Of ice cubes, Cherry Coke and other French things

Of ice cubes, Cherry Coke and other French things

For quite some time I’ve been wanting to write and speak about changes in France and got a great opportunity to do so at the recent International Media Seminar in Paris where I have been invited to speak for the last few years on my favorite topic: the French.  The talk is about cultural differences and I always start by saying that though Americans may think that the French are pretty much like them, they are dead wrong.  The French, I say, are raised differently, have a different education, a different history, hold different values and have different behavior and different reactions.

That’s still true.  But this year I added a slide on “How France Has Changed”.  I did this because one day I started comparing the France I knew when I first arrived here in the late Sixties and the France I know now and realized that change has happened without my really noticing it.

When I arrived in France, grocery stores didn’t carry peanut butter, chocolate chips, hamburger buns (are you kidding? there were no hamburgers!) or Philadelphia cream cheese.  There were no Nachos and very few snack items because the French didn’t snack.

At the movies, there were no vending machines, no drinks and no popcorn. You went to the movie for the movie, not to eat.

In newspapers and magazines, you never saw a word of English.  Now it’s unusual to make it through any article without stumbling through a thicket of English expressions or words, sometimes horribly misused.  Or mispronounced:  French TV anchors talk about “low cost” flights but it comes out as “low coast”.    That’s ok – few Americans can get their tongues around  “ratatouille”.

For years, tourists complained that the French didn’t speak English, that they didn’t have air conditioning or ice cubes, that they weren’t friendly.  Well, not to worry now. The other day I was in a restaurant with my 5-year-old French granddaughter. She ordered a soft drink and the waiter brought her the bottle and a glass filled with ice cubes.  Her little face crumpled as she looked at me and said “but Nanie (her name for me), I don’t drink ice cubes”).  Of course she doesn’t – she’s French!  The French waiter, hearing my accent, assumed she was American so he brought out what Americans want.

That little incident showed a lot about cultural differences.  Tourists want “authentic” France but they also want the comforts they have back home. Therefore the “natives” give them what they want and slowly the country changes its tastes as well – which is why there is now a giant hamburger craze in France.

There are now food trucks in the streets of Paris and soon, doggie bags.  The French being French (still), restaurant owners have promised that if they do adopt this very unFrench custom, they will serve the remains in a beautiful “gourmet” box.

Let me see:  have I forgotten anything?  I have not yet seen graham crackers or Saltines or Root Beer in my local grocery store but am sure I will soon.

No wonder worried French top chefs and culinary experts worked so hard to get French cuisine and French food customs (ah, those long  and wonderful meals where no one wondered about gluten and talking about getting fat was forbidden) on the list of UNESCO’s cultural heritage protection list.

They NEED protection!

Gourmet hamburger joint in Paris

7 thoughts on “Of ice cubes, Cherry Coke and other French things”

  1. Hello Harriet,

    Wasn’t it Shakespeare that said, in jest there is truth? This blog post was comical yet insighful.
    In my opinion Europe has become more American. From my first trip as a student in 1980, when I perceived vast differences between the two continents to my trip to Spain/France in 2010, when I observed many similarities. I wouldn’t say it’s strictly an American influence as much as with an expanding global consciousness, the world is seemingly getting smaller. Let’s toast to that over a Cherry Coke on the rocks!

  2. This brings back memories — I too first visited France in the 1960’s and went to school there in the 1970’s. While there are many more modern conveniences (no more public urinals on the streets!) a lot of the charm is gone. The French had not yet experienced too many ugly Americans and were kind and helpful in the shops and on the street. The Champs Elysees had no large chain stores (except McDonald’s, which had just arrived), and when was the last time you saw a boucherie with a horse head on the sign (meaning they sold horse meat)? “Authentic” cafés are disappearing and many no longer charge different prices for counter, inside and outside coffees. Corn was cow food, so no Green Giant niblets. There is more American-style hustle and bustle on the street, and 2CV’s are rarely seen. And that peculiar “scent” of Paris — a combination of diesel fuel, urine (from the public urinals, or just from the street) and Gauloise cigarettes…

    1. It’s been a year since you wrote this comment and I am almost embarrassed to answer it at this late date. I have been negligent with my site, to say the least, and am only now attending to it again. I hope you will get this message expressing my appreciation for your remarks which are all so true, and that you will “tune in” from time to time. Kind regards, Harriet Welty Rochefort

  3. I’m just seeing this article Harriet. What’s funny is that so many Americans are trying to be French! The hottest tshirt is the striped breton type. Kids clothes all have Eiffel Towers and stereotypical French drawings or sayings. We now eat baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat. Macarons are very popular. I could go on and on. I only hope the French do not become too Americanized. That would be a disaster!
    I once saw a cartoon with two French men sporting berets and one with a baguette under his arm saying “On devient de plus en Americanisé:” 🙂

    1. Isn’t it strange? Each culture wants to mimic the other. Actually, it’s a great compliment to both!
      Best, Harriet

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