I used to think I ate slowly. And then I came to Perpignan.
Here, food is like the Eucharist; it's nothing to joke about. Fast food restaurants don't really exist, and if by some miracle I see one, it has an American name. Eating isn't just a verb, it's an activity.
On my second day here, I partook of a conventional French dinner with the rest of my classmates.
We left our hotel rooms at six in the evening and arrived at the restaurant around seven. Keep thatnumber in mind.
After sitting at our table, we were given our first course. We snacked on bread-based appetizers for almost an hour. The next two and a half hours were devoted to their respective courses. It sounds like the motto for a reality television show: "Four Courses, Four Hours."
By the time I got back to the hotel, it was a quarter to 11.
I used to eat slowly. As a child, I savored each bite, reveled in tastes that were new and exotic. Back then, fast food was a description of how quickly the food was prepared, not how quickly I ate it.
And I still thought of myself as a slow eater until I arrived here. Now I realize how much my pace of eating had accelerated. The fact is, I can eat a full meal in 15 minutes, shoving more food into my mouth than a resident of Perpignan can in four hours.
In the United States, we're given more food than we can ever hope to fit in our stomachs, and perhaps the trick is to eat it so fast our bodies have no clue what's happening.
But in Perpignan restaurants seem to understand the physical limitations of the human stomach.
In general, they seem to understand the whole concept of humanity better than Americans. The message of Morgan Spurlock documentary Super Size Me would be lost in this culture, which doesn't have to struggle with the problems of our work-first-play-later lifestyle.
Four hours for dinner isn't the only time socializing takes preference over business or homework.
We get two hours for lunch. Two hours? That's ridiculous. Think of all the lost productivity.
But, see, that's the thing. If productivity and personal happiness — in the form of socializing — were to play a game of tug of war, every single French man and woman in this city would get in line behind socializing and pull. They wouldn't even hesitate.
It's nice — refreshing, even — to be in a country where people work to live, not the other way around.
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