A French Woman Goes Yankee

French freelance English teacher Stéphanie Cubain gets a taste of an American routine

by Stéphanie Cubain
stephanie goes american image
Photograph: Jake Chessum

Overall, I am pleased by this weekend. I had thought it would be quite difficult for me to follow the American diet while taking care of my family. The secret is not to have lunch with friends, which would lead to eating in a very French way.

If I’m going to make it through this experiment, I’ll have to upgrade my choice of processed foods. I eat canned ravioli that is so bad, I’d rather eat worms! No kidding, I once tried some grilled worms at a market in Asia and was pleasantly surprised. Don’t forget, I’m French; I love to eat frogs and snails and rabbits. But cheap processed foods can smell really awful and taste disgusting.

At the supermarket one night, I buy a packaged low-fat dish of minced meat and puree. I warm it in the microwave for dinner, but it looks and smells like dog food. My husband and my grandmother are appalled; I just throw the food away. My husband can’t get used to seeing me eat microwaved food. He makes so many comments, I finally have to tell him to shut up.

Day 10: I have been eating most of my meals standing up. Today I have Chinese takeout—a fresh spring roll—after a tough exercise class and eat it while walking to the subway. I am cold, hungry and tired and do not get any pleasure from this lunch. I would have preferred a warm crêpe with ham and cheese to fill me up after so much effort.

My family has totally deserted the dining table. At night I eat alone, slouched on my couch in front of the fireplace. The fact that we don’t sit properly at the table makes us less attentive to what and how we eat. We eat fast, walking back and forth to the kitchen, talking to one another but eating on our own. It’s more like living with roommates than having a family life.

My husband and I take Violette to the McDonald’s inside the Louvre on Sunday. Of course, if it hadn’t been in the Louvre, he would never have allowed it. Violette has a Chicken ­McNuggets Happy Meal. She thinks the chicken is fish. My spouse has a Royal Cheese, the French version of a Quarter Pounder with cheese, served with traditional mustard sauce. He only likes the mustard. As soon as we get home, Violette asks me to make her a sandwich. I tell her she has already had lunch, but she doesn’t see it that way. My husband says eating at ­McDonald’s is proof of his love for me.

I have mixed feelings about this diet. You do eat less, and you exercise more, which means you might be able to lose weight (so far I haven’t). And after the first few days, as my stomach shrank, I no longer suffered much from hunger or fatigue.

One thing I will probably stick with is snacking! I like being able to eat candy bars without feeling guilty.

I’ve also come to appreciate takeout. I went from spending a half hour making lunch for myself to 35 seconds! Much less stressful. On the other hand, not having to cook has made me so lazy that when we order pizza one night, I don’t even bother to make a salad as a side dish. Takeout is also far too expensive, and I need to eat more vegetables, so I will go back to cooking. Vive la cuisine française!

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Next: A Bittersweet Ending; Plus Coca-Cola Cake Recipe

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First published in the June 2013 issue

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