Category Archives: French Culture

Perfect Gifts for the Francophile, Episode 94

2015 Christmas Tree at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris
2015 Christmas Tree at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Falcon Photography

Today Annie suggests perfect gifts for the Francophile: gifts for cooks, gifts for travelers, gifts for movie lovers, gifts for kids, gifts for men, gifts for sports enthusiasts, and gifts for the host or hostess. We’re going to get spoiled again!

If you liked this episode, you’ll probably also like episode 45 Christmas Markets in France.

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Gifts for the Host/Hostess/Cook

Cheese Marker Set:  they look like thought bubbles, nice round things with a poking end, they are made of slate and come with some chalk so you can write the name of the cheeses you are serving. Now THAT would come in handy even if you already have a well-appointed kitchen!

Cheese Slicer: If you’re going to make raclette or serve a cheese platter it is best if you slice your cheese at the last minute so it doesn’t dry out. Slicing cheese is not very fun when you don’t have the right implement! So I finally broke down and bought one and I love it! This one is by Oxo Good Grips and it comes with a replacement wire.

Cheese Board with Lid: I have to admit I’m not a big fan of cheese boards because I have beautiful plates and they do just fine. But one thing that would be nice is a serving board with a dome or glass bell because cheese is best served at room temperature but it gets stinky if you leave it out, not to mention how it will attract flies. There aren’t a lot of good choices for such items in the US, but I found a good one for you. Talk about how you should get one in France next time you visit,  ask for a “cloche Ă  fromage” or “cave Ă  fromage”. Explain that it fits right in the fridge. Or talk about the artisanal one I found at a market with a retractable mesh top.

Le Creuset Dutch Oven: Mine is probably a hundred years old and it’s still as good as new. It doesn’t chip or stain or rust, it is perfect. Expensive, but perfect. I use it like a crock pot on low heat to make all sorts of stews. But you can also use it on high heat to make your stir-fry. And in the summer if you put it in the freezer for a few hours, it’ll keep your food cool if you place it in a shady spot on the terrace. Very versatile.

Pressure Cooker: I use the pressure cooker so much it actually lives on my induction stove-top most of the time.  I have that Clipso pressure cooker that they sell on and it’s really good. You cannot make a pot-au-feu without it. I make couscous in the pressure cooker too. I use it to cook beans. You can make a tough roast tender in a pressure cooker. Brown it in some oil, then cover the piece of meat completely with hot water, close the lid, cook under pressure for 40 to 50 minutes (depending on the size of the meat) and it’ll be tender! I use it to make Pork Carnitas (although the Le Creuset pot is also great for that). It cooks fast and it is great.

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child: this book is 40 years old and still as good today as they ever were. Julia Child understood the way regular French people cook. It doesn’t take a culinary degree, it takes good observation and common sense.

Herbes de Provence: inexpensive and absolutely necessary if you are going to cook anything French!

Walnut Oil or Hazelnut Oil: these oils add wonderful flavor to the simplest dish or vinaigrette. Using different types of oils is also healthy for you!

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Moules Dish: you don’t need this to make good moules marinières or moules Ă  la crĂŞme, but it helps make it look real!

CrĂŞpes Pan: this is one where you NEED the special pan because if you don’t and use an every-day frying pan your crĂŞpes will stick.

Fondue Set: you don’t need the electric fondue set, but it will keep the temperature better than something with a small flame underneath. You can use it to make Fondue Bourguignone with beef (serve with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and sauce Bourguignone if you can find it, but don’t worry if you can’t, it’s not that good, honesty!)

You can also make Cheese Fondue aka Fondue Savoyarde which requires a mix of cheeses if you want to be proper about it (you can buy them at iGourmet or at fastfondue) but really any grated cheese that melts well will do, next time I’m in the US I want to try it with Grated Swiss and Mexican Queso, with a bit of white wine.

CrĂŞme BrĂ»lĂ©e: to make this magical dessert you will need a kitchen torch and some ramequins. Don’t go cheap on the torch, but look for the ramequins that will fit your needs. I like ramequins that stack, some like big, some like small, some like shallow, some like deeper, it’s too personal for me to recommend a ramequin!

