Les écharpes, le fromage et café crème (scarves, cheese and espresso with cream)

It’s the little things.

I noticed trois choses très français during my trip to France this summer. Number one: les écharpes. Everywhere I went with my husband, despite the warm temperatures of l’été, women (and men) of all ages and sizes wore them without effort and with no fuss, looking natural, cool and oh so French.

While the most common are a simple gray or brown, I saw a variety of colors, textures, and patterns. Here in the USA, Madame Marie-Helene, mon prof de français, has a collection. All are very pretty and look perfect on her. I have a collection, too, but rarely wear them, though I did when I was younger. Pourquoi? Je ne sais pas.

Number two: le fromage. One day, as guests of a family in Lyon, we visited Les Halles de Lyon, a huge indoor food market offering meats, poultry (with heads on), fish, foie gras, many prepared dishes and of course, incredible desserts like tarts, cakes and macarons. Also available are a zillion varieties of cheese, a staple in the French diet that is served after the main meal.

On our last evening in France, we were dinner guests in a Parisian home. After the appetizer, fish and salad, our hosts, a married couple, served a cheese plate and urged us to try a bit of everything. The cheeses were delicious and unlike any I had ever tasted in America. When we finished, they politely offered to pass the plate again; my husband and I thanked them but declined. Then Madame explained with satisfaction that we had passed the test: according to French etiquette, if one takes a second helping from the cheese plate, it means one has not been well fed at the meal (and we had been very well fed).

Number Three: café crème. Unlike café au lait, cream is used instead of milk. A must for petit déjeuner, along with yogurt or fruit and a croissant or pain au chocolat. C’est bon.

The protagonist of my novel (coming out soon) adapts well to France. She drinks café au lait instead of café crème, eats le fromage and wears écharpes.

Three little things that haven’t changed much in decades, and that make une grande différence.

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