A Different Culinary Landscape

Last week I had to go on a one-hour bus trip to the neighboring city of Arles-SurTech for a preliminary interview. On my way there I saw something I hadn't seen yet during my stay in France: a McDonald's restaurant. This to me highlights one of the key differences between Perpignan and many cities in North America. In the United States and Canada you only need to drive around for about five minutes before running into a Burger King, a McDonald's, a Starbucks, a KFC or a Pizza Hut. Here you have to head for the highway.

The local population seems more content with eating croissants in the morning, taking their time to eat a sandwich for lunch, and going out for tapas in the evening. There are no endless lines at the drive-thru, no one is walking down the street with a latte that says "Warning: Hot," and there are no seagulls feasting on abandoned fries in parking lots. You could debate which food is healthier, but I haven't seen any morbidly obese person walking around yet. And I have been to New York City; I know what morbidly obese looks like.

It makes for a nice change to be able to walk to a restaurant and read a menu that you know will be different than other menus you have read before. If you go to McDonald's you know it will be the same thing as in every other McDonald's you have ever visited. Restaurant chains manufacture the same food and distribute it on a massive scale. Yesterday I went inside a sandwich shop called "Au P'tit Bout" (At the small piece of bread) and watched the owner take the meat out of the refrigerator to prepare my meal right then and there. As he was working, regulars came in and asked him what was good today. I have never heard that question at Pizza Hut.

On the other hand, the lack of advertising you see for fast food chains could be a downside for some of these restaurants. Today I entered a bakery for the first time where they sell quiches, pizzas, sandwiches and delicious-looking pastries. I had never been there and it had been right across from school the whole time. It is simply called "Patisserie – Confiserie" (Pastry – Candy Sore) and has a small hanging sign that says "Pain" (Bread) on the side. The place has no billboard, no visible sign on the front, and of course no glowing neon logo. You really have to get close to see what's in store.

Too bad, because if I have to choose between the place where they sell Happy Meals to children and the no-name restaurant where they sell quiches with pastries, I will pick the latter.

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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.