France: The unwritten rule regarding leftovers

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to go to France for a work assignment. As it was my first time in Paris and Montpellier, I did not know many of the cultural norms…but boy did I learn.

Ever since getting bariatric surgery, I eat like a rabbit.  I pick at my meals and try to eat a snack almost every two hours. Snacks are actually easier for me to take in than an actual meal.

While eating at a restaurant with my coworkers, I quickly knew that I would not be able to eat all of the penne pasta on my plate. When the waiter came to our table, I asked for a to-go box (aka Doggy Bag). The waiter, in a concerned tone, asked me if I did not like my meal. To avoid a long explanation about my eating habits, I immediately brushed it off and just said that I had eaten earlier. He hesitantly supplied me with a container to take my food to my hotel.

The following night, I went to eat with my coworker, Bill. I ambitiously ordered a hamburger and immediately knew I would not even eat half. When paying for the bill, I asked the waiter for a to-go box.  He looked extremely confused so I said, “Ya know, a doggy bag for leftovers, a container to take my food home.”  He responded that he did not understand (not due to a language barrier) so I sadly let the waiter take 3/4 of my plate away, knowing I would have to snack on my protein bars later on in the night instead of that delicious burger. In the back of my head I thought, my mother would have killed me for wasting that amount of food.

I soon came to realize that taking home leftovers are alien to restaurants in France.

Bill informed me that taking food home in France and some other places around the world is seen as a stigma. It is like a foreign concept. When you eat in a restaurant, you are supposed to go there for the experience with less emphasis on the food.  I even read on The Guardian that there is a “kind of bourgeois shame to taking food home with you.” #TheMoreYouKnow I honestly had no clue.  Luckily for me, I stacked my suitcase with protein bars for snacks and leveraged my hotel minibar when needed.

When I returned back to Chicago, I decided to do some further research. According to The Guardian, “a law that came into effect on 1 January now forces restaurants [in France] to provide containers for uneaten grub as part of a campaign to cut food waste.” While I don’t think this law is being heavily enforced yet, because my trip was in mid-January, I am curious to see how this new law will play out in restaurants and how the cultural norms within France will evolve as a result. Will there be pushback? Or, does it not really matter? TBD I guess.


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