Saturday, May 13, 2017

Lunch in two cultures


In my Swiss life, luncheons with friends of my then partner were formal affairs, often planned weeks if not months in advance. We dressed up to at least business casual standards.

Six to eight people were in attendance and each time someone new came in, they shook hands on did the three-cheek lip kiss. People were on time making the shaking and kissing a bit chaotic. Most had been friends since childhood. I was the new kid on the block.

As guests, we would bring wine, chocolates or flowers.

An Apèro was always served in the living with small nibblies.

After an appropriate time we moved to the dining room to a table that would not have been out of place in any life style magazine with linen, crystal and silver. I never went to a luncheon (or dinner) where there wasn't a beautiful knife holder to protect the table cloths.

Never was I served a bad meal. Imaginative courses included:
  • Appropriate wines for each course. Often the bottle was dusty, signifying the bottle had come from the host's wine cellar
  • Salad
  • Main dish and multiple vegetables
  • A minimum of three cheeses, often local
  • Dessert
  • Coffee or tea 
  • Digestive after lunch drink
Conversation  was lively. In the beginning until my French improved, the guests spoke more slowly, but as I became more fluent, the speed increased. In general, thank goodness, the Swiss speak French more slowly than the French. I learned a lot about local politics but any topic was trotted out.

They were often surprised that I was familiar with Swiss/French popular and classical cultures as well. Between being a writer and despite being American, my intellectual level was accepted.

My partner had schooled me on Swiss manners which differed from those my New England grandmother had drilled into me.
  • I waited for everybody to be served before beginning to eat.
  • I murmured "bon appetit" before food grazed my lips as did the others.
  • I waited for my host to offer the toast, chinked my glass with everybody at the table and looked into each person's eyes before drinking.
  • I kept my wrists on the table (a punishable offense as a child), but never my elbows. 
  • My hands were NEVER in my lap.
  • I said, s'il vous plaît and merci.
  • A knife never touched my French bread and I tore it with the best of them. I did not expect butter.
  • I used my left hand for the fork and the right for my knife to push food onto my fork. This I love. It makes it easier to eat.
  • I cut any cheese served as a wheel, cut from the center into slices much like cutting a pie.
  • When I finished, I put my knife and fork parallel to one another on my plate to indicate I was finished. And I never left anything on the plate, taking only what I could eat. Many hosts would keep heaping food on my plate and filling my wine glass, and I needed to be quick to not eat or drink too much and demur politely. See number six with the word, non before it.
We would leave shortly afterward, making sure that I had shaken or cheek-kissed every other guest. Within two day I wrote and mailed a formal thank you note, making sure it was personal by mentioning something special. I needed my French checked.


It is my day to cook and I am just about to stop writing to prepare when Rick says, "Will Facebooked me and wants to have lunch in the sun."

A quick exchange of emails and we amble down the street to meet him and his partner at La Noisette which has a new sign.

We do a double-cheek kiss, although I am now the only Swiss in this anglophone group. "I hope you don't mind," she says, "I included Robin."

Wonderful. I haven't seen her since I returned from our latest trip and I see her hustling down the street.

We are all dressed casually.

Anna, the waitress, takes our orders.

Our conversation has to do with my trip to Congress, Brexit, chairs (Will has almost a museum and is an expert), our writing, tennis, golf.

It is casual and heart-warming and impromptu.

The life styles are so different--not better or worse--just different. I am happy to experience both.

One difference--the food was/is good in both.

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