Sunday, July 10, 2016

Famous things that are not "French"

When you go to France the first time or when you otherwise make an effort to learn about French food and culture, you find out that a lot of foods and other things that we call "French" here in the US aren't at all French. I'm starting a list. Further suggestions welcome!
Not French!
  • First and foremost: "French Dressing." It's antithetical to the style of dressing that French people use on their salads. When you eat in the home of a French person, in a restaurant, or in a cafe in France, your salad (what we would call green salad or tossed salad) will be served with vinaigrette dressing. For some salads such as fish salad a French cook might use mayonnaise (often hand made). There is absolutely nothing like American bottled French dressing in France.

  • French fries are popular in France as they are in most places, but the French actually associate them more with Belgian cuisine than with their own. The term "French" has been used for fried food for at least two centuries, and lots of histories have been written.

  • French bread from some American bakeries bears a reasonable similarity to the bread from a French bakery. However, the term is abused so much that I doubt if most casual shoppers have any idea of how crisp the real thing is -- nor how easily it goes stale. 
Does this come out like the bread at the local French bakery?
I don't know.
  • Croissants also have morphed considerably since they became a staple of American cafes and then of fast food. Unfortunately on my most recent trip to France I had a few croissants at a hotel breakfast buffet that were as bad and not-fresh as many poor imitations at home.
Not French!
Invented in Italy
  • French Press coffee makers were first invented and patented in Italy by designer Attilio Calimani in 1929 according to Wikipedia. The device is called "French Press" in the US and Canada. In France the term is "cafetière à piston."

  • French beans are a skinny, tasty variety of green beans. In some cases, they are ordinary green beans that have been picked before they got too huge and woody. I have eaten them in France, but I'm not sure they are totally unique to France.

  • "French leave" is not a particularly modern idiom, but it comes to mind as a curiosity. According to the online Free Dictionary, French Leave is "To leave without saying good-bye. The British thought that sneaking away from a gathering without telling anyone you're going wasn't acceptable manners across the channel. Curiously, or perhaps typically, the French refer to the same practice as filer a` l'anglais ('take English leave'). Americans used to use the phrase without knowing its origin. It has been said that the French leave but never say good-bye, while Americans say good-bye but never leave. 'French leave' is also military slang for deserting."

Brigitte Bardot long ago wore her hair
up which might have encouraged the idea
that this was a unique French style.
  • "French twist," "French roll," and "French braid" are hairstyles whose popularity comes and goes. This is one case where I didn't get any information from a web search asking why they are called "French." I speculate that these elaborate or fairly formal styles got the name because we associate any high-end style with French couture, which dominated fashion for a couple of centuries and maybe still does (I'm no expert, but I think not so much any more).

  • I'll skip "French kiss." Some things are best viewed as unsolved mysteries.

  • French's mustard: a totally different story:
                    A trademark based on the maker's name.


Debra Eliotseats said...

I am officially renaming my coffee pot to "cafetière à piston." :) Good post.

Paulita said...

What a fun post. I call my French Press a Press Pot and totally left out the French part.
How about French toast? I don't imagine the French would fix toast that way.
I'd love it if you played along with Dreaming of France today. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

Mae Travels said...

Paulita -- Since French bread goes stale in hours, and they feel it goes against the grain to waste bread, they definitely do dip stale bread in egg and fry it or bake it. They call it "pain perdu" meaning "lost bread." So I would not say it's totally "not French" like Kraft French Dressing or a Croissanwich!

Paulita said...

Mae, Thanks for the French bread explanation and for playing along with Dreaming of France.

Jeanie said...

I had NO idea about the French press! Or some of the others, but I was good with French's mustard! Fun post. (And you're right -- no matter how hard they try, Americans haven't mastered French bread. Close sometimes, but no mastery!)

Esme said...

This was fun-some I knew-others I did not. The French would be horrified to see the French dressing. I am a little confused of the new cronut. That is best left alone.