Chapter 3 / cultural studies / Culture / France-USA / Make it Big in the USA / News

The French and the French Restaurants in America

When the Americans befriend you in the USA, they assume that your brave, almost noble composure and pleasant demeanors hide a secret longing for the endless refinements of your native culture and the many pleasures of France. You are exerting a sense of self-control every time you even take a bite of food produced in America and manage not to turn your nose up in disgust. Your acceptance of your fate holds a tragic secret that puts you on the brink of sublime.

You, on the other hand, remember perfectly that you grew up in the crime-ridden inferno of a God-forsaken suburb, eating crap at cafeteria Casino, wearing low-grade sneakers. You never set foot in the Louvre that one time you went to Paris on a shoestring budget. Wine to you is the dark magenta syrup your blue-collar dad was mixing with water at lunch and your claim to fashion is to have worn for 3 years straight the same “I Love NY” T-shirt that made the envy of your froggier-than-life pals.

Don’t shoot yourself in the foot, then. No matter how insistent your American friends will be, resist at all cost their invitation to a French restaurant. Don’t let them drag you there! First of all, if the chef and the staff are French, they are just like you, and they know exactly what you are up to. Not so unconsciously, your moves will be limited, you will feel their half-patronizing half-mocking look of derision burn the back of your neck for the entire evening. They will see through your fake assurance when you chose a bottle of wine for the table and they know for sure that you can’t possibly trace the earthy-sweet aftertaste of mushroom in the lamb to the specific type of grass that grows in the Dordogne. They’ll also guess that you have never met Carla Bruni and Jean Nouvel. Second of all, we are fucking expensive!

Now, how will you justify resisting their invitation to a French restaurant? What is your next move going to be? How do you deflect the kind attention without sounding out of your mind or downright rude?

The not-so-rookie mistake (once you graduated from making the first rookie mistake of accepting the invitation to a French restaurant) is to take the high ground and declare generously that you would be more excited by a meal in a restaurant featuring modern American cuisine. You are a Renaissance man after all, your curiosity knows no boundaries. You are convinced that American cuisine has reached peaks of excellence formerly accessible only to the French. Your genuine interest should pass for a sign of openness and nuance that puts you well above the average. Moreover, you are flattering your hosts by showing respect for their culture. All this sounds really good, doesn’t it?

Wrong again. That progressive American Chef will have probably spent a great deal of time in France during his apprenticeship. Part of his staff might be as much French as you are; just as much as his colleague the French Chef, the American Chef who spent six months to a year in Paris knows exactly who you are and what you are up to. Remember that, at the core, you know nothing about cuisine while your American acquaintances pride themselves in treating a real connoisseur. You can fake your way out of that one only if nobody is actively checking on you. With the progressive American Chef, you’ve got a problem. The exact same problem you had in the French restaurant.

Excerpts from chapter 3 – Don’t Shoot Yourself in the Foot in How to Make it Big in the USA, Jean-Pierre Ledauphin, 2012. Translation by Wallace B. Thompson

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