Thursday, November 22, 2007
One of the most common questions students ask me is, "have you ever been to a foreign country?" After informing them that I am already in a foreign country from my point of view, they usually ask me if I've been to other countries. The only country I've been to besides Japan (and the U.S.) is Canada, so I tend to get asked what other place I'm interested in visiting. Usually, I say Spain because Spanish is the only other language I have any experience with and some of my husband's family roots trace back there.
One of the places I have little interest in visiting is France. I know it's a very beautiful country and has a lot to offer culturally, but I also know they have no patience for Americans who can't speak French, and I can't speak it at all. I don't want to go somewhere and pay people to be rude to me and treat me like a second-class human being because I'm from a particular country and can't speak their language. Of course, these days, being American is pretty much enough to get you treated like the plague pretty much anywhere in the world. Hating Americans isn't considered a prejudice amongst most folks who are inclined to do so. However, the Japanese aren't quite as inclined to tar and feather us all because our current president is doing his best to completely destroy America on both the domestic and international fronts. I guess they feel as disconnected from the politicians who control their country as we do.
Some of my students have gone to France and told me that they were surprised that the French people were so polite and helpful (in most cases) even though they (my students) can't speak French. I always tell them that French people don't appear to have the same issues with non-native English speakers who can't speak their language as they do with people from other countries. Of course, I have no idea how valid these thoughts are as I have no first-hand experience. I can only say that the French reputation for rudeness is quite pervasive as reflected by both my conclusions and the preconceived notions of my traveling students, though it is certainly likely a lot of it is unfair as most negative generalizations about groups of people are.
One of my husband's students recently went to France and brought him back some incredibly nice goodies. One was a bag of cookies from La Cure Gourmande and the other was a canister of chocolate truffles from Jeff de Bruges. The cookies are a collection of very dense, crunchy, buttery biscuits in various flavors. They have a unique texture heavily influenced by what I'm guessing is the use of a grainy sugar. They have a unique smell which I can't quite pin down but is vaguely reminiscent of dill (of all things). Though there are various flavors, (e.g., coconut, orange with lemon) they all seem to smell the same. Because they are dense and hard, one approaches them with low expectations, but they are incredibly good in a way you don't often experience in cookies in either Japan or the U.S. I'd love to know the techniques and recipes for them.
The truffles have crispy, delicate chocolate shells with light, incredibly creamy fillings. They are clearly high quality and have rich, chocolate flavor without being overbearing. The student either bought very high quality souvenirs for my husband or French sweets live up to their high reputation (or both). They're so good it's almost worth considering going to France. ;-)