Food & Drink Magazine

The Plaisir Factor

By Nancykerschen
The Plaisir Factor

Les Cerisiers- Cherry trees blossoming in Tournon

After watching, yet again, more disturbing news occur on the world’s political front, I turned to Julien and posed the rhetorical question, “Why do people have to be so violent?” To which he earnestly responded, “They’re not having enough sex.” ……..There’s some French reasoning for you.

If there’s one word I would associate with the French culture, it would have to be “plaisir” or “pleasure.” Plaisir invokes a satisfaction of the senses- this could be perceived in terms of sexuality, as the French have a reputation as masters of the art of seduction. (Sidenote-ironically, here in the cartoons, Pepe Le Pew is Italiano, not Francais) Walk down any street in Paris and you’ll find couples embracing at nearly every cafe, park bench, and doorway.  Although the subject of sexuality is more overtly addressed than Anglo-Saxon cultures, I would testify that another form of plaisir qualifies as the most commonly discussed and disputed topic among French social circles-cuisine.

I have noticed that the French generally like to debate, and they’re good at it, too. Students are required to take philosophy classes in school, so it’s no surprise that many grow up confident in vocalizing their knowledge and opinions. And from what I’ve observed around the table, these opinions sometimes only focus on what’s ON the table.  As someone learning to integrate to the French way of life, I put effort into being aware of  re-occuring patterns and customs in my environment, and among the ones I’ve picked up, I will argue most French have very strong feelings in the realm of food and drink. Ask what makes a good baguette, and you’ll get 8 different responses from 4 different people. Ask what the difference between Comté and Gruyère is, and you’ll learn that Gruyère is Swiss, aged less and has a harder consistency than Comté. Not only that, you’ll learn the detailed history of all French cheeses as well as in depth knowledge on the lineages of cows on every farm that ever produced Comté. Tell a Breton that you prefer mushrooms in your crêpe  and he’ll disown you. Crêpes are always sweet, gallettes are always savory.

Other than learning quite a bit about the history and etymology of French cuisine, what charms me the most is, while in the middle of eating dinner on a Tuesday, my tablemates are discussing what we’ll be having for dinner next Monday. This all may sound annoying, but it really isn’t; it’s fascinating and endearing to witness such vigor, because when you get down to it, food is an essential and universal subject which deserves such passionate discourse.  It’s simple times like this where I receive the most plaisir.


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