I’ve been taught all my life that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Vitamins, fibers, protein, fat – all this to get your brain going. Maybe this is why Finland gets such high scores in the Pisa-school reports – our brains function in the morning, too. Is the rest of the world performing poorly in the first hours of their working day?
My 3 daughters always rejoice when I take them to Paris – croissant, baguette, butter and jam for breakfast! They only got that kind of breakfast when they were really young and stayed overnight at my mom’s, and I put a stop to that, too. Rye bread, s’il vous plaît, Edam-cheese and tomato slices on top, or oatmeal porridge with frozen blueberries, a fruit, that’s the Finnish way.
By the third morning in Paris, I always crave for something fresh. Because my husband and I always rent a flat somewhere in Paris when visiting the town, we can escape the French breakfast. I’ve taken the habit of going for a walk in the morning to buy us a baguette (can’t get any other type of bread, and it IS good) with salad, tomatoes, ham – they call it “Fermier”.
One morning, I showed up too early on Rue St. Jacques. There was a smiling girl in her twenties trying to offer me alternatives for the “sandwiches”, like a Panini, but I said I wanted the green stuff in my breakfast bread. She quickly offered me a cup of coffee (which I didn’t take, being probably the only Finn who doesn’t drink coffee…The Finns drink the most coffee in the world!). Would I like to sit and wait while she called “the other place” and ran there to get a sandwich for me? Wonderful, I said, I’ll just take a stroll around the church on the other side of the street and come back. “Oh, no, don’t go out there in the cold, please have a seat and wait, you’ll get your bread in no time”. I assured the girl I was coming back and took my stroll around the St Severin church. I thank the Paris administration for issuing plates in front of the public places, explaining what I’m looking at. It always amuses me, though, that the texts are most of the time only in French, even though Paris is the number one tourist destination in the world.
I returned to the girl, she had a Fermier all packed up to go, even though I didn’t remember I had told her it was a Fermier I wanted – they have other alternatives with cheese etc. Well, a Fermier was what I wanted, that’s what I got, and payed 3,85 euros for this humongous bread.
If you don’t find anything worth wondering about in this story, then you live in the US, France or somewhere where customer service is in the backbone of the citizens. Everybody complains about the service in Paris, but I’ve never met anything but excellent service. Okay, once in Versailles, where two ladies of three of the three ticket boots decided to go for lunch together and left a lot of us, who had been standing in line for over hour and a half, wondering about the French behavior. As my friend Taina put it: “They just lift their shoulders and say with their eyes: “Look, I’m not the one who wants to see Versailles, you are. You’ve just got to wait, haven’t you?”. Many other people in the line had more evil stuff to say, but the third lady in her third boot kept her cool and continued to sell tickets.
On the other hand, if you have a good half of a Fermier for your breakfast, you’re not hungry between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., the French lunch hour. You’d love to have lunch between 2 and 4 p.m. but that’s nearly impossible. All the breakfast-eating nations, i.e. the Scandinavian countries and Germany, go half starved in the Mediterranean countries all afternoon until the dinner places open around 6 or 7 p.m. No wonder you have to have lunch at 11 if you’ve had air and coffee for breakfast (most French people don’t eat that croissant nor the baguette in the morning). But change is in the air. There are more and more of the “service continu”-places that serve food all day long. They’re not the majority, but seek and you will find. Speaking of change – have you noticed that a good many customer service people speak English in Paris? Voluntarily!
My husband and I usually just give up – have our Fermier AND a croissant or a moist pain au raisin, walk, walk, walk, have lunch between 11 and 2, walk, walk, walk, have a drink before dinner, walk, walk, walk, and finally also have dinner. That’s one of the good things about being a tourist in Paris – you can’t help but to walk off those extra calories.