Eating, Some Years Abroad and the Francophone Pace

By Stephanie Audette
Fresh produce in Saint-Paul de Vence, all photos by Stephanie Audette.

Following an overseas job offer, my parents made the decision to move our family of four across the Atlantic Ocean; from that point on I had a broadened sense of the world beyond the lakes of Minnesota. As a kid growing up in a small town in Switzerland I didn’t realize that my perspective on life would be forever changed. My family changed as well as a result of the move, but it wasn’t until I really thought about it, comparing us to other American friends that I really noticed. Food seemed to be a recurring point of difference, one that became increasingly apparent after we moved back to our fast food nation.

We rarely eat out. My mom goes grocery shopping frequently to replenish our forever dwindling supply of fresh fruits and vegetables.

A market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

Back in the U.S., I noticed right away how much fast food my friends ate, usually to accommodate a schedule packed with dance lessons, piano recitals, and soccer tournaments. Everything seemed so hectic and rushed. I was starting fifth grade and was already behind. I had missed three crucial years of competitive sports and activities. At age ten I had been to more countries than I had states, but traveling didn’t exactly fit into the list of approved extracurriculars.

Raised for three years abroad, I knew I would go back someday. Despite the occasional inconvenience and feelings of frustration that usually accompany waiting in a line somewhere like the post office or the grocery store, Europe and its French-speaking countries will always hold a particular charm for me, a special place in my heart. I have never been as sure of anything in my life as I was when I made the decision to return. I spent my junior year of college studying and interning in Montpellier, France. I had been collecting pamphlets and planning for this move since my freshman year and before I knew it my second stint abroad had come and gone.

It was the year of my life and I would do it again in a heartbeat if I could. In that year I learned more than just a second language – I had adjusted (for the second time) to a whole new set of cultural norms without even really noticing.
Michèle Combes, with whom Audette stayed, preparing a “tarte aux tomates,” basically a tomato mozzarella pizza, made with mustard and fresh herbes de provence, proving that preparing a healthy meal doesn’t always have to be time-consuming or complicated.
Tarte aux tomates.
Audette says: “One photo in the bunch makes me smile every time I look at it. It’s taken at the top of a mountain on a day spent hiking with Michèle, her brother Alain, above and Alain’s girlfriend Christine. Anyway, the funny anecdote that goes with the picture is that he brought a backpack with him on the hike in order to bring a bottle of wine, glasses and a baguette. A true Frenchman in every sense of the word, he was not going to be caught without the necessary makings of a proper meal. What an American would think to pack on a day trip like this would absolutely mystify these people, whom I got to know so well. A granola bar? What’s that?”

Read Stephanie’s full story, Le Temps Perdu.