23 September 2011

Bon Appétit

The other day Maïf and I were having dinner out at our little roadside table between the apple tree and the garden. As a car went by, the driver said, "Bon appétit!"

Another time, I was sitting on the floor under a staircase at the Zürich train station, balancing a sloppy sandwich on my thigh while uncorking a half-bottle of wine. I must have looked like a down-and-out clochard (bum), except for my open laptop. Nevertheless, when a woman in a business suit looked over, she smiled and said, "Bon appétit."

And it's not unusual, when I'm having lunch on a bench by Lac de Neuchâtel, for older women walking their dogs to wish me the same. Train conductors do it too. Even in the grocery store if you buy a sandwich around lunchtime, the cashier will wish you bon appétit. And anytime, anywhere, when Maïf and I begin a meal, whether it's a fine restaurant or movie night on the bed, she never fails to say in a musical way, "bon appétit!"

I love this about Switzerland, and Europe in general, and Maïf in particular -- people wishing you a good meal as a blessing. Of course this says something about the reverence for good food here.

Which is a convenient segué to the cheese room of Neuchâtel's grand old restaurant,  L'Hôtel du Peyrou. Finished in 1771, this mansion of a cantonal kingpin, is now one of the city's best restaurants. I got to go recently for my precocious mother-in-law's 85th birthday. After the main course, guests are led like happy supplicants to communion into the refrigerated air of la chambre du fromage. There, your waiter cuts you a small slice of whatever cheeses you choose. I got the impression that it was rude of me to only take three cheeses. Everybody else got eight or nine. Fortunately, even after 16 months here, I'm still given grace for being an American.

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