When I first went on maternity leave last June, I met up with a French person who stated during our conversation that one of the reasons she tries to get to know other French people locally is that they know how to party properly.
That comment has been bugging me ever since. Assuming she didn’t mean the clubbing scene (going out dancing in France is pretty awful – one only needs to go to a wedding to know exactly how dire French music can be), I can only surmise she was talking about the food. Otherwise I can’t help but think it’s a bit unfair on the Brits. I’ve been to lots of British parties and a few French ones; some I enjoyed, some I didn’t, but it had nothing to do with any cultural differences, and everything to do with the people there. I’m no expert by a long shot, but the only distinction of note in my opinion is in our approach to food and drink. I may be perpetuating a huge stereotype by saying so, because of course, not all French people eat well (McDonald’s is HUGE in France) and there is a lot of very good British food, but if I consider parties specifically, including barbecues, it remains my experience that the French know how to eat, and the Brits how to drink.
I have observed this in a number of very different party settings, not just those hosted by middle-aged, middle-class adults, where you might expect a bit of a let-me-show-off-how-well-I-cook ‘Come Dine With Me’ (Un Diner Presque Parfait) attitude. I remember a French party I went to in my early 20s around Christmas time where the host, a student also in their early twenties, offered us foie gras they had bought from the butcher’s and cooked from scratch. Nobody went ‘what the hell are you doing with that lump of grease, I’m not touching that!’, it was a completely normal thing to do. Somehow I can’t picture most British people, let alone a student, doing this without falling into the ‘poncey’ category of the posh upper-middle/upper class. And only in England would you look forward to cheese and pineapple on a stick…
Barbecues are similar. They are all about the food, which is why French, Australian, South-African, etc bbqs stand above British ones. I might get lynched for saying this, but come on, the Buy One Get One Free pack of frozen sausages from Iceland (the shop, not the country) does not constitute good fare whichever way you look at it.
But tasty food does not equate a good evening (although it helps). The French do like a good discussion and can talk for hours over a bottle or two. But a good argument, sorry, ‘debate’ over whether the government is ripping us off or not, or a philosophical conversation on the meaning of freedom, does not a good party make. Ultimately it is just down to whether you are in good company or not.
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4 thoughts on “What makes a good party”
The English drink partly to get drunk, and that is not the point of parties here in France (or not as much). What I like about parties in France are that they want the best of everything. Food, drink and conversation. When I didn’t speak French as much I found it all very boring, but now I love it. When I lived in the UK I found the endless discussions about how drunk people got at the weekend very boring…
I hear you there. Another difference I found at the beginning was how quickly people changed the topic of conversation. By the time I had formulated a comment in my head, the discussion had moved on so much, I believe I spent my first six months in England as the pub’s mute.
Hey Pauline – I’ve now read all your blog entries, more please! But thought I needed to add an Australian perspective to this discussion and it’s about salad. I find that salad rarely makes an appearance at British BBQs, but it is big time in Australia. Australian BBQ attendees always bring a salad along to share and it can range anywhere from traditional salads such as green salad or potato salad to rice salad, pasta salad, cous cous salad or bean salad – there was a major noodle salad that appeared at every single BBQ for the whole of summer 2006. I love the salad part of BBQs, but didn’t find them often in Britian. Hope all is well with you and family, and I’m looking forward to reading more posts!
Hmm, sounds good! Australia does have the weather for salads. There’s usually been some sort of salad at the BBQs I’ve been to, but it tends to be provided by the hosts, so the range is not as wide. With Christmas coming, there should be more food posts on the way…