The French, part 2: Normativity

Posted on 19 December, 2014.


I’m going to start off this instalment by saying that i don’t much like the idea of normativity. On the other hand, i’ll be the first to admit that we apes (uh, primates, humans, as you wish) are probably to a certain extent incapable of escaping socialised and normative behaviour in most aspects of our daily dealings. I suspect that we’d have to try really hard to erode various culturally ingrained aspects of our behaviour if somehow we become convinced that they are undesirable. Closer to home, as much as i like ragging others (the French in this case) for their group-think and silly customs, i will also admit that this is a) in jest, and b) just as prevalent in cultures i am used to, but differently. I think this is normal, and anyone who transplants from a given culture C₁ into a culture C₁ for any C₁ ≠ C₂ will probably confirm that various things seem silly/perplexing/obscure in their new surroundings, even if back home in C₁ they do equally weird things, but are simply used to them.

This won’t, however, stop me from employing a bit of good old mauvaise foi and poking fun at them anyway.

Food Normativity

Today i will be ranting about food. And normativity. Specifically, the French have a penchant for making judgements on others’ correct (or otherwise) approach to victuals. Obviously, there is only One True Way when it comes to food. The “objective best way” for food is clearly a roundabout way of saying “the way French people do it”. The French are notorious [citation needed] for being insufferably conceited when it comes to their own cuisine, which probably only got worse since it was declared “world intangible heritage” by UNESCO.

For example, being a vegetarian in France is a downright struggle, since the concept of not cutting live animals’ throats to force feed them, and then harvesting their livers, all in support of some “festive season” (surely not for the animals) is widely regarded as a comically impractical proposition. Not subscribing to the starch-greens-and-dead-animals eating paradigm will garner concern for your health and well-being, but congenial as this may seem, i perceive it as thinly-veiled contempt for anything more foreign or faraway than the fence-posts of your rural farm. Not eating animals is something that happens exclusively in newfangled cities, and India, it would seem. It’s a way, if you will, of displaying street cred, saying, “look at how cool i am, i have never experienced other culinary cultures!”.

This faux naïveté extends to most situations concerning food. As is probably apparent, i find it rather difficult to tolerate, and the locals find it difficult to contain their amazement at every turn. After the nth time someone puts on a concerned frown and asks, with a characteristic gratingly naïve rising inflection, if

  • tu manges debout?! (for eating a snack while standing, without having laid the table and lit the candles)
  • tu manges beurre de cacahuette sur une baguette?! (admittedly a strange combination, but when rushed, bread and peanut butter really cannot be beaten)
  • tu manges salé à 16h de l’après-midi?! (late breakfast → late lunch → confused French)
  • etc., you get the drift,

one starts feeling like shouting that one can, in fact, eat perfectly satisfactorily while standing, simultaneously holding a conversation and a beer, and that no, one will not stop eating one’s lunch at 4p.m., even if you consider that an affront to decency and/or normalcy.

Other than that, the locals are a friendly bunch, and will perfectly happily try out your exotic concoctions – don’t let my raving put you off. After having shouted a bit1 i already feel a lot better about things, so i’ll now go for an apéro at exactly the condoned time. I definitely seem to appreciate my own customs and habits a lot more after having travelled a bit – perhaps the Dutch weren’t so bad after all? …and worse still, perhaps i’m being partly assimilated into the obscure French culture? The horror! :)

  1. Another tried-and-trusted French pastime.

If you feel inclined to read further, i have rambled on other subjects, too.



paul (at) thisdomain
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