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french lesson #3: garbage.



I know I'm stating the obvious here when I say that French really is such a beautiful language, but it deserves repeating. Even a commonplace word like garbage has such a charming name, la poubelle. It's not just me who is with me on this one, there's even a restaurant out in LA with this name. Boy did I think I was très chic meeting up with friends at Café La Poubelle for cocktails and oysters. Now looking back, it makes me giggle. 

It wasn't until recently that my affection for this dirty little word has changed. 

On Tuesday night, Aurélien and I headed up to the 20th for dinner at his friend Victor's place. Victor is a rather special character that took me some time to warm up to. When I first met him, within the first few seconds he volunteered that he hates Americans. Just like that. Not being sure if he was serious, or was saying it purely for shock value, or had a degree of Asperger's syndrome, I looked back at him and just smiled. I mean really, what else could I do? It took me time to realize that his humor, if you even want to call it that, is just a little tilted. Other than that, I'd say he's fairly innocuous, so when he invited us to his home for dinner along with another couple, we happily accepted.

Arriving on a balmy yet cool October evening, we came armed with our "go-to" contribution of mini cakes picked up from Sébastien Gaudard's atelier on rue des Martyrs. Victor that night was uncharacteristically unoffensive and had actually put out a lovely offering for us. Starting off with a plate of charcuterie, which was then followed by a well-prepared magret de canards paired with sauteed mushrooms, and capped off with cornucopia of cheeses displayed on wooden cutting board.

Working on our mini cheese feasts, one of the guests somehow, managed to segue the table talk to Louis XIV. (Okay, this subject comes up a lot here. This is not the first time a dinner discussion starts off with a little harmless Louis the 14th action where it inevitably work its way to the French Revolution. Oh, this place.)

"Did you all really like dinner?" Victor interrupted, leading us back to the food, "Are you sure?" he pressed, now with almost a mischievous grin. 

Exchanging satisfied nods and smiles, we reassured him that yes, dinner was excellent. "Good, I'm glad because it came from la poubelle," he said, popping a chunk of Saint-Nectaire in his mouth, "Dinner came from la poubelle!"

This was one of those moments where I was hoping I had a little too much wine, because what my fuzzy brain registered was that dinner, the dinner that we had just ate and enjoyed, came from the garbage. What does that even mean, I remember thinking. What garbage? Please be a new market in town called La Poubelle, please be a new market in town called La Poubelle, please be a new hipster market in town called La Poubelle, I preyed silently.

In contrast to my dire wishes, Victor proudly explained that his new grand discovery has been picking expired food out of the dumpster in the alley behind Monoprix by his office, seemingly disappointed that he hadn't thought of it sooner. Before reacting to our dumpster dived din-din, I couldn't help but entertain myself with visuals. In my head, I had him head first, fully inside the dumpster with his legs up in the air where all you see is food, cans, and fish bones being chucked out like a scene in Garfield. Once the playful imagery veered towards more pressing thoughts like how expired are we talking about, was the food packaged, was the cheese found in the dumpster, and worse, did he steal the dinner of someone less fortunate who actually relies on supermarket discards?

Victor of course, offered no explanation to these extremely valid concerns, leaving us no choice but to move on to dessert. The stupid designer desserts that Aurel and I brought, which now served as a blaring and obnoxious contrast to our hobo dinner.

Several days later, I'm pleased to report that I'm still alive and kicking, but as you can imagine the word la poubelle has since lost its charm and forever will remind me of the time when I ate dinner out of it. Thanks, Victor.

30 comments:

  1. I miss your blog for a minute- back from my vacation in the British virgin islands

    My reaction to knowing about this strange habit some years ago was- yuck! yuck! yuck!

    They called themselves "freegans".

    I'm surprised that they do it in France. I know in the states is called dumpster diving and it is legal, there is even a show on TLC.
    Most people dumpster dive for frugal purpose and also an environmental and social conscious way of living.

    Some of the produces that they retrieve from the garbage are fresh ( like fruits and vegetables) or haven't yet expired. They also ensure that they "sanitize" the food and well once its prepared most of the bacteria should of die (we would hope so)

    I'll prefer that my friend(s) tell me before i congestion garbage food ...so i'll at least have a choice to say no....

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    1. *ingest ....not congestion :s where did that come from lol

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    2. Freegans!! Clever.

      YES! I remember seeing something in the States about getting expired food from the garbage and preparing a lovely meal. It wasn't a show but a woman who hosts dumpster dived potlucks. The look on my mom's face when we were watching this was priceless. She was pretty much horrified!

      I guess it's not such a big deal but like you, I would have preferred to know before either that, or not at all! : )

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  2. are you friggin kidding me?..he actually admitted he served guests in his home food he got out of a dumpster?? That is so many degrees of wrong, if and I mean IF you are actually going to do that what on earth would make someone admit it? And if he was going to do that he should have the decency to tell you before you eat it so you can decline....

    Like Jerry said to George..."adjacent to trash, is trash"

    how does he know some other hobo isn't using the monoprix dumpster as his own personal toilet.

    okay I'm stopping now...completely grossed out.

