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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