Friday, November 5, 2010

Fridays in France

One thing you have to keep in mind when comparing the U.S. to any other country is:  we’re pretty damn big, geographically speaking.  

France is a little smaller than the state of Texas.  But wheras Texas has a population of 25 million.  France has almost triple with 62 million people living in the same area.  Talk about cramped quarters. 
Especially when most of the population is centered around the biggest cities.  In fact - one sixth of France can be found in and surrounding Paris.  (where I live)

Yeah- In case you were wondering - Das a lot uh people.

In order to accommodate everyone, the government built lots of absolutely ugly shoddy sky rise apartments (outside of Paris, so as not to disrupt the beauty of the city).   Houses and apartments are built smaller and are getting smaller every year. Most places don’t have yards and if they do, there’s a barrier built around it so that nobody can see into your business or easily get into your house.

Roads are small.  Cars are smaller.  Those stereotypical French mini cars aren’t just for show- they’re a necessity.  And, ofcourse, French kitchens are just ridiculous.  My fridge is about half the size of an American fridge-  same goes for my washer and dryer.  When I cook a turkey in my oven, it looks like I’m roasting a human.   The cabinet sizes in my apartment are pitiful.  Which brings me to what I originally set out to talk about today:

Portion sizes.  Little French house + little French kitchens = little French products.

With the small country, small roads, cars, and houses- it’s almost bizarre that the people aren’t smaller here than in the U.S.  But then again ,they sort of are-  in width rather than height if ya get mah drift.

Boxes of cereal here are about the size of a regular hard cover book.  Boxes of rice about the size of a paperback.  (I knew you writers would get these references:)

In the photo below I have French products on one side and a couple American products I brought home on the other.  I can fit a box of cereal, a box of milk (because we don’t buy it fresh in jugs but rather sterilized in small 1 liter cartons) and a bottle of soda  in the same area as an American bottle of mustard, jar of peanut butter and maple syrup container.

Here we have a jar of peanut butter taken from the U.S.  and the jar of fluff taken from France.  See the difference?  I can’t even fit my peanut butter into my cabinet for crying out loud.

Which is why I’m almost freaked out by the enormous quantities offered in the supermarkets when I go back home to the U.S.  Don’t even mention Sam’s club.  It makes my palms sweat.  Whenever I went grocery shopping those first few weeks home I kept wondering how the hell my parents planned on fitting everything into their cabinets.  I’d forgotten storage space in American homes are about the size of my bathroom here.  And it’s not just food.  Bathing products like soap and shampoo are all sold in smaller bottles here than in the U.S.

Even though I gotta say american homes/cars/countrysides are so much more comfortable than the french and really inspire 'the BIG american dream' in most european countries- humans make due with the little space their given.   If only we could be like those crocodiles or gold fish that only get as big as their environment allows.  But then again, if that were the case- the french would be midgets.  


40 comments:

Jen Daiker said...

This was such a super fun post! I loved it! Getting to learn a little bit more about France.

I always knew that our country was bigger (and even bigger in Texas) but my oh my, I never realized the size.

Moving from Iowa to Texas was a change for me, I can't imagine a different country. Watching someone order a medium drink in a drive thru and have an extra-large-super-size-over-size thing come out... I want to puke, then I order a small and end up with something that looks like a large (in Iowa).

And Texas wonders why they are overweight... tisk tisk.

Janet Johnson said...

But isn't peanut butter worth the hassle? ;) Very fun post. When my French friend came to visit, she was absolutely horrified at all the SUV's. But oh, how she loved the supermarket.

Very fun post!

Joanna St. James said...

Ha ha I feel you, u know we dont even have a mcdonalds in corsica? and since we have not been here for up to 6 weeks i am still mourning the loss of a backyard with a swingset or proper parking space.
my teeny (thankfully automatic) car is so tiny my son has to spread his legs open so the seat in front does not crush his legs.

Jessica Bell said...

Oh my god I can so relate. Athens is full of ugly highrises to accompdate the ridiculously high population. And apartments are getting smaller and smaller. A bedsit nowadays, which costs around 350 euro a month, can be as small as 25 square meters. Hello? Isn't that the size of a bedroom? Where the hell does the kitchen, bathroom and wardbrobe go? But it works ... somehow ...
PS: I've got a giveaway going. Drop by and enter, hon!

