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French and Americans are poles apart… when it comes to time spent eating

A new survey has revealed just how much longer the French spend eating and drinking compared to Americans. And that's not the only way the two cultures differ in terms of their food habits.

French and Americans are poles apart... when it comes to time spent eating
Photo: AFP
One of the many cliches about France is that mealtimes are sacred with people spending hours languishing over long meals…while America is known around the world for, well, the opposite. 
 
Now there are figures published by economic think tank the OECD to back up the stereotypes.
 
A global ranking of each country based on how long they spend eating and drinking reveals the French are top of the league whilst Americans are bottom.
 
Apparently, the French spend a leisurely two hours, 13 minutes a day drinking and eating, which is far above the average of one hour 30 minutes and represents the most time spent on meals compared to any other country included in the survey (see table below). 
 
Meanwhile in the land of coffee on the go, Americans spend the least time eating and drinking at just one hour on mealtimes.
 
Greece and Italy followed hot the heels of France, with people in those countries spending two hours 11 minutes and two hours seven minutes on eating and drinking, respectively. 
 
And in the UK and Germany, the average mealtimes were one hour 19 minutes and one hour 34, respectively.
 
 
 
The difference in the length of time spent on eating and drinking in France and the US is unlikely to come as a surprise to anyone who has had a meal in both countries.
 
In French restaurants you can sit for hours over a three course meal without feeling guilty that you might be occupying a table for a little too long and without being asked to move on by waiters. In the US by contrast, the eating out culture often involves getting in a restaurant, getting fed and getting out as quickly as you can .
 
But the survey shed light on just one of the ways the two cultures differ in terms of their approach to food.

And there are lots of others

For example, take a look at their respective breakfast habits. While in France the most important meal of the day could be a pastry or perhaps even just a cigarette and coffee, Americans like to start the day with a big plate of eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon. 

On top of that, when they take their coffee break, the French sit down in a cafe with a friend or a book and while away an hour or more, while in the US a coffee is something to be consumed on the move.

And these differences stretch beyond how people eat and drink. 

While dinner tends to be at around 6pm-7pm in America, in France it's unlikely to be any earlier than 8pm.

A US diner is likely to find themselves extremely hungry in France come early evening when instead of sitting down to dinner the French are pouring their first apero of the evening. 

What the French find weird about Americans
Photo: Kamsworld/Mark Drago/flickr
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FOOD & DRINK

Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

When travelling through France ordering local dishes and drinks is always a good bet, so we're taking a virtual roadtrip through France, highlighting some of the must-try regional specialities.

Regional cuisine: What to eat and drink in central France

This section of our roadtrip takes in the central part of France, from the tourist hotspots of the Alps and west coast seaside resorts through the less well know (but wonderful) central regions. 

The following is just our personal recommendation for some of the areas we’re passing through – please leave your suggestions and foodie tips in the comments box below.

Savoie/Haut-Savoie – Extremely popular for winter sports, the French Alps are stunning all year round and a summer trip for hiking, cycling or water sports is also highly recommended. The long, cold winters and the popularity of sporty holidays means that many Savoie specialities tend towards the hearty, filling, cheese-based and calorific – fondue, raclette and tartiflette.

What to order: It has to be fondue – but this is really a winter dish. Although some tourist spots sell it in summer it’s best enjoyed after a hard day hiking or skiing while watching the snow swirl around outside your window. The basics of a fondue are always the same – a big pot of melted cheese and some bread to dip in – but there are many varieties based on cheese type. We prefer a mixed-cheese option to get the full flavour spectrum, in the spirit of going local let’s order the Fondue Savoyard.

To drink: Wine! Old Swiss and French grannies will tell you that drinking water with fondue can be fatal, as it causes the cheese to solidify and stick in your stomach. As far as we know this has never been proven with science, but it’s definitely true that a crisp white wine is perfect to cut through the rich, fatty cheese.

Opt for a local vin jaune for the perfect partner.  

 
 
 
 
 
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Lyon – you might think that the whole of France is a foodie destination, but to French people Lyon is the ‘foodie capital’, and for that reason it’s a highly popular staycation destination with the French. Definitely check out the ‘bouchon’ restaurants which specialise in the best in local cuisine. 

What to order: Brioche de pralines rosé. There are so many delicious Lyon savoury specialities that it’s hard to pick one so we’ve gone for a sweet treat here. Pink pralines (nuts in a sugar coating) are the city’s signature sweet and while they’re great on their own, for an extra indulgent treat you can get brioche (sweet bread) studded with pink pralines. A slice (or two) with a pot of coffee is quite possibly the world’s best breakfast.

And to drink:  Beaujolais. Stick with us here, there’s more to beaujolais than the much-derided beaujolais nouveau (although that is getting better these days). The wine appellation extends almost to Lyon and is home to hundreds of small vineyards all making beautiful wines, many of whom are taking up production of vins bio (organic) or vins naturel.  

 
 
 
 
 
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READ ALSO: Bio, natural or biodynamic: 5 things to know about French organic wines

Auvergne – central France tends to get missed by many tourists, which is a real shame because much of it is stunning, as well as being quieter and cheaper than the coastal areas. The area is dotted with mountains and (extinct) volcanoes which give it a really dramatic character.

What to order: Auvergnat cuisine is quite meat-based, although the region is also known for good cheeses. To combine the two into one meal, we highly recommend aligot – a type of silky, creamy mashed potato with lots of stringy cheese stirred in – topped with a sausage. Have this at a restaurant with a glass or good wine or buy it from a street stall and go watch the town’s famous rugby team. Either way, the experience will be sublime.

And to drink: Volvic. Those volcanoes that we mentioned earlier give the name to one of France’s most famous mineral waters – Volvic. The water is apparently filtered through six layers of rock for five years, so give your liver a rest and sample some.

 
 
 
 
 
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Corrèze – moving west takes us into Corrèze, one of France’s most sparsely populated départements and one that even some French people would struggle to point to on a map. Transport is not all that easy unless you have a car but if it’s well worth the effort to visit this hidden but lovely corner of France.

What to order: Savoury dishes often feature mushrooms (especially ceps) and chestnuts and freshwater fish such as perch are also popular but we’re going to pick a dessert – clafoutis. The baked fruit flan is hugely popular across France but is traditional in Corrèze – in the classic form it’s made with cherries, but lots of different fruit options are available.

And to drink: They grow a lot of nuts in Corrèze and as well as eating them, they’re often made into digéstifs as well. If by this stage of the roadtrip you are feeling a little heavy, try an after-dinner liqueur to help you digest (although, despite the name scientists claim that a digéstif doesn’t actually help digestion).

 
 
 
 
 
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Île d’Oléron – We’ve now reached the west coast, and just off the shore of the Vendée are two beautiful islands. Île de Ré is known as the ‘French Hamptons’ because it’s such a popular holiday destination for rich Parisians, while its smaller brother Île d’Oléron is less high profile but equally lovely.

What to order: This area is the centre of France’s oyster production and if you take a trip around the island (or on the mainland) you will see hundreds of oyster beds. Virtually all local restaurants serve them, but you’ll also see them piled high at markets, where the stallholders will shuck them for you if you’re afraid of losing a finger in the process.

And to drink: The island is known for its white wines which pair perfectly with oysters. Stop off at the market for a quick glass (and an oyster or two) when you’ve finished your shopping or buy a bottle, plus a platter of oysters and have a picnic. 

 
 
 
 
 
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Head to our Food & Drink section to find guides to the regional specialities of southern and northern France.

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