petite anglaise

September 27, 2005

what not to eat

Filed under: miam — bipolarinparis @ 2:49 pm

I think I will have to resign myself to the fact that I am doomed never to be mistaken for an elegant parisienne.

I haven’t the faintest idea how to knot a Hermès scarf just so around my neck. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t even care for Hermès scarves. Nor have I ever understood the whole jumper knotted loosely around shoulders over the top of winter coat look. Unlike most French girls, I am congenitally incapable of arranging my hair in a charmingly dishevelled little chignon, so that it looks as though it was twisted up and secured with a pencil in less than twenty seconds (a look which I suspect takes half an hour to achieve). I simply don’t look French, a point which was confirmed by several (disappointed) British bloggers I met recently.

Even if looks don”t betray my non French origins, my uncouth foreign behaviour inevitably will. Whether it be downing several beers in quick succession, or partaking of snacks in public places, something will always give me away.

Which brings me neatly to the story of the ill advised bolognaise panini on the line 7 métro.

The scene: horribly late for work, following a distastrous morning where a suspected, but in fact non-existent, infantile tummy upset and an errant nanny with no mobile phone conspired to force me to take a whole morning off work. One sixth of my precious three statutory days off to care for a sick child squandered for no good reason. Having finally deposited the irritatingly high-spirited, perfectly healthy Tadpole with the childminder, I realised I wasn’t going to have time to grab lunch before work, so there was no alternative but to eat on the run.

My hungry eyes spied a baker’s shop by the entrance to the metro. Upon closer inspection however, the sandwiches on offer did not look particularly appetising. French bread may in itself be A Very Lovely Thing, but many shops don’t use a great deal of imagination when concocting their sandwich fillings. Ham and plastic emmental cheese. Plastic emmental cheese with salad. Rosette sausage. Nothing which took my fancy. And after the stress of the morning, I craved something slightly naughty, as a pick me up.

My attention was arrested by a small, handwritten sign advertising paninis. I enquired about available fillings. They were a little odd. The classic mozzarella and cheese, or mozzarella and Italian ham had sold out, so all that remained were steack haché and bolognaise flavours. I opted for bolognaise, in what I can only describe as a moment of temporary insanity.

I regretted my choice almost immediately. It took for ever to cook. Standing next to a refrigerated cabinet of cakes, I tapped my foot nervously and glanced compulsively at my watch every thirty seconds or so. But it was too late to change my mind now, I had already paid. And the baker’s wife is a scary looking, red-faced person; not a woman whose feathers you would want to ruffle.

At last, the panini was toasted, and the lady handed it to me in its long paper bag with a single serviette. I snatched and ran. Into the métro, down the steps and onto the platform, where I paused, and first became aware of my predicament.

The paper bag was already translucent with grease, and rather a large amount of bolognaise and cheese filling appeared to have freed itself from the confines of the bread and and oozed down into a corner of the bag, which was visibly weakening by the second. The serviette was already drenched, my fingers slick with sauce. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the bag began to drip. Garish red liquid, which narrowly missed my clothes, occasionally splattering one of my shoes.

It also occured to me that the contents of my sandwich did not look dissimilar to the nappies I had changed that morning. Which clearly didn’t help.

Any sane person would have consigned the cursed sandwich there and then to the nearest rubbish bin, but my rumbling tummy and sheer pigheadedness prevented me from doing so.

So, drawing a small amount of comfort from the fact that Paris is a big city and none of the people sharing my métro carriage were ever likely to lay eyes on me again, I slumped down on an available strapontin and began nibbling gingerly at a corner of the sandwich from hell, studiously avoiding eye contact with my fellow passengers.

Pieces of minced meat leapt out and deposited themselves on the floor of the carriage around me. A piping hot chunk of chopped tomato landed on my toes. The bag continued to drip, drip, drip, even enveloped in my entire packet of emergency tissues. I had to hold the sandwich away from my body after every cursed bite, whilst I used a baby wipe on my mouth and chin, so as not to look like some sort of crazed métro vampire.