Madeleine Cookie Pan: Madeleines are easy to make, here’s a recipe I’ve tried and liked.

Bring a Touch of France into Your Home

Provence Tablecloth: They are usually yellow and blue, have sunflowers or olives on them.

Throw Pillows: It says on the cover “Paris Is Always A Good Idea” which is a quote by Audrey Hepburn. When I lived in America (I said France on the show, I meant America) I liked a little touch of France in my home, I really didn’t want the whole thing to look like a clichĂ© of Provence.

For Children

French Flash Cards for Kids: some people do great things with flash cards, but if you’re going to use those, one of you must be good at French!

Radio Pomme d’Api: if you want your children to learn French, surround them with French sounds. This is a good way to do it for free and they choose some really fun songs. Sometimes I listen just to get a big smile on my face!

Le Petit Prince Bilingual: this is a classic, if you haven’t read it, you must, right now!

Paris Saint-Germain Soccer Jersey or  Soccer Ball I don’t really like soccer, but this is the biggest team in France and they have A LOT of fans! Possibly some in your family too.

Stade Toulousain Rugby Ball: I’m from Toulouse, I love rugby!

Les boules de pétanque: great game, can be played seriously and competitively or leisurely on a sunny day.

For Cyclists: Tour de France DVD from the year Lance Armstrong retired under great scrutiny that turned out to be warranted.

Paris is a Good Idea Pillow

For Travelers

Power Strip: this power strip is light and compact, and it does NOT have surge protection which is what you want. American surge protector strip will trip the general at our house in France, we don’t know why, but it works every time.  So if you bring some other power strip, make sure it doesn’t have surge protection or it’ll be useless.

Traveler’s Choice Suitcases: this is a 3-piece set, but you can get them individually.

Microfiber Travel Towel: this towel is great and you cannot do better for the price. It won’t take up half of your carry-on and it works well. OK, I like extra heavy cotton hotel towels better, but this will do the trick and it dries fast.

Moleskin Notebook: so you can write down what you do every day on your trip, because after a while it all becomes a blur. Notebooks make a great gift for someone who is planning for a trip, it means all the things they can look forward to.

Ticket Stub Organizer: this is great for travelers and people who like to collect small mementos that will mean a lot to them in a few months or years. Looking at old tickets stubs or menus or business cards is a great way to journal your life and interests.

Movies for the Francophile: this is my list of favorite French movies.

Books for the Francophile: this is a list of some of my favorite French books.

To Learn French: Pimsler has been really good for me, but I wasn’t trying to learn French but Spanish. If you have 20 minutes each day you can dedicate to oral learning, you’ll love it.


Table Manners in France, Episode 93

Table Manners in FranceYou are planning to take your significant other out to a very nice restaurant in Paris. Possibly at the Tour d’Argent or maybe the Jules Vernes on the Eiffel Tower, but are table manners in France any different from they are in North America? What do you need to know? Elyse and Annie explain and Elyse also tells us that the French used to be rough around the edges at the table until Catherine de Medici showed us how it’s done.

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2:30 Elyse’s thoughts on the attacks of November 13, 2015. The French are not going to be defeated or surrender even though these events have given us much to worry about. Advice for people coming to visit France soon after a terror attack.

Why do Wine Glasses Have Stems?

14:20 Long stem wine glasses were invented to be able to avoid getting poisoned because servants never touched anywhere near where the liquid was, they kept their hands on the stem. For the longest time poison was the best way to kill an enemy.

16:20 Listener question on Parks and Gardens in Toulouse: what is the difference between a park and a garden? A garden is a found within a park.

What Are All Those Utensils For?

20:00 Why is there a special fork and knife for fish? What do they look like? The fish knife looks a little bit like a butter knife, but since the French don’t serve butter with their bread, that’s not what it’s for. French soup spoons are very large, almost the size of a serving spoon.

How Glass Became Common

25:00 The Venetians developed the technology to make glass on a large-scale and glass became popular starting with them

Why Do French People Say “Tchin-Tchin” When Clinking Glasses?

