This is my last Franco File Friday installment of the year and it’s a chat with someone I appreciate tremendously, as much for our aligning passions – food, travel and photography – as for our curiously similar paths.
Like me, David Santori, creator of the blog Frenchie and the Yankee, also left his home to study abroad after falling in love with a foreigner and never left. The primary difference in our stories is that David is French and left Paris to study in Milwaukee, quickly adapting to life in the States with his American chéri. That was in 1999. This year, we both celebrated newfound dual-citizenship within only two months of one another, a step that further anchored us into life away from our origins.
With indefatigable fervor, we live and breathe our adopted homes and catch up twice a year on his trips back to France to visit family, discussing at length how our chosen environments have deeply informed our identities and swapping expat stories. Given how much we have in common and how grand a time we have when we’re together, two times a year is just not frequent enough. For the moment, Charlotte, NC is home base for David but I’m optimistic our journeys will connect in one place down the road. Il faut!
Describe what you love about France in three words.
C’est. Chez. Moi.
The most striking difference between life in America and life in France?
Difference… singular! Oh, there are so many! Putting politics or other touchy topics aside, I could go on for days about forks vs. spoons for dessert, how to properly cut a piece of cheese, cheese before or after the meal, plain white or fun colorful socks etc.
Speaking about trying new things, a big difference in my opinion is that you will find a lot of new combinations and unexpected pairing of flavors or ingredients in restaurants in the U.S. compared to France although I have been surprised during my recent trip to observe a tiny glimpse of readiness to get out of the rigid French food constraints – like foie gras with a light sprinkle of satay or langostino served with a curried guacamole on a gingerbread loaf at L’Alchimie (34 rue Letellier, Paris 15). It’s different and refreshing to read on a menu.
Having said that Americans still have much to learn when it comes to savoring meals and what we call les arts de la table. Experiencing food and everything that comes with it is still a concept to improve on this side of the pond. And for many of them, the simple idea of gathering around a table with friends, family, good food, wine, well-presented dishes and a properly dressed table continues to be perceived as chic and over-the-top. I tell them oh là là, it does not have to be! You can make it really casual. It just needs to be tasteful – in every sense of the word.
Something the French just simply do better?
So this is going to sound really cliché… bread and pastries. When I move to a new city, my first call to action is to find 1. a cheese shop where I can find artisanal or imported cheeses not already wrapped in plastic or looking like they were made out of wax 2. where the crusty breads and flaky croissants are hiding. The bread and croissants are the tough part because there are lovely cheeses in the U.S., and if you live somewhere big enough, you can find rare imported cheeses.
And after experiencing many margarine-based and brioche-like croissants, soggy, tough, hard, chewy, overly sweetened, or crustless breads and baguettes, it makes me appreciate going home to Paris and walking in a boulangerie for a croissant au beurre or a pain de campagne.
First place you go once you’ve dropped off your bags in Paris?
Since I am always famished when I arrive in Paris – I just say non to airline pizza breakfasts – once I get home, drop my bags, say hi to everyone, get kidnapped in conversations by my family, freshen up, and find my dark Parisian scarf, it’s time for lunch. And the first place I want to go to is a Chinese restaurant. Quelle surprise !
The quality of Chinese dishes in France is something else. When my American friends tell me they are going to France I make sure to tell them that they have to try Chinese food during their stay one way or another. Especially if they’ve never experienced it in a bigger city in the U.S. It’s a must have for me.
You should have seen my face the first time I ever looked at a menu in a Chinese restaurant in the U.S. and then saw what was served on the plates. And since I hadn’t moved to San Francisco or New York City where authentic Asian food abounds, the experience wasn’t as thrilling as I had expected with 20 years of Chinese food experience behind me in Paris.
A bowl of riz cantonais and some tasty nems with all the accoutrements and I am a happy Parisian again. Chinese food is actually a family affair. I don’t recall a birthday, and sometimes Christmas, not celebrated at Tricotin (15 avenue de Choisy, Paris 13) when my grandfather was alive. He was very good friends with the owners in the 1980s and 1990s and there was generally an open table for my entire family.
The most amusing or frustrating interaction with Americans who learn you’re French?
Well, they never think I’m French to begin with because of my American accent. One day, someone told me that I dress very elegantly and European-like for an American my age – whatever that meant.
The frustrating part is when people assume that I know all of France because I’m from there. There are millions of places I have yet to visit and discover in France but when they talk to me about their French trip in different parts of the country they assume that I know what they are talking about or that I have been there. I see a certain disappointment in their eyes. And it is a fact that I have travelled more in the U.S. than France having left at age 20.
I would say the amusing part is to see their expression and faces when they find out I am really French. “Born and raised? You must have American parents.” It’s quite funny and it happens almost every single time I meet a stranger unless I’ve had too much vin rouge in which case my French accent resurfaces – but that’s another topic of its own.