In the second part of her blog Footprints in Grenoble, American student Aleigha Page talks about French mealtime etiquette and her favourite establishments for desserts, coffee and people-watching.
Studying abroad in Grenoble is by far one of the best life choices I have made. I have been able to learn about and live in a new city that prior to the study abroad process, I had never heard of. In my opinion, Grenoble is the perfect size city for study abroad. It is large enough to offer variety, but yet it is small enough so that it is not overwhelming. The centre ville (city center) is where most of the stores, restaurants, cafés, pubs, and nightlife are. I live in the centre ville and therefore I am within walking distance of everything I need: places to shop, cafés, and nightlife.
In French fashion, Grenoble is replete with cafés, offering in and out door sitting. One of my personal goals for studying abroad was to establish a regular café. I shopped around for my café during my early weeks, and I found it. Pain & Cie is my favorite café in Grenoble because it is large and spacious, offering a warm atmosphere. The interior has hardwood floors, stone walls, and an unfinished wooden ceiling. The tables are made of thick wood with metal chairs. The coffee they serve here is organic, and on every table is a glass filled with white and brown sugar cubes. I generally order an espresso but, once a week, I treat myself to a café au lait, which is coffee and steamed milk, and it is served in a bowl here. I throw in a couple of sugar cubes and stir them around the foam. The desserts at Pain & Cie are delicious. I do not know the exact name of my favorite dessert here, but it is a multiple layered chocolate creation. Three of the layers are cake, two are a chocolate mousse, a few thin layers of caramel, and then, the bottom layer is a textured, nutty tasting layer. I have made speculations that it is either a praline mousse, or a hazelnut spread. For chocolate lovers, this cake is a must on your to-do list. Not a big chocolate fan? No worries, because they have cheese cake that is absolutely divine, but I am sure any of their wide selections are equally delicious.
As for nightlife, Grenoble is full of places to find a pint of beer or a glass of wine. One of my favorite pubs is The Subway Bar, which attracts a hip, sporty crowd of French students. The drinks are very inexpensive here – I can get a pint for three euros, and they have a “cocktail of the week” for two euros, which are excellent choices for a student budget. London Pub is another I enjoy because of their atmosphere. It is London-themed, and covered in British memorabilia – Beatles posters, pictures of Big Ben, football tournaments, etc. There is always a huge crowd here, which makes for a fun night. My final favorite place is Tord Bayeaux, literally ‘twisted guts’ or ‘rotgut’. This bar has a wall filled with little barrels of strange wine flavors. My favorite flavor is a green, apple kiwi wine, which tastes like hard candy. They also play fun music here, such as the Lion King song “Hakuna Ma Tata”.
I enjoy promenading around the centre ville, without any particular direction, weaving in and out of stores to see what they have on display. On warm, sunny days, there are always lots of people sitting outside cafés, on benches, or walking around. I think it is very interesting to pick a park bench and people watch. I am continuously fascinated to see what people are wearing, how they wear it, and their interaction with others. One observation I have made is that I see fewer people walking around with a cell phone attached to their ear than I do in the US. Granted, I do see the phones out quite a bit, but not as frequently compared to where I live. There is always a vendor nearby to purchase a gauffre (waffle) or crêpe to munch on while people-watching.
Long before settling on Grenoble for my study abroad destination, I always knew that I wanted to live with a host family, because they can offer aspects of French culture far better than I could pick up living on my own. Dinner time is when I spend the most time with my host parents, and it usually lasts an hour. I have been able to learn French mealtime etiquette, and several traditional dishes. Etiquette is very important to the French – even at the campus cafeteria and an elementary school I visited they use all three eating utensils and eat in three courses. The French typically have wine or water with their dinners, and bread on the side. The hostess serves the wine, and will ask if you would like more. Never ask, and never, ever, touch the wine bottle. For bread, leave it to the side of the plate on the table, and tear off small bits. Do not eat it whole. A salad is served as the first course, or the entrée. Le plat principal (main dish) generally consists of a meat and vegetable, or quiche with my host family. Dessert can range from a cup of pudding to fruit to a homemade dish. I love that the French treat their food so respectfully and make meal time feel special.
My time here in Grenoble is quickly winding down, but the experience has been amazing. I have made friends that I am sure will last a lifetime because there are no other people who will ever 100% understand my stories about studying here other than those with whom I made these memories. Aside from learning French and about France, I have learned quite a bit about myself. Being outside of the bubble that is my life, I have had the time to reflect on what I want out of my life, who matters in my life, and what I want to accomplish. Studying abroad has not only opened my eyes to a new culture, but also to a new aspect of me.