Edible European Experiences

Last night, I had dinner with a friend from high school, April, at a local Cajun restaurant in New Brunswick. As we filled each other in on the last two years of our lives, I took mental note of our dining experience. Among other things, I noticed the waitress’s almost sickly-sweet attitude, constant visits to our table, and subtle hints meant to encourage us to leave. After cleaning off an entire plate of duck jambalaya (a delicious dish that deserves a post of its own), we headed back to April’s house to continue chatting. Not surprisingly, we ended up in her family room watching “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” and discussing American v. European restaurant culture.

Alisha and I laughing about SOMETHING in a restaurant in the Montmartre district of Paris

 

 

Once upon a time, I would have considered the servers’ hovering and speed a good thing: I should get my food in 20 minutes and get the check within 40, damn it! This is not to say that I was oblivious to the underlying reasons for such “good service”. Fast customer turnover is essential if a waiter or waitress wants to make money. Earn your wage by selling your personality and your services… how American!

 

 

Thus, one of the first things that struck me as unusual while dining out in Europe was the pace at which everything and everyone moved. Waiters and waitresses were slow to take your order, food took a long time to reach your table, and your check never came unless you asked for it. Dinners could drag on indefinitely. I cannot tell you how many disappointed faces I received when I turned down post-entrée coffees or asked for a check within an hour of sitting down. To cut dinner short was to do the unthinkable, resulting in awkwardness between patron and server.

Oh, but the agony! I had trained myself to eat entire meals in 15 minutes, 30 to 45 minutes if dining out; how was I going to manage 1 to 2 hour meals? Being as obsessed with food as I am, these small issues really bothered me. I became more aware of what and how I was eating. I consciously took smaller bites with longer intervals in between each one, allowing myself a sip of water or wine. What I found was that consuming food at a significantly slower pace allows one to fully enjoy their meal. There is time to taste the flavors, feel the textures, and smell the aromas. Other sensations, such as fullness and thirst, also become more noticeable. As stupid and new-age as it might sound, eating becomes a full-body experience.

Enjoying dinner with Alie (center) and Wendy (right) in Lyon, France

I’ve come to realize that European dining is indicative of the European lifestyle and mentality. Out of the many things I’ve encountered over the semester, the “taking it slow” approach is something that I’ve decided to apply to my life. I can honestly say that I am significantly less stressed and can think clearer when I remember to stop and smell the roses.

The next time you and your friends decide to share a meal at your favorite restaurant, put aside 2 to 3 hours just for dinner. Don’t scarf down your meal, participate in the conversation, and sip your beverage every once in a while. You might be surprised by how much more you enjoy your dinner.

Apply this concept to your daily actions, and you might be surprised by how much more you enjoy your life.

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