..Jackie Graves..

Food & France
How do they do it? French women, particularly women in Paris, maintain a size 2 figure while consuming 3 course meals, with wine, daily. How is this possible? Simple.

My theory, and this is only my observation after living in Paris for three years, is that it can all be summed up in a phrase: If you must do something, and especially if you must do something regularly throughout your life, why do it badly?

So, the French dine and since they must dine regularly, they are obsessed with food. In fact, the obsession with food has become legendary. Think of movies such as Babette's Feast and the recent Chocolat. These films are an homage to the way the French relate to food.

Three course meals (known in restaurants as a menu formule) consist of an entre, normally salad or something similar; a plate of a meat or protein and a starch; and a final course of cheese, fruit, or a small dessert.

The key is that everything is small. If you eat more than you need, there are two absolute repercussions: a) discomfort and b) it is bad for "la ligne." Loosely translated: your figure.

It is also considered that wine improves a meal. Drinking too much, again, has repercussions that are not desirable. Back to "la ligne." The rule for dressing is the same as the rule for dining: if you must dress (and you really do have to), you should do it well. If you dress well, you are treated with more respect than if you do not. Now again, these observations apply to people who live in Paris. Outside of Paris, it is not critical, although the French generally dress more conservatively than Americans. My 23 year old daughter maintains that the 60s generation (mine) ruined style in America.

Now on to vacations. In 1935, French law mandated that every working person in France receive 5 weeks of vacation per year, 2 of those weeks during the summer. This means that everyone will have a vacation regularly. The rule kicks in. The French plan their vacations well. Many discussions concerning the vacation occur over the dinner table.

Our first two years in France were vacation-free. Not by choice. We hadn't planned, so we hit the road and encountered all the "no vacancy" signs. Finally, in January of our third year, I contacted a house agent in the south of France for a rental that summer.

I received the pictures and descriptions of all the houses. During January, I lived on visions of olive groves and early morning coffee by the pool during our vacation while we narrowed the field to what would best suit us. Finally satisfied that we accounted for everything, we sent the list to the agent. All of the houses had been rented.

I went by a sign advertising a fabulous Club Med promotion in Morocco. I discussed it with my husband and we floated it by the kids. Morocco would be great. So, we went to Club Med. Merde, the promotion had filled last week.

By this time, I thought that I would just give up on vacation again and convinced myself that I like Paris in August when all the stores were closed and the neighbors on vacation. Then we saw the promotion for Club Med in the south of France. We didn't discuss it with anyone, we just ran to Club Med and booked 5 places.

It was a great vacation. And as it was in France, the food was incredible.

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