I worry about France. I really do.
I browsed the web today, and learned a few fascinating facts.
There was some sad news , like the kidnapping and murder of two French journalists by Al-[$#%&@]-Quaida in Mali.
There was some depressing news: Brittany (Western France) was hit harshly by the recession, and the whole region is in uproar. French authorities are having a terrible time negotiating with angry protesters, nicknamed les Bonnets Rouges (the Red Hats, after local peasants who rebelled against the French crown in the 17th century.) Still, François Hollande, the unpopular French president, and Jean-Marc Ayraud, his Prime Minister, must realize how lucky they are they do not have to deal with other famous locals, pictured above. Any political or military leader in his right mind would avoid confronting these two (ask Julius Caesar!)
There was disturbing news… We already knew French eating habits have changed. I wrote about the recent French obsession with the Am-Ba-Ga (hamburger) here.
McDonald’s is proud to call France its second most profitable market after the United States. McDonald’s has been very, very smart, and that strategy has paid off.
|Les Macarons chez McDo France: Where else?
This week, McDo announced customers will now be able to order food online at most restaurants. Fast food has become even faster! Bravo, McDo. You have just created the first “e-Burger!”
Meanwhile, Burger King, who deserted France in 1997, wants a slice of the fast food cake. The company returned last year, and opened a restaurant at the Marseilles airport. Business is booming, they say.
This fall, Burger King inaugurated another restaurant. The location choice remains puzzling to most. Why would you open a fast-food restaurant at a freeway rest area, 25 kilometers (15 miles) outside of Reims, in Eastern France? [Note to monolingual readers: kindly refrain from pronouncing “Reims.” You won’t make it!]
Reims, my friends, once played a pivotal role in French history. Many French kings were crowned in the city’s magnificent cathedral…
Reims also sits in the heart of Champagne region. Wine tasting is a local sport: Veuve Cliquot, Taittinger, Pommery, Canard Duchêne and hundreds more Champagne houses are based there (we are talking the real stuff… not sparkling wines produced everywhere else in the world.)
|Les Caves à Champagne (Champagne cellars)
You’ve got to give Burger King serious points for adapting to the local culture: Check out their creative new advertising campaign. Burger King arrives in the city of [French] Kings!
Maybe I am reading too much into this…
|Notice the warning: “To remain healthy, exercise on a regular basis.”
The most amazing thing about this story? When the Huffington Post featured a story on Burger King this week, I read many comments by French readers praising the brand over its competitors, Mc Do, and the Belgian-owned Quick. These people sounded elated Burger King was returning to France!
It must be the fries. Who would resist those healthy fries? And the name is a lot easier to pronounce than Freedom fries!
Upon hearing the news (and the rumor claiming a third restaurant would open soon in downtown Paris at the St. Lazare train station,) some argued that once the Whopper became widely available again, French customers would tire of it.
But the hamburger is here to stay, and from what I hear, there are many appealing options. Last year, the New York Times ran a story about American-flavored food trucks, a revolutionary concept two years ago. Today, they are all the rage in the French capital. Hamburgers. Tacos. Cheesecake. Brownies. You name it. The Americanization of Paris is underway…
If I understand the concept right, people patiently wait in line for at least 45 minutes, or one hour, in the cold and rainy Paris weather, just to get their hands on one of these…
Fast food it is (well, once you hold it in your hands that is…) but fancy and trendy food too. Prices are high, as befits the French capital. Young French people (who have always loved everything American,) praise these innovative businesses by bestowing on them the greatest compliment: “C’est très Brooklyn!” (It’s very Brooklyn…)
This makes sense: I have never met a French person who did not l.o.v.e. New York City!
At the risk of sounding close minded, I’d still pick French fast food offerings if I have to eat and walk in downtown Paris… After all, it’s taken me years to perfect the art of eating a “galette complète” (ham, egg and cheese crêpe) while indulging in a session of lèche-vitrine (window-licking, or window shopping…)
When all else fails, there is always the reliable “jambon beurre” sandwich, ideal while on the go – if you must! – or for picnics at a local park.
Sorry, food trucks, but as long as there will be park benches in downtown Paris, or a local café to enjoy lunch on a cold and rainy day, I do not see the point of switching to this:
|(Photography credit: Out and About in Paris)
This may be “très Brooklyn,” but it certainly isn’t “très Français…“
Eating while standing: How convivial!
Le Jambon-Beurre may be predictable and a little boring, but – unlike the onion-loaded Am-Ba-Ga or even worse, the dreadful onion rings – it won’t give me the foul breath of a Notre-Dame gargoyle when I return to the office!
Take heart, my friends, there was also some heartwarming news.
I heard about a young American expat who has embarked on a challenging mission: Convincing the French to eat kale. Again, the New York Times, always prompt to point at France’s misguided ways, wrote a story about the “Kale Crusader!”
|Meet Kristen Beddard, the “Kale Crusader…”
“Pssst… Kristen, dear, you know you can buy actual flowers at Parisian food markets, right?”
Kale, c’est très Brooklyn, aussi, you know!
I smiled often as I read the readers’ comments following the article.
On the French side, they ran from total indifference “Kale? Pfffff… [Insert Gallic shrug,] to angry retorts: “Are we to learn about healthy eating habits from the nation that invented McDonald’s? Don’t Americans know the French already eat balanced and healthy meals?!“
On the American (or Anglo-saxon) side: “The French, leading a healthy lifestyle? B.S.! [Insert American version of the Gallic shrug] They ALL smoke!!!” or: “French women are not skinny because they eat well. They are skinny because they starve themselves!” (now, now…)
Finally, the voice of reason. A Frenchman replied: “The French already know kale. They call it “Chou Frisé.” They grow it here in my region, but it is used to feed rabbits. Call it cultural differences.”
|Le lapin et le chou frisé
Finally, some comforting news: French rabbits are the healthiest rabbits on the planet! And they are wiser than French teenagers.
French rabbits know that kale keeps you in great shape, and that kale chips are better than Burger King’s Satisfries. Besides, the alternative is too scary to contemplate…
In closing, one last story I found this week. And an entertaining one at that.
In Bordeaux, a group of inebriated teenagers kidnapped a llama named Serge from a local circus (the kids live in BORDEAUX! Can you blame them?) They took the llama for a stroll around the beautiful city, and Serge even got to ride the fancy local tram before they were arrested!
It turns out the French needed some distraction from all the bad news: Serge and his new friends became instant hits in the social media. A Facebook page was created to support them, and over 800,000 people already follow it! Then the international media heard the story and shared it with the world. Serge got his own meme on the internet. The animal was finally returned to the circus (I am sure he will miss riding the tram for a while…) and a few days later, was reunited with his kidnappers. The circus owner dropped all charges. Tout est bien qui finit bien. All is well that ends well.
|Serge and “Les Boys”
I can’t think of a better way of ending this story. Bordeaux wine. Llamas. Kale-eating rabbits. Traveling Am-Ba-Gas. C’est très Brooklyn!
Meet Serge Lama, the popular French singer Serge-the-Llama is named after. I heard Monsieur Lama (who happens to be a Bordeaux native,) fully supported the cause of the five kidnapping artists.