Les souvenirs

Les souvenirs

Mini Toothbrush DispenserWhen you think of souvenirs, you probably think of kitschy items like snow globes, seashell picture frames or Eiffel Tower key chains. I remember how important such mementos were to the kids when they were small. That coveted item, shark’s tooth or baseball cap, took pride of place on their dresser before being relegated to the memory boxes that still gather dust in our basement.

Now, our souvenirs tend to be digital. These bits of digital flotsam and jetsam that help us to remember where we were and when, what we did and chose to record. A photo shared on Facebook or emailed to family members, an update or a post about something we saw.

Thinking back on our holiday in Corsica two years ago, this unlikely image came to mind. On a scale of importance, how would you rate a mini-toothbrush dispenser in a restaurant bathroom? It seemed incongruous to say the least, given the French propensity for strong flavours in food and cigarettes (although perhaps those things offer an explanation for the market niche). But given the low priority dental hygiene is generally afforded in France, it was unexpected.

It went against all reasonable expectations of things you would find aux toilettes: Condoms, feminine hygiene supplies, even cigarettes all struck me as more plausible items compared to the (relative) superfluity of a mini-toothbrush dispenser. Presumably it was designed for date nights, as nothing kills the mood more than garlic breath or a bit of spinach in the teeth!

Even odder was the attempt to turn the experience of brushing one’s teeth into a mood memory, with choices ranging from ‘sexy’ to ‘pensive’. I did not try the machine, so cannot say whether the prepared brush with its dollop of toothpaste provided a satisfying experience. I tried to find out more about these dispensers through the usual search methods, by Google only rendered a link to a patent describing the invention, and one other in Le Parisien, mentioning the introduction of the machines to certain restaurants.

As souvenirs go, this photo was hardly emblematic of our stay on the beautiful island, which is why it was relegated to a folder of B-roll pictures. But the image stayed with me as a souvenir in the French sense: a memory, something you take away from an experience that lingers in your mind like a perfume.

Et toi? What is your most unusual souvenir of a summer holiday?

To sauce or not to sauce

SaucerMy middle-class upbringing forbade the use of anything other than a knife and fork to transport food from plate to palate. Nothing so crass for our family as mopping the plate with a piece of bread, no matter how delicious the sauce!*

Imagine my surprise on arriving in France and observing this behavior at table, whether at family occasions or in restaurants. Perfectly polite-looking people with linen napkins lightly placed on laps, tearing off bits of bread and delicately dabbing or swiping their plates, then popping the sauce-laden bread to bouche. In Italy, perhaps, this would have seemed normal. In France, it appeared indelicate. But in this, as in so many aspects of French life, my expectations were off.

‘Saucer’ means to mop up the sauce on your plate with bread. Although not considered perfect etiquette, it is accepted behavior at table in France. And a compliment to the chef.

Let’s face it: French cuisine provides ample motive and opportunity to ‘saucer.’ Everything from the humble vinaigrette to the delicately rich blanquette de veau leaves you with a puddle of liquid on your plate crying out to be consumed. And the bread stands by in waiting, a natural sponge and perfect vehicle for the task.

Even in more formal settings, there is a perfectly polite way of pulling this off. It consists in putting a small piece of bread on one’s plate and using a fork to perform the mopping.

While they value ‘la politesse,‘ the French are practical souls who see the value of not letting a wonderful sauce go to waste. And manners, in my book, are all about consideration for others. ‘Saucer’ is considerate on every count: offering compliments to the chef, cleaner plates for the kitchen crew, and no wasted bread!

How about you: do you mop or ‘sauce’ your plate?

For French speakers, here’s a thorough run down on correct behavior at table.

*Although I do remember scenes of plates being licked, to my mother’s eternal horror, on spaghetti night!

Translation à la carte

IMG_0821Some of my most memorable meals have been in French restaurants. So have some of the funniest translations.

Lamb balls on a skewer? Poor little fellow. That’s got to be a ‘boulette.’ Boulette de viande (literally: a meat ball) as well as a boulette, which also means a blunder.

With the advent of tools like Google translate, even the smallest Mom-and-Pop establishment is able to offer an English menu for non-French speakers. But I’m not sure some of these translations would inspire many guests to order them.

‘Saucisson sec à l’ancienne.’ Old dry sausage. Yummy. Or even better: ‘Saucisson sec en croute.’ Old dry sausage in a crust.

‘Chevre chaud avec sa salade aux noix.’ Hot goat’s cheese with his nuts’ salad. I kid you not.

‘Carottes rapées au citron.’ Lemon raped carrots. Now hold on just a minute. Who’s accusing who?

And would you be up to trying some of these Lebanese specialities?

Singed chicken wings. Mashed of mean pea trimmed with hacked meat. Cheese fresh makes from curdled milk.

‘Mi-cuit’ is a trendy way of preparing sushi-grade tuna and salmon. But it’s a bugger to translate. ‘Half-cooked’ doesn’t sound like anything I’d want to eat. Partially cooked? Maybe. Seared would perhaps be more appealing. But singed? Non merci.

I was recently at one restaurant that implored me to ‘enjoy a night to remember in our privates dining room.’ Hmmm. Maybe that’s where they serve the lamb balls? Or perhaps his nuts’ salad?

Bottom line: if you’re dining out in a French restaurant and want to be sure of what you’re ordering, you may wish to get an app for that. Or invite a French speaker along to help with interpreting.

Seen any funny menu translations lately? Please share!