Currently, I live with four 25 year old French boys, which I wouldn’t think should be significantly different from living with four 25 year old American boys. However, last night we had a party — or une soiree, in the vernacular — and the differences started to manifest themselves.
On Sunday, they said we would make ceviche Tuesday night. On Monday, they said nineteen people would be joining us for ceviche. Tuesday evening, preparations began.
In the living room, we moved all the furniture to the perimeter and erected a table long enough for 20 people to have a place setting. We rolled out a long white table cloth and distributed the glass- and silver-ware. No plastic. No disposable. There were candles.
In the kitchen, we finely minced a dozen red onions, squeezed 40 limes and julienned un kilo cinq of sweet potatoes.
At 21.00, the guests arrived. Everybody kissed everybody. It took forever, but gave us all an excuse to acknowledge old friends and introduce ourselves to new ones.
At 22.30, we sat down to eat.
At 1.30, the family made eau de vie made an appearance and I learned to sing “savez vous passer le traderidera.”
At some point I go to bed, and when I get up in the morning I’m all alone. Everyone has already gone to work.
When I first learned of this soiree, I had imagined twenty people standing in the backyard, holding paper plates filled “family style” and introducing themselves to each other as opportunity and desire dictated. That’s how the American boys would do it.
I tried to describe the French way as more formal, but was corrected and I think rightly so. Nobody was trying to conform to some outside aspirational standard. Rather, there was a strong sense of heritage and respect and the joy of sharing an evening with good friends and good food.
That’s how the French boys do it.