IT hardly seems wise to give the French yet another reason to feel superior. Still, the Globe and Mail couldn’t resist last week, suggesting that France is now the official epicentre of joie de vivre.
That was according to one of those reports that always hit the paper on Tuesdays. This particular “overview of social trends” arrived courtesy of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). FYI, the OECD’s a “Paris-based group that evaluates government policies and their impact on society."
Ignoring the highly relevant “Paris-based” factor, the Globe swallowed the bait, hook, line and sinker. Apparently the OECD had measured how much time citizens of 18 countries spent on leisure, and, in particular, how long they lingered over their meals. The French won the lifestyle sweepstakes by eating and drinking for more hours per day (2.5) than any other country worth mentioning, while simultaneously remaining thinner. (The Norwegians proved to be the most dedicated to non-work activities like hobbies and sports, but honestly, how boring.)
Obviously this was serious scientific research.
I pictured the project’s directeur (M. Pepé Le Pew) explaining the outlandish expense claims submitted by himself and his staff. “Well, ’ow else can we gain eensight eento zee eating ’abits of people around zee world zan by traveling zere togezzer and eating all zee time?” he must have asked his superior rhetorically. “By zee way, next year, we will be tackling zee topic of who makes zee most love. We ’ave already completed half zee research on zese same travels! Vive la France!”
The OECD’s findings clearly represent a crushing defeat for Italy. The Italians have tried hard for the crown, by being chic and voluble and serving food that everybody genuinely likes. Yet mealtimes in Italy apparently average a pathetic 118 minutes daily. Those grandmothers who do all the cooking there have some explaining to do.
Third place went to Korea. Now, this was unexpected. Korean food is tasty, I’ll grant you that, and lately quite trendy around the world. But Korean culture remains enigmatic to many of us. What are they up to, over their three squares, that demands a full 90 minutes? Enquiring minds may want to know, but the OECD -- naturellement -- does not explain.
After Korea came Australia. You’d think Australians would rank high, with their perpetual party hearty attitude. In fact, I’m surprised those Good Time Brucies didn’t crush the French like TV’s Bush Tucker Man used to pulverize tasty termites.
How to explain the mystery that Britain came fifth, though? Maybe the English, Irish and Scots got the edge through their drinking, for which they’re legendary. It’s impossible to believe they lollygag for a full 82 minutes a day over jellied eels and deep-fried Mars bars, even if the talk is of soccer and spankings. I can only assume that the snooty French researchers couldn’t bring themselves to personally observe the rumpled, crisp-gobbling occupants of the average pub, even for five minutes, so instead simply hung out at Jamie Oliver’s house.
After all, the Brits are the people who just figured out how to power the ecoF3 racing car with chocolate. Given the quality of most English sweets, a gas tank is the ideal place for them. But this move hardly suggests a reverence for the table. Do you think the French would waste foie gras on fuelling a Citroen?
You may notice that I’m in an especially insulting mood today, readers. I lash out because I’m humiliated. For, according to the OECD, behind France, Italy, Korea, Australia, Britain, Norway and the U.S.A. (you heard me) comes Canada.
It could be worse. In terms of how long we spend enjoying our repasts, we did beat out Mexico, land of tacos and other hand-held foodstuffs. What’s unforgivable is that we ostensibly award only 70 minutes daily to dining and trading bon mots, even less than our super-sized neighbour, the inventor of the fast food drive-through. That’s correct -- it turns out, we are worse dine-and-dashers than the country that gave the world McDonald’s, corn dogs, Carnation Instant Breakfast and microwave bacon.
This is truly embarrassing. We can win all the Best Country to Live In awards extant, but if we don’t know how to enjoy a good meal as well as a gloomy Norwegian -- have you seen Edvard Munch’s The Scream? -- what good is all that glory?
I know I’m going to have to justify Canada’s poor showing to our Olympic visitors next year. Some ruddy-faced dude in lederhosen will ask me politely for directions, then verbally pin me to the mat. “Yes, you Canadians have ‘lots of trees,’ as you keep insisting,” he’ll say. “But we understand your country is tragically lacking in joie de vivre, as evidenced by your brutally short dinnertimes. Explain -- schnell!”
“We just have so many great shows on television, we rush our dins,” I’ll say, giggling nervously. “Like Corner Gas -- a fascinating look at a small-town Saskatchewan gas station and diner patronized by hapless rubes. And our reality shows are, heh-heh, must-see TV. In The Week the Women Went, for instance, all the wives leave an Alberta town and their husbands are forced to boil up the Kraft Dinner and squirt out the ketchup servings themselves. You don’t dilly-dally over your Campbell’s soup and miss that!”
Oh, dear -- I’ve got to come up with something more credible. Some visitors will actually have seen Corner Gas.
Instead I’ll go with the 100 Mile Diet Defence. I’ll put on a self-righteous air (never a problem) before saying sternly, “You know, Canada is the home of the book The 100 Mile Diet. Those of us who care about our planet” -- here I’ll glower accusingly -- “feel we should only eat things that are grown or raised within 100 miles of our homes. As a result, it takes us all day to gather food for supper, which we do on foot or by bicycle because of Mother Earth and so forth. By the time we get our seaweed and cattail ragout on the table we’re too exhausted to talk about it.”
The critical European will doubtless blanch at the previously unrealized hardscrabble existence of Canadians. That’s when I’ll soothe him with a slightly bitter chuckle. “You know, it’s a lifestyle. You get used to it,” I’ll say, prying a bit of cattail from between my teeth and re-chewing it thoughtfully. “Let’s just say there’s little joie, but plenty de vivre.”