Choose your friends by the way they eat
Some people think the worst words in the language are “rail replacement bus service”. But not me. I think the worst words in the language are, “I’m not having a starter.” When my friend A asked for more butter in the restaurant where we had supper together the other night – the butter we’d already been given to spread on our sourdough had not yet, you understand, entirely disappeared, but as she informed our waiter, she wanted to be certain that more would be immediately forthcoming – I remembered all over again why we are such pals. She likes to eat. I like to eat. When we’re on the town, there will never come a time when she has to wait it out while I scoff, say, a small mountain of crisp, lightly battered squid. More to the point, I will never have to lie and insist that, no, no, honestly, I didn’t really want the crisp, lightly battered squid in the first place.
To me, the way A eats speaks loudly of the rest of her: she is, in other words, generous, straightforward, easy in her own body, sensual, capable of just the right kind of extravagance. Also, witty (the waiter laughed out loud). But then, I’ve long read people by their habits at the table.
I’m sure there are fussy types out there who are great fun; theoretically, I suppose it’s entirely possible that someone with a morbid fear of pasta or cake might be neither clenched nor a tiny bit boring. Somehow, though, I can’t quite see it – and besides, how are you supposed to bond with another human if not over a plate of penne or parkin? Walking is good, but you can’t really do that at night. Sex is also good, but you can’t do that with everyone. Rule out these activities, and all that’s left of an evening, it seems to me, is to find a place where the salad is properly dressed and the waiter knows the meaning of the word “rare”, and to eat together, heartily.
I’m not the only one who sees things like this. On holiday, a friend of a friend related for my amusement selected highlights from the recently published memoirs of the former French president, François Hollande. In the book, which is called, somewhat unexcitingly, The Lessons of Power , Hollande throws shade at Barack Obama by describing his distinct lack of enthusiasm in the matter of dinner. Apparently, he never once saw Obama have pudding. Even worse, offered a selection of magnificent
Surely a man cannot love life if he does not also love cherry clafoutis?
fromages during a state dinner, the American president opted – c’est
scandaleux – for only one thin slice of perfect ripeness, and there on his plate this pathetic sliver remained for the rest of the evening.
What does this tell us about Obama? Perhaps it suggests to you that he wanted to keep his undoubtedly slinky figure. M Hollande, however, wonders if it doesn’t betoken a certain chilliness. The basic message is: surely a man cannot love life if he does not also love cherry clafoutis and Epoisses de Bourgogne?
In truth, of course, this says as much, if not more, about Hollande than it does about Obama – and only good things, I think. Certainly, it puts his much-mocked outings by scooter to visit his lover, Julie Gayet, in a whole new light, or it does for me. At the time, I found it comical that his bodyguard would arrive the next morning bearing croissants; such a pastry delivery service seemed a bit Pooterish to me, and therefore distinctly unsexy. (I remember sarcastically asking a friend if she thought he ever mixed it up by delivering the odd brioche or a couple of pains au chocolat instead.)
But I’m with François now, all the way to the bistro and beyond. Appetite is so important. Just as you want a friend who likes butter on her bread, so you want a lover who thinks breakfast is worth taking time over. (And lunch. And dinner.) I’m not sure about crumbs in the bedroom. I’m fastidious enough to hope Hollande and his mistress got up to drink their coffee. But I am absolutely certain that a man who notices what another man leaves on his plate has some of his priorities right, if not all.