Dec. 3, 2010
Earlier this week I was catching up with my friend Stephanie online when she asked me how I was adjusting to the island. I told her while there are some things that annoy or frustrate me such as "island time" (we'll save that for another post) and the fact that most places close at noon on Sundays (a vast change from 24-hour New York City) I have generally found the culture here agreeable, if not refreshing.
This island, if you are unaware, is French and Dutch (it is quite literally split down the middle):
(Just past the airport to the left you'll see "cupecoy" thats where I live, smack on the border. I joke that in my frontyard, I'm on the Dutch side, and in my backyard, the French. This is not really an exaggeration!)
Although I've only been out of the U.S. for three weeks---I've gleaned a lot of perspective in that time. For example, I always knew that Americans were obsessed with BIG everything -- big cars, big houses and big portions -- but I never realized how much that spilled over into other faucets of life.
Let me back up. St. Martin carries a reputation for being a culinary mecca and you'd think that everyone here would be food obsessed as a result... you'd expect dining out to be integrated into the culture the way it is New York City and other culinary hot spots in America --but it's not. People that live here seem generally...disinterested.
During my converstaion with Stephanie, it all came together for me. The difference is, Eat to Live vs. Live to Eat. and perhaps that is why the French are so slender as a people. They aren't living to eat, but eating to live---it's something they do because they have to, not something they do for the sake of pleasure. --but that's not to say that eating isn't pleasureful for them...
This is another difference I observed, and it's best told in a story: I stopped at a local store, only to find it closed in the middle of the day. I peered through the window and saw a man sitting at the counter, eating a sandwich joyfully. I knocked on the door. He ignored me. I knocked again. Eventually he shouted something, which I translated to mean along the lines of "Closed for lunch." Okay, fine. The man has to eat. But he ate that sandwich for a good 25 minutes. Then he sat there, for a few more minutes (savoring my guess) until he finally opened up his shop again. I thought the whole thing was strange until a French friend explained it to me. "He had a sandwich. You don't rush through a sandwich." It was as though my expectation---my American expectation--- of a quick and dirty lunch was a totally alien idea to him. "But he almost lost my business" I squealed. "You'd have come back, no?" Apparently, the idea of interrupting lunch to make a sale was equally as absurd.
So, there it is, a primal lesson: you should stop, savor and enjoy every bit of your sandwich.
This part of the culture I'm really digging. They don't just Eat to Live, they live their eating. No dashboard dining, no desktop lunches, no shoveling it into the mouth to get back to whatever they need to do. When they do eat, they glean pleasure from every bite. and they eat with purpose. When we do go out to a restaurant, or even a bar here, the service is "slow" by American standards--I see now that this allows me to savor the entire experience of dining out, rather than Eat.Check please! and we're out the door...
So, now I open the discussion---What do YOU think of the "eat to live" vs. "live to eat" mentality?