paper; no, no, no!

Morgane said...

It's funny to hear about "la bise "when you are french ! it's something so natural , i never thought about it but yes you're right our lips do not touch any part of the face but air ! I guesseverybody do the "bise" with their friends or at work ( if the etiquette is ok) , men can do but if they are really friends ... Some parts of the country go with 4 bises (yess) and in my country side we go with one to say "hello" ! it was my french contribution...

Shelley said...

Good topics. Through work I have a dear friend from Lyon who always did the air kiss thing and I thought it was great fun, though I never knew just what was going on. We're just lucky we didn't collide too awkwardly. However, a few of the British men I worked with had the occasion to either do pieces of work in Europe or were lucky enough have second homes over there; some of then -- one my boss for a short while -- started doing the air kiss thing and I found that really weird. Kissing and hugging are for *friends* in my book. All the rest, particularly in business settings, should be happy with a handshake for heaven's sake!

Hate paper anything and have loads of linen napkins acquired from various family members over the years. Trouble is, folks here in Britain seem quite shy about using them; either that or I just hang out with Philistines. I notice that your French friend doesn't like ironing cloth napkins. I find it is a good time, as is doing dishes by hand, to reminesce about the social event.

Don't mind getting together with friends at a restaurant occasionally, though I do prefer social dining at home. Also, if I invite people for dinner I would like a return invitation eventually. Unfortunately many people I know are really shy about entertaining at home, so the return is often at a restaurant. Not that satisfactory, but either I tolerate it or try to find different friends...

Paulita said...

Nothing to complain about. I pretty much agree with you. Although plastic cups and wine, not so much. And we use paper napkins at home, unless we run out and then we use cloth. We don't have a great system for remembering whose cloth napkin is whose like they do in France.
And those kisses, don't they start on the opposite side in Italy. When my husband met Italian cousins, he almost broke a nose going to the wrong side.

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