Ah G’wan! (or Ah, Go on)

Ah g’wan!

Everybody in Ireland knows what I am talking about.

Ah ye will!

> No I’m grand thanks.

Are ye sure?

> Well….I wouldn’t want to put ye to any bother now…

Ach sure I’m making one for myself now

> Ah well in that case g’wan then.

What am I yapping about? Tea, and the drinking of.

Where? In Ireland.

Irish people love drinking tea. Once upon a time there was always a pot of tea going on the hob. Teapots were large affairs with a lot of encrusted tea on the inside. That adds taste by the way. Tea would start it’s day as a fresh youngster and consist of boiling water and 2-3 teabags. Then as the day wore on it would mature nicely until in the evening it would become “a bit strong”. As it got drunk, extra teabags would be added of course. Irish mammies know just how many teabags go in and when. Irish people as they grow up refer always to the Irish mammy to see if it’s the right time to add a teabag.

When you “call over” to someone or if you are doing a bit of “ceili-ing” you always get asked if you want some tea. And it is perfectly normal to say no the first time. This gives the person you have called over the opportunity to not give you the tea and that indicates how long you should stay. If the discussion goes as above you are good for an hour or two of chat, craic and who knows what all else.

When you move to a different country it all changes. In most cases, if you say no, then you don’t get. This is something I and most Irish people realize fairly quickly, but it is really difficult to get the hang of saying “yes please!” immediately. When you have grown up with the initial 5 minutes of discussion to decide how much you really want something it is a real culture shock to decide within 5 seconds if you want or don’t want something.

Take France for example, everything related to food is mostly very well organized. Food is at certain times and there is no snacking so either you have missed a meal and are hungry or you haven’t. So when someone offers you something to eat/drink it is quite simple to decide whether you want something or you don’t. Because if you have missed a meal, that means you haven’t eaten in eight hours. The only time when there might be a bit of hesitation is in the late morning (a wee coffee perhaps?) or in the evening around aperitif time.

If you combine this beautifully synchronized nutritional organization with the irish tendancy to say ah no sure you’re alright, it can lead to some very hungry newcomers in the first twenty-four hours in France. Survival instinct is a great thing though so most people do ask for some bread (and tea) before going to bed. And then feel incredibly awkward for the whole night and wake up very tired the next morning, and quite resolved to say yes please the next time.

Some people have a theory that this high-discipline-no-snacking mentality is part of the reason why a lot of French people are very slim. I don’t know myself and I would not purport to be a dietician. What I have noticed is that mealtimes are rigidly adhered to and generally one eats small amounts of a lot of different things. And that French people talk a lot about how nice everything tastes.

Breakfast

you are allowed to eat whatever you want. Mostly people have yoghurt and fruit, or bread and fruit and a hot drink. Hot drink can be tea, coffee or even hot chocolate. When French people are feeling very “gourmand” i.e. greedy, they might plunk for a bit of ham and cheese.

Lunch

is a grand affair. One always eats a full lunch and for newcomers it can be a bit intimidating. Especially if you are at a large canteen and you have to pick things out to eat. What I have seen as a general trend: there always seems to be a bit of salad at the beginning. In the middle there is meat and a bit of veg (not necessarily a potato) and for dessert there will be fruit/yoghurt or a bit of cake.

Dinner

tends to be late in the evening and as it often follows an aperitif may tend to be quite a light collation. If you invited to a meal at a friend’s house, don’t hesitate to tuck into the aperitif fare as the meal might be quite late. One time I landed over to a mate’s house for a meal, and at 9 o’clock they started cooking. I nearly died that night as I had been thinking since 7 o’clock “well now I won’t fill myself up with those tasty looking carrots and tomatoes, and sure they will be giving us dinner soon”. So, having lived to tell the tale I can say that if one has a small tummy/large appetite and hasn’t eaten since lunchtime, a wee snack does not go amiss before a dinner “entre amis”. At least at the beginning of your stay in France. Then as you get used to the vagaries of French living and things like “being polite while being hungry” it all becomes much easier.

Having said that, dinner chez one’s French friends is a fabulous occasion. Between the adventurous cooking and the hours of convivial chat (frequently about said adventurous cooking) it is a moment of pure pleasure. It lasts forever – you could be sitting at the table for hours, and most of the people I know have an innate sense of timing. I always seem to be swirling the right red wine which somehow goes perfectly with the new and exciting mouldy cheese that is begging to be tried. So it goes very quickly and because one doesn’t eat huge amounts in general, when one leaves one doesn’t feel like one should be rolled home. Of course, as an occasionally tired and grumpy individual there are times when I am fit to be tied and am so tired I just want to crawl into my leaba. But I have to admit those are rare occasions.

In any case, making up the whole 5-ugly-fruit-and-vegtables a day has been easy here over the past few years since I started getting into the general flow and mealtime brainwashing. Needless to say I miss Irish fries terribly and I still don’t understand why people don’t eat more potatoes. But perhaps that wisdom is yet to come.

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