Someday this August when I was just at Paris for a few days, I sat in a restaurant and ordered a plate of steak, some fruits and a piece of cake. The waitress gave me a bottle of water and a piece of pain, which was the first astonishment to me because in restaurants in China everything is not free and “no free thing” concept is deeply rooted in our mind.
The first thing I picked up to eat was the cake. I was going to bite it and a man next to me stared strangely to me. I was thinking by myself “is there anything wrong with my face?” I checked with my mirror. Nothing was wrong. Weird. I had to ignore the embarrassing gaze from that man and continued to eating my cake. The last thing I had was the steak. While I was enjoying my meal, the man was always staring at me though he tried to pretend this. After a month, I met a French friend. I told her this experience. She laughed and told me that it was because of the order in which I had my meal. In China, in any meal, there is not any formal order to eat things. We just have the meal in the way we like. But in France, the order is important. Because I had firstly the cake which should be eaten after the main course, so the man might feel I was weird. Afterwards, I learn this in mind so no this kind of embarrassment happens any more.
But another kind of embarrassment occurs sometimes: the time to eat. One time, a friend and I went to a restaurant near Tour Eiffel at 5 o’clock. Only we two were the customers in the huge restaurant. The waitress did not react very quickly. Afterwards, my French friend told me it’s because the time is not their regular working time for serving supper. In France, it seems people have lunch and supper very late. I learn that the lunch is at sometime from 12 to 2 o’clock and supper time arranges from 8 to 10 o’clock. In China, lunch time is usually 11 to 1 o’clock which is not very different. The supper time is more different. The Chinese usually have supper around 6 o’clock. My habit is to have supper around 5 o’clock. But in China, in some cases, people have supper till very late such as business dinner, big gathering of friends or family. To have dinner together is culturally important for initiating and maintaining social network between people from different backgrounds. For instance, many promotions in political domain are negotiated during having dinner with leaders in higher hierarchy. Many final decisions are not formally made in office but in the dinner table (饭局in Chinese)! That’s why some politicians and businessmen said their real work starts after formal office work! This kind of networking dinner usually starts from around 6 pm to 11 pm. In this kind of dinner, another important feature is that people in it have to drink a lot of Chinese wine (白酒in Chinese). Some people like its taste but most of people don’t like to drink it a lot. In the networking dinner, it’s a cultural norm that if you want to be more involved into, you have to drink the Chinese wine no matter whether you like it or not. A saying is popular among Chinese politicians that the more you drink with leaders or for leaders (you drink in order to protect the leaders from drinking), the faster you will be promoted to higher positions in the bureaucracy.
Despite these differences, the food culture of France and that of China have much more similarities than other countries. The most significant is that in general, the French and the Chinese put much more efforts to cook delicious and exquisite food. In some countries, culinary culture is not as highly emphasized as that in France and China.
Like me, every Chinese would meet many embarrassing conditions in the first phase in France, but after 1-2 months, all embarrassing problems will be solved by learning and imitating. After that, Chinese will find more similarities between the two cultures and feel more enjoyable here in Paris.