I love the French. Well, to clarify, I wasn’t really that bothered by Madame Vergnaud who used to teach us French at school. I never did understand why some of my schoolmates found her pointy nose and breathy accent so irresistable. I didn’t particularly care either way for Madame Flitcroft either, although to be fair, she was about sixty and probably hailed from Poplar rather than Paris.
But I still love the French. I love them for their ability to dress with an attitude that screams, “I know I look good – it’s just a shame I have to walk past peasants like you.” I love them for their croissants and their great wine. I love them for their incredible countryside, and for the fact that their English is exactly 87.3 times better than my French. I even love them for their casual disregard for the rest of the human race – you can’t help but be impressed by such spirited arrogance.
There is one thing though that I really can’t abide about the French. I know it’s petty, and I know I should get over myself, but I just can’t help it.
Don’t get me wrong – when it comes to food, I doff my cap to the French. I’ve eaten so much great food over the last few days. But do they really have to insist that just because I’m British, I won’t be happy until they have personally incinerated every piece of beef that I have ever laid my eyes on?
It all started at a restaurant in Paris a few years ago. The Best Man, Sickly Child and I had just seen Manchester United being beaten at the Stade de France, and wanted to drown our sorrows in steak frites and an industrial size bucket of red wine at a city centre brasserie. As soon as the word ‘steak’ had ventured out of my mouth, the waiter pursed his lips, smirked, and drawled, “You want it black?” In other words, having ascertained that we were British, he naturally assumed that I wanted the chef to take my steak, cook it at a high heat for seven hours, and only bring it to the table once it bore a striking resemblance to corrugated cardboard. Maybe the waiter should have concentrated on ensuring that there were no mice running through his restaurant before making assumptions about the ‘rosbifs’?
You see, I like my steak blue – seared nicely on the outside, and pretty damn raw on the inside. With good meat, it’s just the best way to experience the flavo
ur, in my opinion. Sadly, my fellow countrymen (and I include both my mum and dad in this) do have a strange aversion to blood, and a desire to guarantee that their steak isn’t part of a living and breathing animal by the time it comes to their table. And for this, the rest of us have to suffer at the hands of the merciless French.
Twice over the last three days, I’ve ordered red meat (lamb one night, and beef the night after) and both times my request for it to be cooked rare – blue in the case of the steak – has been met with incredulity. In the second place, I almost thought the waiter was going to make an announcement to the entire room, such was the visible level of shock when I countered his suggestion that I would probably like it ‘a point’ (medium). The woman I ordered lamb from just gave me a quizzical look, questioned whether I didn’t really want it ‘a point’, and then gave me a Gallic shrug which, roughly translated, meant ‘the British, I’ll never understand them’.
I know that we’re the country that gave the world deep fried Mars bars, mushy peas and piccalilli, but it’d be nice if we could be treated like at least second class culinary citizens for a change. Either that or we insist on serving only black pudding sandwiches on the Eurostar in protest.
Flying back to the US this afternoon, Delta ensured that I was fully acclimatised to US life again by serving a cheeseburger as the snack an hour or so before landing. Crap cheese, worse mustard, and bread with more sugar in it than flour – strangely it tasted OK, but who knows whether my internal organs will ever recover.
Ah, it’s good to be back.