Some of my favorite memories from our trip to France this summer involve doing especially non-touristy things which was, of course, our entire objective. We wanted to have as many natively French experiences as possible in order to begin to get at least a small sense of what it would be like to live there as a regular, every day citizen. These included dancing in the park, eating where the locals eat, shopping daily at the farmer’s market for our dinner, attending summer music festivals at small town churches, and experiencing the night market scene — all of which you can read about in previous blog posts.
The world has many perceptions about France. As you might expect, some of them are true and some are very stereotypical. Two topics that immediately come to mind are fashion and food. We have the impression that the French always dress in the latest designer styles and only eat at the best establishments — haute fashion and haute cuisine for everyone every day. Many French people do dress and dine in high style especially in Paris or other major cities. However, as we and others have said many times, Paris is not France and France is not Paris. The truth is that life is much more casual outside of Paris. And the reality is, it’s not practical nor affordable for the majority of the population to live that way.
During our two extensive trips throughout the country, we have discovered that the French live a more balanced and down to earth lifestyle than many might imagine. One excellent example of this can be seen at the indoor malls anchored by stores like Leclerc and Auchan, two of France’s largest retailers. People exit these stores with carts full of groceries and other items very similar to the way we commonly shop here in the U.S. And when they are in need of a quick, inexpensive lunch that will please and satisfy the whole family, there are cafeteria-style eateries like Flunch.
The Flunch cafeterias were launched in 1971 and currently, there are about 200 of them in France. The first time we saw one was when we stumbled into one of these mega-shopping centers in Toulouse in 2012. It struck me as rather curious that any French business would have such an English and rather unattractive sounding name, but I really didn’t pay any further attention to it at the time. Then, this summer, we stopped at Auchan to shop for some groceries in the Périgueux suburb of Marsac and there it was again. So we had to check it out and discovered that it was a great casual dining option. Flunch is only open for meals at lunchtime from about 11:30-2:30. Earlier in the day you can order coffee and a pastry and after the lunch hour, it’s most popular for its ice cream desserts which are still available. For lunch, you pick up a tray and choose from a variety of items which are set out on plates. In addition, you can build your own salad and/or order one of the 3-4 set meals of the day. Depending on your age, you might be reminded of smorgasbord or buffet restaurants in the U.S. It’s quite tasty and very economical. You can get a complete meal for about €10 ($11) which includes all-you-can-eat vegetables… keeping in mind that French fries are considered vegetables, that’s pretty cool. We hung out at Flunch several times during our trip. It was a very relaxing place to stay cool on hot days and get access to free wifi — two qualities that rate right up there with the inexpensive food.
If you too are curious about the name, here’s the story. Flunch is a portmanteau of ‘fast’ and ‘lunch’. So Flunch is a fast lunch. Clever, right? Examples of these kinds of words in English are brunch, liger (think Napoleon Dynamite), and several proper nouns such as Mexicali, Calexico, Amtrak, and Microsoft. Never heard of the word ‘portmanteau’? Me neither. Being a fan of all things linguistic, I just had to Google that. So let me save you the search and enlighten you. A portmanteau is a linguistic blend of words. The English word ‘portmanteau’, inspired by a similar French term, was originally used to refer to a piece of luggage with two compartments. If you are familiar with French, you might recognize the words porter (to carry) and manteau (coat) that have been combined to create this compound word. Nowadays, the French word portemanteau is used for a coatrack or hanger rather than a suitcase. So, technically, these two words are “false friends” more formally known to those of us in the language biz as false cognates — two words in different languages that look and/or sound the same but don’t mean the same thing. The French have also coined the verb fluncher which can be used in expressions like on va fluncher — Let’s have a fast lunch. Try adding that to your hip lingo next time you are in France.