A perfectly groomed Parisienne got on at Chaussée d’Antin and wrinkled her delicate nose in distaste at the odour of my food. The only available seat was next to mine, and she declined to take it, preferring to stand well out of range. I could imagine what she was thinking only to well. Judging by her figure, she had never so much as sniffed a panini in her entire life, and the only thing which she would deign to put to her lips in a public place would be a bottle of Evian.

My journey over, I dropped the greasy packaging and remnants into a bin, wiped down my shoes and peeping toes, and inspected my trousers.

And emerged from the métro vowing never to buy a bolognaise panini as long as I live.

Even English girls have their limits.

44 Comments

  1. Very funny, petite…I’m impressed you kept it off your tailleur. Next time I suggest get a mini quiche lorraine. It’s French enough to be (almost) acceptable to eat in public, as I discovered during my second pregnancy when I had to have something to eat at 11am to keep me going till lunch. Delicious. And it doesn’t drip.

    Comment by suziboo — September 27, 2005 @ 3:02 pm

  2. You should move to NYC. Eating on the bus or subway is practically a spectator sport. You would fit in quite nicely. For fun, buy a kosher corned beef sandwich from Katz’s Deli on Delancy Street and try eating that on a moving subway car……..while standing. If you can do that, you can do anything.

    Very funny post Petite. I would have offered the Chaussée d’Antin a bite though. ;-)

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — September 27, 2005 @ 3:28 pm

  3. Hilarious for us to read if not for you to experience.

    Comment by Keith — September 27, 2005 @ 3:41 pm

  4. One consolation: if this had been London there wouldn’t have been a bin within 100 metres of an underground station.

    Comment by Jean — September 27, 2005 @ 4:06 pm

  5. Ha ha ha! That is SO something I would do. The French ladies might look amazing, but with those thin rumbly tummies they must be as cross as hell. You’ve made me hungry now…

    Comment by Claypot — September 27, 2005 @ 4:14 pm

  6. Katz’s deli – oh, I have fond memories of a New York egg cream and pastrami on rye at that place. And a bizarre queuing system…

    Comment by petite — September 27, 2005 @ 4:51 pm

  7. Dave, if you’d offered Mme Chausée d’Antin a “bite” she might well have slapped you for your obscene suggestion…

    Comment by suziboo — September 27, 2005 @ 5:33 pm

  8. Rassure-toi, Petite, toutes les françaises ne portent pas de foulards Hermès et ne sont pas spécialistes des chignons savamment élaborés…
    Thanks for improving my english and making me discover lots of new typically english “tournures de phrases”…

    Comment by catherine — September 27, 2005 @ 5:35 pm

  9. Petite wrote:

    “Katz’s deli – oh, I have fond memories of a New York egg cream and pastrami on rye at that place. And a bizarre queuing system…”

    Oh, an egg cream! Be still my heart! When I go home to the Bronx to visit my mom, I always stop at the diner in my nieghborhood for a good, old fashioned chocolate egg cream. Can’t get them up here in Rochester………:-( Glad you’ve been to Katz’s. Quite a place, isn’t it? Oh, and for those who don’t know, it was the deli where the orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally” was filmed.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — September 27, 2005 @ 5:40 pm

  10. suziboo wrote:

    “Dave, if you’d offered Mme Chausée d’Antin a “bite” she might well have slapped you for your obscene suggestion.”

    ROFL! Ah well…….the things that get lost in translation…………

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — September 27, 2005 @ 5:43 pm

  11. Aren’t the French ladies the ones that don’t eat snacks, eat only three times a day and then 3 lettuce leaves?

    Who can compete with that?