LTM said...

so do you eat less??? :D sounds like except for the tiny streets it's very much like living in Manhattan... Although I wonder if Parisians pay as much for their tiny little spaces. Hey... aren't most NYers skinny also? I suddenly have an idea for a new "fad diet" book~ ;p

Alesa Warcan said...

Totally true! A regular sized bag of chips in southern US is the size of a French plastic grocery bag!
During my latest trip to the US I wanted to taste some Hawaian punch (hadn't tasted any since I was a child)... The smallest quantity I could find at the store was 2 gallons... I wound up getting some at soda fountain in a gas station... But the smallest soda cup was still huge. I explained what I wanted and why to the soda lady and she kindly said "Tell you what sugar, why don't I just pour you some in this here coffee cup (a dixie cup), and we keep it our little secret." And so the kind soda lady gave me a free dixie cup of tongue staining nuclear pink liquid. : j

One work around for peanut butter is to make your own.

I have a number of friends who have converted to this... They found it too inconvenient to bring back their own and too costly to buy imported.

Go to Tang Frères or Paris Store to get unsalted peanuts in 500g or kilo packs, and then stick 'em in the blender with a trickle of peanut oil. You can even experiment with adding flavors to your PB, some sesame tahini gives it a creamier softer taster, nutmeg was... interesting (but not a success), cinnamon was good, basically you can try anything that grabs your fancy. : j
The asian stores I mentioned above also stock in garlic and salt roasted cashews that makes a spread you wouldn't believe!

And homemade nut butters keep pretty well too.

Carolyn Abiad said...

:) I was scarred by the front-loading mini sized washers overseas. When they front-loaders came out here, I ran the other way!

Totally missed the peanut butter too, but in Turkey they mix tahini with grape molasses and it tastes kind of similar. Almost. Try tahini with sirop de liege maybe?

Carolyn Abiad said...

Funny...I was writing the substitutes at the same time as Alesa! Expat minds work alike I guess. :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm betting the French don't buy as many useless products as in North America. There'd be nowhere to put it!

Creepy Query Girl said...

Thanks Alesa- I haven't tried making my own. But LIDL does have an american week every once in a while and theyve got the best and cheapest peanut butter I've found in france so far. They also sell things like bottled salad dressings, cranberry juice (for cheap, not like the mini ocean spray that costs a fortune) pancake mix, etc...

Summer Ross said...

I think I'd start feeling closed in. I've often wanted to go see France, ever thought of actually living there..lol That would be rough to get used to.

Matthew Rush said...

I wonder if this has anything to do with why I'm so fat? Probably.

Dawn said...

I love this journey into your world. Thank you!
PS - Totally agree with you about Damon's hair...

Meredith said...

Haha, it sounds like my tiny apartment when I lived in New York! So interesting--I never knew French products were so much smaller.

Nicole Zoltack said...

Interesting... I never knew that about French products.

Bekah said...

I watch House Hunters International, and I've seen some of the homes across Europe and man, I wonder how you even cook. Some of the places, which are so neat, are 3-400 years old and there is no counter space.I only cook for me and my husband so it's actually really hard to find food that won't spoil because it comes in big packages.

Quinn said...

That cereal box is way way too small!

interesting to learn more about your life in France.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I so know what you're talking about! When I got back to the states after living in France for a year, I walked into a Fred Meyer and thought, "No building on earth needs to be this big. Except Costco, because that's sort of their thing. But Fred Meyer?"
And then when I actually went into a costco, I almost had a heart attack from the space. :)

Candyland said...

Wow! I didn't know things were smaller over there. That's cool. I like tiny foods.

Laura Pauling said...

No wonder people go into culture shock in different countries - life can be so different, with the small stuff too!

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I find these posts absolutely fascinating! Keep 'em coming! :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I remember products in England were smaller as well. And the milk came in little cartons. I guess you guys don't buy toilet paper by the case, do you?

Lenny Lee! said...

hi miss katie! im really liking hearing about where you live. yikes for me having 4 brothers and 1 sister it would for sure be cramped up for space. my brothers eat so much we be putting stuff under beds and on the roof. ha ha.
have a real fun weekend.
...hugs from lenny

Hart Johnson said...