Why do French people say when “Tchin-Tchin”  when they clink glasses? Once people realized that it was possible to avoid getting poisoned by holding their glass by the stem, someone decided to be even more sure that the drink was safe it would be good to clink glasses and spill some of your drink into the other person’s cup. If everyone does that, it shows that nobody has tampered with the drink.

Filling Your Glass More Than Half is Bad Form

30:00 Americans use very large wine glasses every day, but French people use smaller glasses and never fill them to barely more than half.

Formal Table Utensils in France

33:00 Fancy flatware in France includes forks for escargot, fish fork and knife, and many other things that more people would not know what to do with.

Catherine de Medici Introduces the Fork to France

35:30 Catherine de Medici introduced Italian utensils in France, to the great dismay of French people who mostly ate with a knife and spoon and used dried old bread as a plate.  Today you may order a “tartine” at a restaurant which is a whole meal on a large slice of bread. Catherine de Medici introduced the fork to France and it was not well received at first, especially by the clergy who thought it was evil and made men effeminate!

Table Manners in France Beautiful table
Photo Luc Bergeron
A Formal Meal at a French Restaurant

43:30 In the 1800s table manners went over the top and French people started to use five or six forks, 5 different knives, five glasses to go along with their meals and you had to know what to use when. That is not the case any more, at a four star restaurant they will bring you whatever utensil goes along with your meal at the right time.

What a Home French Meal for an Occasion Is Like Today

47:00 You start with Apéritif, which may take one hour. Then you get your Entrée which does not mean the same thing as it does in the US. In France the Entrée is the appetizer (you enter into the meal). Then you get your main meal, and for every part of the meal you get different wines to go with. There are also traditional different drinks served to men and women. There may be a salad served at the end of the meal along with the cheese, but that is not done any more now. Mostly you will get a cheese dish served with bread, not crackers. Then you get dessert. The whole process may take four hours because we take pauses between meals. It is strange how small water glasses are in France.

Differences Between French and American Restaurants

58:00 When you sit down in a French restaurants, they will not normally bring you ice water or bread or anything until they bring you the food you’ve ordered. Things are changing a little bit, but not everywhere. French Style Service means that they bring you the dish, show you the dish, then cut it up for you, then bring you a little bit and bring you some more if you want more. It is really awkward for most people and it is unusual unless you’re at an expensive and probably starred restaurant.  In France we used to use knife rests, but they are unusual any more.

How French and Americans Hold their Knife and Fork

1:00:00 In France most people hold their fork with the left hand, cut with the right hand and eat with the left hand. In America most people in formal situations cut with their dominant hand, then put down the knife, then switch the side of utensils and eat with their fork in their dominant hand. French people keep their hands above the table at all times and they can use bread to scoop food onto their spoon or fork. Most restaurants will not give you a bread plate, you can set your bread next to your plate. French people always eat their dessert with a spoon and not a fork.

French Tip of the Week and Listener Question

1:11:11 French Tip of Week and listener question. How to express sadness in French about the terror attacks in Paris: C’est terrible ce qui s’est passĂ© Ă  Paris, j’epsère que vous n’avez pas Ă©tĂ© touchĂ©” (what happened in Paris was terrible, I hope you were not affected) or C’est afligeant ce qui s’est passĂ© Ă  Paris (I am saddened by what happened in Paris) or “C’est triste ce qui s’est passĂ© Ă  Paris” (what happened in Paris is very sad).

Secularism and Free Speech in France, Episode 51

Secularism and Free Speech in France Explained

Secularism and Free Speech in France
Church at Villedieu-sur-Indre “certified” with French Republic stamp in June 1884. Photo dadavidov

This week on Join Us in France Annie digs into the history of secularism and free speech in France as it relates to the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher Grocery store terror attacks . Knowing a little history will explain a lot about a place, and in this instance, the events unfolding in France in January 2015 make no sense whatsoever without understanding the historical context. Why did so many French people take to the streets? Why are the French police now arresting people who just want to be heard too? Is it simple backlash? Is it rampant racism? Or is it compliance to French law and why is the law the way it is? This is all explained in today’s show.

Continue reading Secularism and Free Speech in France, Episode 51