    Comment by Laura — September 27, 2005 @ 8:04 pm

  12. “the only thing which she would deign to put to her lips in a public place would be a bottle of Evian”

    or a cigarette, of course…

    Comment by anxious — September 27, 2005 @ 8:21 pm

  13. I feel your pain–I got glared at by a woman the other day for the simple crime of blowing my hair out of my eyes when I had 4 heavy grocery bags in each hand. Quel horreur!

    Unfortunately, I haven’t been here long enough to know an appropriate insulting comeback. With time…

    Comment by Ronica — September 27, 2005 @ 9:37 pm

  14. I had a similiar experience in Germany with a Bolognese Kebab – quite why I thought the two would go together I do not know. And the grease seemed to stay with me all day.

    Comment by Universal Soldier — September 27, 2005 @ 9:59 pm

  15. Um, scary! I hate eating on the run like that Dave of the Lake is right – eating in public is a spectator sport here in NYC. And there’s nothing like spilled coffee flowing down a moving subway car!

    Comment by yayaempress — September 27, 2005 @ 10:38 pm

  16. Oh then it was you…! I took the metro the other day on line 7 and nearly slipped on a greasy floor due to a mixure of tomato sauce, and other garnitures… People we eat greasy and smelly food and dripping them on the floor in public places should be sanctionned and deported!

    [just kidding ;-)]

    Comment by vonric — September 27, 2005 @ 11:40 pm

  17. Super menteur M. Vonric! Je sais que tu ne sors pas de Zone 2 LONDRES!

    Petite, look at your metro escapade as a bit of public information broadcasting. You were providing a free service educating Parisiens to NEVER, EVER contemplate purchasing a Bolognaise Pannini and other such similar greasy artifacts.

    Comment by Lorna — September 27, 2005 @ 11:54 pm

  18. That’s funny- when I was living in Birmingham (not necessarily the paradigm of elitist social behavior), I felt alien grabbing a sandwhich to go and eating en route. I thought it was just an American thing, eating while walking…? Although Californian women never eat crisps or candy bars in public (it was freeing to see my British counterparts indulging!). In all else we’re shameful, but we can’t do junkfood in front of the mass populace, I guess.

    Comment by Saundra — September 28, 2005 @ 12:30 am

  19. Must warn you about another thing: Hamburger Crepes. I once had the audacity to shove this down my piehole after a night of drunken excess. However, unlike you, my sober friend, I threw it in the garbage after a couple of swallows.

    p.s. – French girls eat. They really do. Cheese, butter, the works. But, notice how french guys are smaller than english guys? That’s the answer there. Genetics.

    Comment by nardac — September 28, 2005 @ 12:52 am

  20. Panini Bolognaise can be a bit of a nightmare, definitely. It’s also a nightmare for the French though, so it doesn’t mean you’re un-French.

    I used to be able to do the charmingly dishevelled little chignon-thing in under 2 seconds (more or less charmingly depending on my mood, but my hair could stay twisted in a knot with a little piece of wood going through it), but I can’t anymore. I have shorter hair now so it’s harder to twist, but much more importantly your hair will be far too soft if you use conditioner regularly.

    Comment by Amelie — September 28, 2005 @ 12:54 am

  21. Loved your post, petite. Would someone explain to me how it is that French women supposedly eat so little yet there are so many French restaurants? Only men eat the food that is ordered? Or do French restaurants survive on tourism? Whenever I am in France I see French women in restaurants, but usually they are drinking and smoking.

    Elle

    Comment by Elle — September 28, 2005 @ 1:06 am

  22. Well done you made me giggle.

    Comment by claire — September 28, 2005 @ 1:48 am

  23. This post is hilarious! I have to confess, even after 5 years living outside of France, I’m still very ashamed if pushed by some unbearable extreme hunger, I have to eat in a public place. Unless it’s a proper picnic of course…

    Comment by Maurine au bout du monde — September 28, 2005 @ 2:09 am

  24. Ok, let’s set the records straight here. French women do eat a lot. Just not that often. They are willing to starve themselves for two meals if they’ve had a lot to eat, just so that they can stay slim. And I would palso oint out that they don’t drink beer.

