The French must continue to eat their meals together at the table, the ultimate place for communal living.
A study published on the 10th of May by INSEE, (l'Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques), which went relatively unnoticed, revealed that the French are the last people in the western world who continue to regularly eat their meals at the table as a family. Elsewhere, the traditional meal has long since disappeared. In the United States, Germany, Great Britain and Japan, people eat lunch and dinner separately following the confines of their daily schedule. The more people are qualified, the younger they are, the later they dine. However, we are not necessarily speaking of actual meals: everybody snacks, alone, at all times of the day and evening.
France is one of the last places to resist the solitude that modern society has come to create. As a rule the French continue to eat their meals at the table and at regular times. On average an hour is dedicated to the preparation of these home-cooked meals. More than any other nation, the French continue to dine among friends, either in their homes or at restaurants, if finances allow. This preservation of habits has most benefited their health. There is less obesity than in any other European country, and the rate of heart disease is the lowest in the western world.
Even in France, dining collectively at the table, this ultimate expression of communal life, is often only an illusion. During the meal the women serve and clear away the food, while the men watch television. After the meal, household chores remain the work of women, whereas the men spend the bulk of the evening in front of the small screen. In France as elsewhere, the duration of meals becomes shorter as conversation becomes rarer.
In all civilizations, the essence of social construction occurs through attitudes towards food, as meals provide one of the main opportunities for sharing and communication. In modern French society, nothing will be more important than to protect these rare moments; to give meaning to those who have lost it and to create conditions for equality of the sexes with consideration of the tasks required. The length and manner of the meals will have to be contemplated as political, in the best sense of the word.
By Jacques Attali,
Professor, writer, governmental advisor, 2007, Preface for “French Silver Cutlery of the XIXth Century”
Etiquette Enthusiast, Maura J. Graber, is the Site Editor for the Etiquipedia© Etiquette Encyclopedia
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