Only in France…

(A collection of Angela’s favorite food anecdotes)


At the onset of fall in America, stores are suddenly decorated with leaves and pumpkins and apples for the teachers. Here, the theme is the grape harvest. The big chain grocery store sends out a 27-page flyer this time every year to advertise the wines that are mature and ready to sell, and it includes a wine pre-order form with enough lines for 30 different items! Many are under $5 a bottle and apparently, this is when you buy your favorite in bulk to enjoy all year – “Buy a carton of 5 and get the sixth bottle free!” My favorite is the “new wine.” It’s only sold this month and it comes unsealed, with just a foil cap over the mouth of the bottle, so you have to take it home very carefully. Not yet fermented, it tastes just like a fizzy grape juice.

It’s also the time of year when people start handing me bags of wild plums and other local fruit that is falling from the trees. I’m noticing that most women make homemade jam, since it is an everyday breakfast staple, and they expect me to do the same. (Evidently, the grape is too sacred for such mundane use as grape jelly is non-existent.) Well, when I explained to one woman that I’ve never made jam and didn’t want to spend the money on canning jars, she said you could actually use any recycled food jar. (And I’d been wondering why the French never throw away a jar…)

At the school, we have 10 microwave ovens in our multi-purpose room that are used to heat lunches. That way 40 kids get a hot lunch without a school kitchen. A couple of days a week I set up the tables and do the pre-heating, and I am always amazed at the contents of their lunch boxes. Almost all of them contain a full set of silverware and a cloth napkin. Leftovers are the most popular entrée, usually consisting of rice, pasta, or lentils with some bits of roast meat. Only 1 family sends frozen convenience food regularly, and my children are the only ones who bring carrot sticks! Yogurt and applesauce is the most popular dessert, (with cookies and cakes eaten during snack times.) And the kids with learning disabilities all dig away at their organic wheat, lactose, and sugar-free meals.

Olivia asked me to buy her a can of sardines this summer and she gobbled them down like a trained seal. They’d be a great convenience food for the lunch box if they weren’t so hard to open. (The can does not “roll” open with a key like they used to, and the shallow tin makes it easy to spill the oil it’s packed in all over the front of your shirt.) They’re also a bit stinky for communal meals! One French kids’ cookbook recommended mashing them in mayo and spreading it on toast – not much different from tuna, I guess, but still…

Recently I was invited over to share a movie with our youth worship leader, and naturally, I brought some popcorn to go with it, knowing they probably wouldn’t have any. Based on the reactions of the family, this was the culinary event of the year. “This is the first time popcorn has ever been popped in this kitchen!” “You can make it on the stove??”

The whole family squeezed into the narrow kitchen, watching every move, and there was an audible gasp at the volume of popcorn created by the single layer of kernels when I lifted the lid. Asking for melted butter and salt caused an even greater stir, as pre-popped popcorn coated with white sugar syrup is the most popular way to buy it here, and microwave versions are rare!

Which reminds me of a traumatic popcorn moment that happened this summer…

David’s family had treated us to a date to escape from the heat wave this summer, so we splurged on a movie for the first time at the closest cineplex. In Scotland, our experience in a multiplex theater would feel almost like being in America, but not in here! Let’s start with the parking: Signs for “cinema parking” directed us to a huge underground parking garage that was eerily empty on a weeknight. When we came up to street level, we were a bit taken aback to find that we were still a few blocks away. Once in the lobby, we queued up for “Superman,” and learned that an extra 2 euros was being added onto our already exorbitant ticket prices simply because it was a “digitalized” movie! Is this happening everywhere or is this just a French issue?

The next shocker was the climax of the evening: We had chosen a showing around the dinner hour in order to fully enjoy a big bucket of popcorn, but when we approached the counter we were told that only white sugar syrup-coated popcorn was served there! WHAT?? That’s not a meal, that’s a migraine! Honestly, I have never expressed such incredulous disappointment to a cashier. To stay my hunger, I bought a small bag anyway, hoping to grab a bite afterwards at one of the many restaurants we had walked past on our way in. I also need to mention that the air conditioning that was going to provide us 2 hours of comfortable pleasure was turned to “extra low” that night, and I discovered that the synthetic fabric on upholstered seats can feel quite sticky without climate control during a long sit. (So that’s why you need to wear a sweater at the movies in America…)

Then at the end of the movie, we exited at the doors on each side of the screen, and instead of being turned out onto the parking lot, like in Scotland, we found ourselves being led through a seemingly endless dim, gray, silent corridor. It was like a purgatory between the virtual world we had just left and the real world we were trying to get back to. Finally, a few reassuring movie posters started appearing on the walls ahead, and then suddenly we opened a door and found ourselves back in the brightly colored lobby again. Whew! But the journey did not end there… We needed a bathroom before leaving, and this time it was a trip down to Hades: 2 flights of basement stairs to reach them! And then to top off this marvelous evening, every restaurant we passed to get back to our car was closed for the night, so we returned from our big night out just as hot and hungry as when we had left!

Looking back, I can see that this evening was actually a love letter from God in disguise. You see, this used to be our favorite kind of night out, up until we bought this house. And in the last couple of years, it’s been easy to resent not being able to afford to go out and have fun like we used to. So God gave me what I wanted, but now that I’ve been disappointed by it, that thing is no longer an idol – and I can easily live without it. What a loving way for God to eliminate resentment in my life, and increasing my contentment at the same time!

On a final note, we want to let all of you know that we are considering a trip back to the States next spring. David has not been back since 2002, Rachel needs to look at colleges, and as of last month, I have a new niece to meet! We are considering flying into Kansas City as a central location, and being based near the International House of Prayer for most of April, as this is a spiritual well that we are all eager to drink from. David would be willing to fly out from there to introduce ourselves to your churches, if there are invitations.

The challenge is obviously $900 x 5 for airfare + the traveling expenses within the country. Although it is 7 months away, we feel like it is not too soon to bring this up as a topic of prayer and needed fund-raising, as there is no earthly way to set aside enough with our monthly budget. With the children growing up, this will probably be the last time that the whole family will fly back, and thus, the only time we will be needing such a large amount. So in the next few months, we’d love any feedback/ideas on how to make this visit a reality, and whether your church would like to connect with us personally next spring.

We look forward to hearing from you!


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