Friday, 15 August 2014

The cultural difference that took the longest to get used to

Irish Breakfast or...
Breton Langoustines?

This is going to sound cliché, but when I moved to Ireland 12 years ago, the hardest thing to adapt to, was the way Irish people eat and drink. 

Gastronomy is a big thing in France. Mealtime is so important that French people take at least an hour to eat lunch (wedding meals can even last 5 or 6 hours!). Meals are also a way of spending time with your family and socialising. As for the drinks, well, it’s not a myth that we do like a good bottle of wine, but we mainly drink while eating and it’s considered a pleasure.During my recent holiday, I spent 2 weeks drinking alcohol and eating my mum’s home cooking. And you know what? I was never drunk to the point of being sick or unable to remember the following day. Apart from being slightly tired in the morning, I never had a hangover. And I believe it's because we were always eating something before or during the “drinking session”... 

I also found hard to accept the fact that in Ireland, people socialise in pubs and not at home. On one hand, it’s nice because you get to go out and meet new people, but as the years went by, I noticed that even though we had Irish friends, we were never invited for dinner. We always met in the pub. We invited Irish friends over for a meal more than once and they were always very happy, but it seems Irish people don’t really do “dinner parties”, and I had to accept that. Don’t get me wrong, we go to Irish friend’s houses but not to eat a proper meal around the table, all together!

On the subject of food, I guess I had a hard time adapting to the structure of the day. Here, people have a sandwich for lunch, and then a big dinner. I used to live in an Irish family who would cook huge meals (the only ones I ate in an Irish house !). I still have the memory of a big plate of lasagna and chips, followed by a chocolate cake and whipped cream, all that at 6pm (way too early for me!). That was definitely far away from the soup and salad I would have had in the evening at my mum’s! I put on a lot of weight in the process, but I don't have hard feelings. After all, they were just doing their best to make me feel at home, and succeeded. 

In the end, I think we can safely say I’ve never truly embraced the Irish food and drink culture. I don’t mind drinking in pubs, I can even have a sandwich for lunch, or fish and chips (with salt and vinegar of course!). I love Irish breakfast (apparently only tourists call it that, it's supposed to be just a "fry"... but hey, I'm not completely Irish yet!) I really do enjoy the atmosphere of a traditional pub, but I have kept some sort of French routine. I bring my own food at work and eat the leftovers from the previous dinner. I eat later in the evening. I cook mainly French food (or at least in a French style!), and I enjoy a glass of wine with a meal. 

I think it’s hard to acquire a whole new attitude towards food and drink when you’ve been brought up a different way. But at least I have learned about another culture, tried to understand and accept it. That’s probably the most important thing when you move to a different country.

What about you? What's the cultural difference you had the hardest time adapting to in your host country?