I see life through nutritionally tinted glasses. My food and nutrition radar is always there whether I am at work or at home, I can’t help it at this point. On the other hand, when my husband has an observation that has to do with food or weight, it’s rare. I tend to think if he notices something, it has to be glaring and most likely true. On our first day in Paris, we checked into our lovely left bank hotel, had some lunch and walked toward the Tuilerie Gardens. There was a small carnival set up we thought the boys would enjoy. We strolled through the carnival with the Louvre in the background and Eiffel tower within sight. Marc turned to me and said “do you see what I’m seeing? Everyone is in shape, nobody is overweight.” I looked around, always determined to find the exception but he was right. There were no fat people and we were at a carnival!
When we returned to the hotel room I wanted to see if there was evidence to support our observation. Sure enough, the health statistics ranking obesity by country lists the U.S. as #1 with 30.6% obese. France is way down on the list with 9.4% obese. While this is a big difference, I would have suspected it was even greater. These statistics are for obesity, perhaps for merely overweight the gap is indeed larger. Now, this is not necessary news. Mireille Guilano wrote “French Women Don’t Get Fat” and a follow up cookbook on the topic. Her book focuses on French women but seems to also apply to men and children too. And I was last in France 5 years ago and saw these same thin French people but for some reason on this last trip found this more noticeable.
As we travelled around sightseeing, I made a few observations:
1. There was no eating on the go. Nobody was walking down the street with a smoothie,sandwichor even coffee. Aside from people carrying groceries or picnicking in parks there was no food to be seen outside.
2. Meals are leisurely and manners matter. I may have been minding others’ manners as I was traveling with kids and reminding them to put their napkins on their laps but there was a difference in how people eat. A sandwich is held in the bag it comes in and nibbled on. People put their utensils down and talk versus the speed eating so common here.
3. Presentation is everything. If our fruit was presented in the manner blueberries were boxed at the fruit markets in Paris, everyone would fight over them. I expected tiny portions and we didn’t necessary find them but food, even at casual places, was presented in a manner that you couldn’t help but savor it.
4. Many people are biking and walking in the course of the day. I didn’t see a lot of biking for exercise or the number of runners as I see in Central Park yet there seemed to be more general activity.
It seems Americans don’t get fat in France either. We ate more loosely, had wine almost every night (ok every night) and exercised less than we do at home and didn’t gain a pound. I mentioned some of my theories in a Facebook post. I was wondering what others’ thought and whether my observations rang true. One of my friends said “sweetheart, they’re too busy smoking 60 Gitanes a day to eat.”
Have you noticed anything similar in your travels? What do you think accounts for this? Is it eating habits? Smoking? For extra credit we noticed tourists from 2 other countries were large, like the Americans, what countries do you think these were?