My brother Dan and I spent several weeks in Europe in May of 1999. We had made plans to start our adventure in France and meet up with my friend Amber, from Australia. She was attending the Sorbonne University at the time, taking French language courses.
We had a fantastic time that week exploring the beautiful city of Paris, with her abundant gardens, creperies & café’s, museums and the diverse culture. Every day was a new gastronomic experience as we sampled Pan Au Chocolate, Coffee, crepes, and among our favorites…cheese. All different kinds of it; Hard, soft, imported, local, with crackers, bread, fruit, you name it, we tried it!
One evening, Dan and I decided to splurge and go to a restaurant called Le Retonade, and we ordered the Menu du Jour. We enjoyed each course as it was served and relaxed in the leisurely atmosphere. For dessert, there were two selections. I ordered the chocolate mousse and he ordered the Frommages Blanc. What he thought he was getting was some kind of cream cheese type dessert. What he actually got was a large wooden tray of 4 huge blocks of various cheeses. We went ahead and sampled them all and ended up eating alot of it. The waiter returned to collect the tray, and looked both shocked and disgusted when he discovered that we had eaten most of the contents. Hey! We didn’t know that you were supposed to sample each and it would get passed on to the next table to do the same! Needless to say, due to the large volume we ate, what do you think we craved in the next few days? More cheese of course.
So, a few days later we stopped into another restaurant, and were seated outside on the patio overlooking a French cobblestone alley with picturesque historic buildings and store fronts. We settled in and were handed our menus. When the waiter came to take our order, we had rehearsed ahead of time in our limited French, and so we ordered two Bubbly waters and a Cheese plate.
What happened next took us both by surprise.
“No, No, NOOO!”, the waiter exclaimed and he got louder and more animated with each word in his thick accent, “You order appetizer, entrée, fromage (cheese plate), dessert, …No, no, NOOO!” By now his face was bright red and he was quite loud and dramatic. We were completely caught off guard and embarrassed needless to say.
So, quite upset at the awkward encounter, we got up and left. As we huffed down the street, I was furious at the perceived rudeness of the French, and was ranting and raving about it to my brother.
Finally after several moments of walking in silence, he says, “Well, (in somewhat defeated tones)… I still want some cheese.” “Me too” I sniffed. We walked around until we located a little grocery store, where we went in and bought some cheese and bread, and after indulging in our gourmet treats back at our hotel, somehow we felt like we still won!
The next day, when I mentioned the previous day’s episode to our friend Amber, she exclaimed, “Oh! Oh my! That is simply not done here. You don’t just go and order cheese only! THEY consider that very rude.”
Guess we didn’t see that mentioned in the guide book. Hah! Oh well. Take note if you travel there.