Passe-moi le Fromage! Irreconcilable differences.

On New Years Eve some very good french friends of ours arrived unexpectately at our door bearing a ‘Tarte aux Pomes’.  We have what we like to call a ‘reciprocal relationship’ which means that if one of us has lent a plate, the other will return it with an “offering” on it. The plate for a superb tart aux courgettes was returned with Haggis, neaps and tatties in the form of apéros (yes this is possible, we are frenchified scottish anglophones after all), which was returned with a tarte aux Pommes, which was returned with a lone mince pie! (we only had one left!)


“Venez chez-nous pour fêter le nouvel an” “come and celebrate the New Year with us” they asked handing us the Tarte aux Pommes and momentarily we hovered in indecision -feeling the lure of great company verses the desire to celebrate with our children -before giving our regrets.

No sooner the door was closed than our two eldest declared that they were out to party with friends, and our two youngest were all but brushing us out of the door knowing our absence would allow internet time, and (clearly) pre-arranged gaming with school friends. And so after a minute or two of discussion, knowing well that our dear friends had proffered the dessert (with guilt strings attached) exactly because they knew their invitation would be difficult to refuse, we  decided to go.

Our friends are the kind where we can truly let our hair down, but they had explained to us that one of the invitées had recently come out of a long term relationship and was a little ‘triste’ (sad), and Husband à l’Etranger decided therefore that this occasion was one that called for his Kilt.

As we weren’t expected at any particular hour we arrived towards the end of dinner to discover the assembled company in a very sombre state. The poor sad lady had not uttered a word all evening. The arrival of the Kilt had an astonishing impact. Husband à l’Etranger whose beard had grown into a bushy affair after three months of gardening leave really doesn’t have to try hard to resemble one of the main cast of ‘Whisky Galore’ with his wild red hair, and particularly with a bottle of GlenLivet to hand. But six years in France also have honed his senses to arrive perfectly in time for the cheese course.


Whisky Galore, the film with James Robert Justice

The ‘triste ‘ lady at the table looked up in astonishment at the wild Scotsman whilst the other rather chic lady with a penchant for Phillipes (currently  number three) launched into a thousand questions, the primary being whether the Scots really didn’t wear undergarments under their national dress! Our generous hosts laid the table with more cheese plates and we set to work on a very fine Livarot and a velvety red.


But what really livened up the party was when I recounted to the table how Husband à l’Etranger had caused a rumpus during our Christmas visit to the family in England when my dear father-in-law brought dessert to the table before the cheese defying all french convention. Father-in -Law tucked into his dessert, whilst frenchified Husband à l’Etranger held out an agonising hour for all traces of sweetness to have disappeared from his palate before belatedly savouring his cheese, having tried unsuccessfully to convert father-in-law à la français.

If you really want to get a group of very glum French people talking all at once, try telling them that the English eat pudding before their Stilton and you will create havoc,  declarations that the English are catagorically “fou” (mad), barbarians and lacking in all forms of civilisation.

It was enough to even draw words from our very “triste” companion.

Bonne Année!


6 thoughts on “Passe-moi le Fromage! Irreconcilable differences.

  1. Many years ago, from Australia and working as an English language assistant in two French collèges, I was lucky enough to be asked to accompany an overseas student trip to England. The teaching staff were billeted out in pairs. My French colleague and I were called down to high tea at 5pm on the first day of our arrival. There, laid out for us in our English hosts’ formal dining room was a magnificent spread of mince pies, Sao biscuits, cheese and sweet scones. The tea was served in a beautiful china tea set. Quite gourmande myself, I hoed into the feast. My French colleague picked at a few dry biscuits, unsure as to whether she was eating afternoon tea or dinner and unable to force herself to eat such a collection of disparate foods – and went hungry until the morning. I can appreciate hubby à l’étranger’s dilemma!
    Regards, Catherine


    • Ooh, going to bed on a couple of dried biscuits. My heart goes out to that poor french woman. It’s always difficult staying somewhere for the first time and not knowing the system. I have once filled up on the food at the table only to discover that it was only the entrée!! How funny!


      • Ok. Confession time. It wasn’t me on that occasion, but on my very first morning in France (lucky enough to have been picked up at the train station in Grenoble by a friend I had made whilst youth Hostelling in Australia) I was served tea. A cup of tea. In a very big bowl. There were no spoons around but it did not seem right to pick this thing up with my two hands and drink away. No-one else was drinking. I waited until my friend and her mother both went out of the room, picked the bowl up and slurped done the tea as quickly as I could. Yes, I soon discovered that that was the appropriate way to do things (minus the slurping) but the agony of those few minutes not knowing what to do, not wanting to ask and not wanting to be impolite…


  2. How very true – we were standing on an indoor tennis court a week before Christmas drinking champagne at 11pm – yes it’s quite true! It was the end of the ladies team coaching lesson and our 15 year old daughter plays on their team. Conversation was normal, discussing upcoming matches etc until someone mentioned food and everyone turned to us to ask what we would eat for Christmas. There were many pre-conceived ideas – apparently the English always eat beans for breakfast, scrambled eggs every Sunday evening and we drink wine with everything at all the wrong times! We took it all with good humour and much laughter was involved. I had great pleasure giving our coach some mince pies a couple of days later, traditional English Christmas food, he told me his whole family loved them!


    • I love moments like that. Our french friends loved the Haggis. Unlike the english they weren’t revolted by the idea of it being in a stomach casing and came back for second and third helpings. They were so keen that our own kids agreed to try it for the first time. They liked the mince pies too although they didn’t go down at all well when we made them for the kids school. Happy New year to you too. Looking forward to hearing about more of your exploits!


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