    WHICH MAKES THEM PLAIN MISERABLE!!!

    Have you noticed how seldom they smile ? I’ve always preferred foreign girls and I am now happily married to an Australian woman who is willing to exercise to lose weight (as opposed to starving herself), for whom pilates is not a foreign word (common in Australia for at least 5 years – pilates have just arrived in Paris) and who drinks beer and likes very high heels (is there anything less sexy than those little white flat trainers that French women seem to wear all the time?).

    Aaargh, don’t get me started on French women!

    Comment by A frog in Oz — September 28, 2005 @ 2:35 am

  25. Please…Petite, I”m surprised you have joined the whole ‘dumping on French women’ thing. I have the feeling you are far too attractive to need to do that.
    Many Americans, and an increasing number of Brits, are fat, both men and women. French people are less so. It’s a matter of both genetics and diet (beer in the UK, fast food in the US). And don’t get me started on Ozzie women. I used to live in Shepherd’s Bush, close to the Church. Hardly an advertisement for Australian womanhood, unless you like a side order of vomit with your date.
    It’s interesting. Some cultures can enjoy the good things in life without going to excess.I admire that in the French.
    I think you are just going through an anti-French, back-to-my-English-roots phase, connected to recent emotional turmoil.

    Comment by dan — September 28, 2005 @ 4:29 am

  26. Dan – you wrote “And don’t get me started on Ozzie women. I used to live in Shepherd’s Bush, close to the Church. Hardly an advertisement for Australian womanhood, unless you like a side order of vomit with your date.”. Agreed. But I’m afraid it also applies to an awful lot of English girls (the binge drinking culture).

    I just find French women very uptight in general. It seems that they never allow themselves to break loose. There’s also this thing that they have whenever they come across another woman. The “greezers of death” that they give to each other, as if every other women meant competition to them. In Australia or in the UK (and not only there), women seem to support each other. There’s a sense of female bond that gets communicated through smiles, for example.

    Petite, have you ever tried to smile at a female stranger in Paris? Maybe whilst queuing at the bakery for example? Did you get a smile in return? I would be surprised if you did. All my wife got was what-are-you-smiling-at-you-weirdo type of looks. Or simply plain parisian-style ignorance.

    Comment by A frog in Oz — September 28, 2005 @ 7:54 am

  27. You are the only person that can really interest me for so long with a panini story… god you write well Petite.

    Comment by Miss Pink — September 28, 2005 @ 9:02 am

  28. Dear Frog in OZ

    As a Brit in France who has just aquired a French Lady Friend, (we are too old for the term girl friend!) I do not recognise your description of French womanhood at all. Maybe true in Paris, but not in rural France. Undemanding , relaxed, friendly easygoing, quite unlike my experience of British womanhood. (I know, you can’t tar the whole nation with the same brush) On Yahoo dating, almost all the Brit women specify huge salaries (size does matter when it comes to the wallet) Almost all the French women leave the salary question blank. Says something about priorities methinks.

    Petite, sorry to use your blog to defend French women.

    Comment by Keith — September 28, 2005 @ 9:33 am

  29. I wasn’t having a go at French women at all. I envy that Parisienne elegance and feel very ungainly in comparison.

    I was just emphasizing a few differences (which of course have to be generalisations) to lead into my story!

    But, Frog in Oz, you are right that I have not experienced much in the way of female solidarity here.

    Comment by petite — September 28, 2005 @ 11:04 am

  30. I’m a french female not living in Paris. I eat sandwiches with butter and cheese, “pains au chocolat” for my lunch, drink beer sometimes… An I’m not fat at all.
    And I don’t consider other girls as rivals. Please, be careful at “ces lieux communs”. And continue to smile in french queues, as I try to do..

    Comment by catherine — September 28, 2005 @ 11:40 am

  31. I banned eating on the metro after a unfortunate “crepe” incident. In fact I try to avoid breathing, let alone eating on the paris metro.