It seems so nuts to me... but there are other realities that go with it. Here in Ann Arbor my closes grocery store is about half a mile... not far... but that is the EXPENSIVE IN TOWN grocery. To go to an economical grocery I have to go 3 miles. At that distance it makes sense for me not to have to shop as often (did I mention my family of 4 drinks 4 gallons of milk a week? Skim, but still... do you KNOW how many liters that is? About 16 if I have my conversions right. (and I only have about 12 oz. a day)

Portland is set up so it could function like a European city (a grocery every few blocks, efficient public transit--probably some of the big east coast cities are, too. But suburban and rural America need their storage! teehee

Old Kitty said...

Here I am thinking french stuff is packed in BIGGER jars/cartons/boxes/plastic etc than in the UK!! LOL!!!

Do you think the smaller the geographical size of a nation the smaller the portions of food?!?!?!?! What a thought! Take care
x

StaceyW said...

That last line really cracked me up.

Also funny to compare the size of France to the size of Texas - ya know, since "everything's bigger in Texas." It really is, too. Houses, cars, belt buckles, hair. Among other things. I lived in Dallas for a while and worked at Victoria's Secret while looking for a writing job. Let's just say that when the hundredth customer came in asking for a 32DD bra, I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming, "You know why we don't carry that size? Because it doesn't actually exist IN NATURE!!!

Maybe I was just jealous. ;-)

Vicki Rocho said...

Yay for another Life in France installment!

Smaller packages might be a pain, but I bet you have a lot less waste, eh? Not enough food in those packages to go bad before you've had the chance to eat it.

Can't wait for the next post!

Colene Murphy said...

WOW! The differences are crazy mind-blowing. I can't...wow...Amazing.
You must be a tough bird to have changed your way of life like that.

KarenG said...

What an interesting post! Sometimes I think we Americans could learn a lot from living in Europe for awhile. I'd love the chance.

Melissa said...

WOw this is fascinating! Absolutely crazy fascinating.

The weird thing is though, is that in Canada... we have A LOT of space. I mean, we have the second biggest country in the world but California has a bigger population than all of Canada. If you go by your logic we should have WAY bigger sizes. But we don't. I mean, we have bigger stuff than in Europe but not as big as American things. We take the middle ground *Don't we always*.

I think the giant sizes in AMerica really do have a lot to the BIG american dream....

Susan Fields said...

Very interesting. I guess you have to shop more often? I can't imagine a box of cereal that size would last long around my kids.

Susan Fields said...

Very interesting. I guess you have to shop more often? I can't imagine a box of cereal that size would last long around my kids.

Melissa Gill said...

Love this post. It's unreal how portion sizes have gotten out of hand here in the US. It used to be a treat to get a 12 oz bottle of Coke, now 20 oz is standard.

Jamie Gibbs (Mithril Wisdom) said...

I think the UK is more similar to the US in terms of portion sizes than the continent. I noticed the smaller sizes in France and Italy, and I much prefer these over the bulkier sizes of UK products.

Amy DeTrempe said...

How very interesting. The two times I've been lucky enough to visit Paris I didn't notice the difference and I was in a supermarket a few times. I will be more observant next time. Then again, I was more interested in the sightes than what was being sold in the grocery store.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Compact and bijou? The economy of space is essential. Even the sky is smaller over here (I made the observation that the sky was bigger - because you could see more of it - in Australia.)
When we were talking about holidaying in America I told my partner where I wanted to fly-drive to - her said it would take at least a month but it was just a liddle-biddy bit a coast. ;0

Clara said...

Kd I absolutely loved this! I too went through the delights *ahem* of changing countries, but actually, in Brazil, everything is smaller then in Switzerland. Sometimes I catch myself thinking how did I manage to survive back then, being almost 6 foot tall!

Medeia Sharif said...

Wow, now I feel like a glutton, but in a good way.

Fluff looks interesting.

Julie Musil said...

Wow! I had no idea! I push around one of those giant carts through Costco, because I have three hearty boys and buy lots of stuff in bulk. I guess I couldn't do that in France. I watch "House Hunters International" on HGTV, and I'm amazed at the small European kitchens.

What a fun post!

notesfromnadir said...

Guess you can't find 64 oz Big Gulps in your area?

I also had no idea that France was that crowded.

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