I’m a proud New Yorker living in France and although I have assimilated well into the French lifestyle, there are things that I miss about my city. On the one hand, you have French fashion, culture and gastronomy worshiped as the gold standard. On the other hand, you have New York – vibrant, full of life and energy, the epicenter of art, food, and culture and in my opinion the best city in the world. But New York is an anomaly of sorts. By almost every metric, New York stands alone. Each state has its own personality but New Yorkers are a special breed. With world class museums and symphonies, restaurants, and theater right outside our door, New Yorkers are not your average Americans. This concept seems to be a bit problematic for the French to grasp. There is a generalization that happens when the French think of Americans that tends to center around us being addicted to fast food and lacking in sophistication. I lost track of the number of times a joke was made around my liking hamburgers or McDonald’s being my restaurant of choice. It still vexes me. (Not that I don’t love a good hamburger – ’cause let’s face it – we’ve made hamburgers into an art form.) The truth is New Yorkers are probably less likely to eat McDonald’s than the average French person. (Yep, it is extremely popular here – Nope, I don’t understand it.)
The things I miss most are probably best explained by the cultural differences. The French socialize at home. Big events, holidays, everything is centered around the home with family and close friends. By contrast, New Yorkers have an unofficial budget set aside for the enormous amount of money we spend eating out at restaurants. Let’s just say if we have to choose between the new Malaysian popup restaurant down the street or paying our rent on time….odds are good the landlord’s gonna be pissed.
Because New York is such a melting pot of cultures we have every type of cuisine imaginable – not just any cuisine but the best from all over the world. One of the things that spoiled me about being a New Yorker was the sheer number of restaurants we have to choose from. I don’t mean crappy, subpar restaurants, I mean the top of the line, authentic, Michelin-starred restaurants from every corner of the globe. People come to New York to chase fame and fortune so we have the best of the best. In France, french gastronomy is second to none. They take their food VERY seriously. But it means they’re not really interested in doing anything else. Sushi is an absolute travesty in France and don’t get me started on Indian food. Luckily, Italy is only a train ride away. (insert eye roll) Learning to reconcile the fact that I can’t have what I want when I want it has been just short of an existential crisis.
One of the things I really love about France is how seriously they take meal times. Lunch is a two-hour affair. Sunday dinner could be 5 hours. (No I’m not joking.) Food is meant to be savored. Meal times are filled with discussions of politics and the social issues of the day. You don’t just grab a coffee to go. You sit and enjoy it with friends. This is a practice I have happily adopted. I can spend two hours at a tea shop with a friend just catching up on the latest news.
But there is another side to this coin and it cuts deep. If the culture is geared around leisure dining there is no need for take-out. (I’m gonna let that sink in for a moment) Take-out only really exists here for cheap fast-food like pizza. (This is not pizza as you know it. We may need to spend a separate blog post on pizza. The first time I ordered a pizza, there was a fried egg on top with lettuce and I wasn’t entirely certain how to proceed. Honestly, I have no real way to describe it.)
Anyway, there is no such thing as GrubHub or Seamless, no way to pick up the phone to your favorite Thai restaurant and have the yummy goodness delivered to your door. I didn’t really appreciate how much take-out and delivery had been integrated into my daily life until I got sick. Nothing life shattering, just a cold. But I was hungry and too sick to cook, and too sick to sit in a restaurant. So what did I do? Well, I went hungry the first night. The second night I dragged myself out to my favorite bistro for a hamburger (yes I am aware of the irony here). As it turned out, they did wrap it up in a doggy bag for me when I was unable to finish. But that’s not the norm and you can see how this could be a bit problematic.
I miss breakfast. A croissant and an espresso do not a breakfast make. I was talking with a friend of mine from Scotland and we were bemoaning the fact that the French don’t understand brunch. I long for the days of pancakes and waffles, fried potatoes and sausages, fried eggs and pastries, mimosas and bloody marys. American brunch is probably the closest we come to spending a leisurely afternoon around the table the way the French do. When I came back to New York for a client project I had two requests – sushi and breakfast.
The thing that we value in the states is convenience. I know that can translate to laziness for people who are not culturally tethered to New York but the pace of life is very different to France. Often it’s the little things that you miss most. Is it too much to ask to have a bit of both?
And can someone please explain to me why we don’t have closets here?!
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