The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published June 14, 2003.)

Call me disloyal, say I'm unpatriotic, charge me with being a turncoat. I feel about the French the way we all feel about difficult members of our family: They are infuriating but we love them anyway.

Following are some notes I made -- mostly about French food:

Whatever else you think about the French, they are incomparably better with food than the people of any other country. They enjoy it more. They savor each morsel and make an event of the simplest meal. Americans gulp it down on the run.

At noon in France, you see people everywhere walking home for lunch with long sticks of crusty bread under their arms. French bread is so much better than ours that we should be ashamed of ourselves for Wonder Bread. Their cheese and their fruit are served soft and ripe. Too often our fruit is green and our cheese hard.

During a recent trip, Margie and I ate in Alain Ducasse's restaurant at Hotel Plaza Athenee in Paris, considered by some to be the best restaurant in the world. It was a wonderful experience.

Wine costs more in a restaurant where the waiter leaves it on its side in one of those wine servers than it does if he stands the bottle in the middle of your table. A French waiter puts less wine in a glass than a waiter does in a New York restaurant, so a bottle seems to last longer.

Several restaurants we ate in served both sweet and salted butter. That's classy.

The charm of truffles escapes me.

Dinner in any good restaurant in Paris costs almost twice as much as it would here. I don't know how Parisians afford to live in Paris. Everything costs more. I priced men's shirts in a store on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honore and they were 120 Euros each. One Euro, the money system that has replaced francs and other European currency, cost $1.19 when we were there. I didn't buy a shirt.

We went to the French Open one day. Out back, I had an ice cream bar for $6.

Ice cream is the only food better here than in France. Theirs is more like frozen custard.

One restaurant served "Curdled ewe milk, caramel-parfait honey ice cream." Vanilla will be fine, thanks.

I wanted to see the prices of basic groceries like sugar, flour, meat and vegetables so I asked the people at the desk in our hotel where I could find a supermarket nearby. The two men looked at each other and shook their heads. There are no supermarkets in Paris. To some extent, this is true of New York, too. The markets in the suburbs are much better and more super than those in the city. New Yorkers, like Parisians, often shop at the little store around the corner on their block.

We made dinner reservations for 8 p.m. every night and we were always the first ones in the restaurant. The place gradually filled up by 10 p.m. I don't understand what time people get up and go to work if they don't finish dinner until midnight.

French food is better than French plumbing -- but I don't want to go into the details.

Restaurants include a tip on the check for "service" -- usually 18 percent. It makes it easier for those of us who are never sure how much to tip. I think that's almost everyone.

I am alternately charmed and infuriated by the French, but I like to go to a foreign country once in a while to make sure I still like it better here. I only go to countries I've been to before and I spent a year of my life in France during World War II. You don't get over spending a year in France when you were 23.

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