    Comment by Lauren — September 28, 2005 @ 12:07 pm

  32. I would love to know how to do that hair. I’ve never been able to blend in either, having tried and failed to master the art of everyday elegance. Maybe it just doesn’t suit the British face? Anyway, these days I don’t even try to wear anything (in public) that doesn’t fulfil the double function of keeping me warm/cool and making me look, erm, dressed. This rules out all the accoutrements that make chic French women look chic.

    Nor can I imitate the poisonous flick of the eyes. Some of the chic young women I have encountered in offices and school playgrounds could knock you against a wall with a mere glance.

    Comment by Susan — September 28, 2005 @ 12:24 pm

  33. Petite, my comment was aimed at Frog in OZ not you, I thought your Chaussée d’Antin description pretty accurate and of course an English version exists on the tube!

    Comment by Keith — September 28, 2005 @ 12:51 pm

  34. that was easily the funniest thing i have read all week. i realize that what you share on your blog is only the tip of the petite iceberg, but i am always amazed and inspired by your honest and creative writing. and i hate to write the generic, cheesy, cliche comments, but figured i owed you at least one in payment for the laughs this afternoon.
    thank you.

    Comment by cara — September 28, 2005 @ 12:52 pm

  35. Catherine: Tu es l’exception qui confirme la règle ! Et continue les pains au chocolat et la bière, c’est bien plus charmand que la salade et le Perrier.

    Comment by Frog in Oz — September 28, 2005 @ 12:55 pm

  36. I thought that the post was about the faux pas of eating in public, not the politics of cultural attitudes to wieght…am I missing something? I think I need more coffee.

    Comment by Anne — September 28, 2005 @ 1:50 pm

  37. This has all the hallmarks of the ‘Greavsie and the leaky salad in the chicken burger’ on the train journey home from the Blogmeet recently.

    Comment by Greavsie — September 28, 2005 @ 2:19 pm

  38. Frog,

    I have to admit, even NY women would at least smile back at you, for the most part. I am getting the sense however that this is something that is more prone to Parisian women. What about outside of Paris? Surely not ALL French women can be what you describe, as that is one hell of a generalization.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — September 28, 2005 @ 3:21 pm

  39. at least you get “three statutory days to care for an ill child. ” I got a pink slip one time for caring for mine.

    Comment by Masie — September 28, 2005 @ 3:56 pm

  40. My post was about the faux pas of eating bolognaise on public transport. my commenters have gone off on a tangent over which I have no control…

    Anything goes, just so long as you don’t hold me responsible for the content of the comments you object to!

    Comment by petite (feeling misunderstood) — September 28, 2005 @ 4:07 pm

  41. No, you were not misunderstood petite. I think some folks just latch on to a certain part of your post, and then run with it, leaving the rest of the context to the wind. As you said, you can’t be held repsonsible for what others choose to take out of your post and comment on it. It is their choice to do so.

    Comment by Dave of the Lake — September 28, 2005 @ 4:35 pm

  42. Is the picture of what you ate, or is it what you would have liked to eat? It doesn’t look too bad. As for me, I have only to try to eat in a public place for food to fall on my clothes and stain them. And orange juice has a fatal attraction for anything white.

    I hate those people who no matter what always look uncrumpled and fresh as a daisy no matter what the heat, and especially those who manage it in linen!!

    Comment by varske — September 28, 2005 @ 8:59 pm

  43. Wearing black and eating a meringue in the Metro is also a “crumby” experience

    Comment by magillicuddy — September 29, 2005 @ 2:28 pm

  44. i have been here for 2.5 years and I have still not learned how uncouth it is to eat on the street (people just gawp and you get the odd “Bon Appetit!”) but i applaud you for munching on the metro, that takes some doing in this town. susie

    Comment by susie — October 2, 2005 @ 7:38 pm


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