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Enjoying French Meals

What better way to enjoy what you are going to eat than to start with an empty stomach. Then you can say, "J'ai faim" (zheh fan) (I'm hungry) or "J'ai soif" (zheh swaf) (I'm thirsty), and the glorious world of French gastronomy is yours!

French food is probably the most famous and the most praised in the world. And you don't have to go to Paris to enjoy it. In the United States, French restaurants and specialty food shops are often very expensive. But just across the border, you can find total satisfaction at reasonable prices in Montreal.

In the United States, people eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Wouldn't it be simple if only three words designated les repas (lay ruh-pah) (the meals) in all French-speaking countries? Well, it simply isn't so. Québec has kept some of the seventeenth-century French of its first settlers and uses the words that were used then (as do the people in some parts of the French countryside):

  • The word for "breakfast" is:

le déjeuner (luh day-zhuh-nay) in Québec

le petit déjeuner (luh puh-tee day-zhuh-nay) in France

Le déjeuner (in Québec) is probably a remnant from the days when farm workers ate a big hearty meal in early morning, another big meal at midday, and only hot soup with bread at the end of the day. Then breakfast was more a déjeuner (meal) than a petit déjeuner (little meal). Also, the Quebecois are North Americans and thus more used to a big breakfast than the French are. So, if you're meeting someone for le déjeuner in Montreal, don't wait until lunch time! Unless your hosts invited your for le brunch — no explanation necessary, right? — they won't be expecting you.

  • The word for "lunch" is:

le dîner (luh dee-nay) in Québec

le déjeuner (luh day-zhuh-nay) in France

  • The word for "dinner" is:

le souper (luh soo-pay) in Québec

le dîner (luh dee-nay) in France

    These nouns are also verbs; to have lunch or dinner is déjeuner, dîner, or souper.

After coming home from school, children enjoy le goûter (luh goo-tay) (mid-afternoon snack), which usually consists of bread and butter, jam, or chocolate. If you suddenly find yourself hungry between meals, you can always have un casse-croûte (kahs-kroot) (a snack, literally: break the crust) like a crêpe at a stand in Paris, a hot dog sold by a street vendor in Montreal, or anything in between. Even out in the middle of the country, you may be lucky enough to find a café where you can get une omelette (ew-nom-leht) (an omelet) or un sandwich (aN sahn-dweesh) (a sandwich).

A note about breakfast

As we mention earlier, a Canadian breakfast looks much like its American or British counterpart. The French breakfast, on the other hand, is more like what hotels call a continental breakfast. Many French don't even eat the famous croissant (krwa-sahN) with their morning coffee; they're often satisfied with just a quick espresso before boarding the train or the subway. Nowadays, like North American children, many French children have cereal and milk, les céréales et le lait (lay say-ray-ah-lay luh lay) for breakfast.

Still, the traditional French breakfast is usually made up of the following:

  • le café (luh kah-fay) (coffee)
  • le café au lait (luh kah-fay o leh) (coffee with hot milk)
  • le café crème (luh kah-fay crehm) (coffee with a little milk)
  • le thé nature (luh tay nah-tewr) (plain tea)
  • le thé au lait (luh tay o leh) (tea with milk)
  • le thé au citron/le thé citron (luh tay o see-trohn/luh tay see-trohn) (tea with lemon)
  • le pain (luh pahN) (bread)
  • le pain grillé (luh pahN gree-yay) (toast)
  • les tartines (lay tahr-teen) (slices of bread with some kind of spread)
  • le beurre (luh buhr) (butter)
  • la margarine (lah mahr-zhah-reen) (margarine), not as popular as butter but used nevertheless
  • la confiture (lah kohn-fee-tewr) (jam)
  • le croissant (luh krwa-sahN) (croissant — crescent-shaped)
  • le pain au chocolat (luh pan o sho-ko-lah) (same dough as a croissant, but a different shape and with a chocolate bar inside)
  • le chausson aux pommes (luh sho-sohN o pohm) (applesauce-filled danish)
  • le pain aux raisins (luh pahN o ray-zan) (a sort of raisin bread)

You can find all of these mouth-watering goodies in any pâtisserie (pah-tees-ree) (confectioner's shop) or boulangerie (boo-lahn-zhree) (bakery) throughout France. If you aren't sure what something is, you can always simply point to it in the window and be delightfully surprised at whatever delicious confection you discover!

A note about lunch

Until the mid-1960s, lunch was the big meal of the day in France. Fathers came home from work and children came home from school to sit to a four- or five-course meal prepared by the mother. After a two-hour break, everybody went back to their activities. Children still have a two-hour break from lunch, and many of them still go home. But with many women working outside the house, most active people spend much less time on their lunch break and don't have time to come home. They also eat more lightly at midday.

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