For those of you tired of my 'food talk,' I thought I'd open a new discussion. If you have never tried real escargots (bourguignon variety), don't knock 'em. I have some dear friends from Wisconsin, whom I visit frequently. I even had the pleasure of taking them to a pre-season Patriots game at Lambeau, where the Pats won 30-0 a few years back. I took them to a really nice restaurant in the Milwaukee riverfront and both of them and their kids cringed when I exclaimed about the pleasures of escargots. But at least two were (somewhat) game for the challenge. After the wife ate one (they were good), she practically swooned. Her husband then did, and was equally ecstatic. One of the kids refused to try, one did and said not bad (which translates as pretty damned good), and the other (oldest) said, 'um, pretty good.
I think because I grew up in a household where my mother hated food and cooked only meat loaf, turkey and fried flounder, I determined at an early age to be a cook and also to try most everything (I do have exceptions, but none in the seafood family).
To me, one of the best parts of a French (or Italian) meal is something that can frustrate Americans, even if it's lunch. If you want a fast meal, don't go to a fancy restaurant. French and Italians savor food (and I have neither French nor Italian blood in me, only Swiss, and I am not particularly fond of Swiss food) and want to linger over it, of course with wine. This is why even though you often pay an enormous price for sometimes not so good food or service (I am thinking again of Café Marly), you can sit there for hours and people watch and no one would dare try to put you out as you linger hours over your espresso. Dining, although somewhat watered down in the past two decades with the growth of supermarchés and supermercatos in France and Italy, is still an experience more than a meal. The food and the wine are a big part of the experience, but it is also the people watching, the cultural interchange, esp. interesting if you speak any or much French or Italian, and the simple joy of living a simpler and often more pleasurable and less technically-complicated life than we do.
Since cell phones became way more popular in France before they did in the US (because of pricing), the worst excesses of it happened earlier. I doubt (unlike at home) you will ever be disturbed at a fine restaurant in France or Italy by cell phone ringing these days (and if you do, I almost guarantee it will be by a famous American song). By contrast, simply because I never knew my cell phone was ringing because no one ever called me on it, I looked accusatorily at my students when it would ring -- until I changed it to Andrea Bocelli's Con Te Partirà.
Anyway, one of the great joys of traveling in France (like Italy) is appreciating the different food throughout the country, which is as completely different as it is in different parts of the US. The Mediterranean, Brittany, Burgundy, Languedoc, Paris, Alsace/Lorraine are all different countries in terms of cuisine. Fortunately the amazingly fast TGV's in France make traveling all over the country (even in a day) very easy.