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    1. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww!!!!!!!!

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    2. @Deb and Duchess - hahahaha! I had a feeling you two would be particularly grossed out by this. I just knew it. I love Deb's "are you friggin kidding me?" Haha! I think he told us to appear cutting edge and hip. Without question. That's his personality.

      I REALLY hope my dinner wasn't, on top of coming from the trash, defecated on. Thanks for THAT visual, Deb. Gross!!! AHHH!

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  4. Louis XVI, you mean? (If they were talking about the French Revolution).

    I saw a very interesting news story when I was in France about entire supermarkets that sell food past its sell-by date at reduced prices of course. The journalist had the food tested by a lab and, as it turns out, there is no real difference between a can of beets or beans a day before its sell-by date and the same can two years after. With meat, it's a lot trickier of course. There's only a few days' margin, obviously. They interviewed a man who proudly said that he shopped there almost exclusively and that he could feed his four children four-course meals every single day for 70 euros a week:)

    Ok, so grabbing stuff out of the garbage is something else, though. Reminiscent of the éclair on a doily in Seinfeld;) (I see that Debs and I have the same cultural references;)

    I'm all for recycling and smart shopping, but come on dude! Gross!

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    1. No, no, Louis Quatorze. It always starts with him and the convo works its way to the French Revolution. This has happened about four or five times in my French "life". It amuses me every time!

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    2. Well, it was his excesses that led to the Revolution, so figures:)

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    3. A supermarket that sells food past its date is quite smart actually. The supermarkets waste a lot of good food that is still edible but legally is unsellable. I wonder how this market got the approval of the FDA to open. 70 euros a week for a family. Impressive! That's how much we spend (give or take) for the two of us a week. Is this place in France? What's it called?

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    4. I don't remember where it was exactly, but here's an example: http://basse-normandie.france3.fr/2013/09/16/cagny-un-supermarche-fait-son-beurre-des-produits-perimes-319737.html

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    5. There's also NOZ. There are a few outlets in the Paris area.

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  5. No more dinners at this dude's house, 'kay? Because he could have put you in the hospital. Eccentric is one thing but dangerous is another.
    (ps. I actually did that crazy stare where your chin drops down and your eyes pop open wide while reading this)

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    1. I'm with Heather, no more play dates with Victor! First the American bashing (for the love of God, I hope he never comes across that Thought Catolog post) and then he smugly tells you he scooped up your dinner from the trash... his blog name should be Victor the Grouch. x.

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    2. @Heather - Yeah, I think we'll limit or social engagements with him to drinks out or at our place. We really don't see him that often. I imagine the next time I'll see him with be like next year, so we're safe! : ) Your chin drop/wide eyes look was similar to the expression I made when Victor announced the origins of our dinner! Total shock!

      @Sara - Ok, mom, no more playing with Victor! LOL! I LOVE how you and I keep circling back to that TC post! I've mentioned it IRL a few times since reading it.

      And for the sake of anonymity, I changed Victor's name. His real name is like 100 times more entertaining.

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  6. I'm sure you hear this often, but your life really does seem designed to be turned into a sitcom sometimes.

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    1. Yeah I have heard that before. I wish it was because I'd be in LA more often! Maybe I should get crackin' on a script!

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  7. Hmm, I remember when I was at uni I had a friend that worked at Marks & Spencers, and at the end of each day the food with a 'sell by' date of that day was offered to the staff at knock down prices - we dined on a lot of nice stuff that way! Still, it did come out of the shop, not round the back o.O

    I think you need new dining companions ;o)

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    1. Yeah, getting the goods in the shop makes it less skeevy, but dumpster diving? That adds a whole different element, you know?

      Hahaha, I agree. Thankfully we don't see him terribly often!

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  8. What the hell, Victor?!

    You know, my dear, I thought of you yesterday. I was handed a packet upon leaving the metro, "Pain n'en perdons plus une miette!" Inside, were recipe ideas for stale bread--les croûtons, croquettes, bruschetta, la farce, pain perdu, et le pudding--but "des chapelures" were nowhere to be found. I think it's something resourceful-Victor would appreciate, too ;)

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    1. Yeah, it was pretty shocking. Victor, like I opened the post with, is rather special.

      That does NOT surprise me in one bit. Of course the chapelures weren't included, yet the word miette was in there. Can you see why I felt confident that miettes de pain was the correct word for baking breadcrumbs? Too funny!

      I'm not sure what Victor appreciates other than his sick humor. And I thought I was crazy....

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  9. Did you know Poubelle was a man? He introduced bins to Paris and apparently there's even a street named after him. Not sure I'd want that legacy, but I'm sure he's pleased! Never a dull moment with you my dear.

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    1. Oh really? No, I didn't know that! Thanks for the fun fact!

      Question though, if Poubelle was a dude, how come the noun is feminine? Oh why am I even bothering to ask, the word vagina is masculine, so...yeah, ignore my question.

      Hi Gwan!! xo!

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    2. A Frenchman went on and on telling me about it one day. Poubelle was a prefect of Paris. Apparently he was beloved for cleaning up the city and getting the trash off the streets and into the bins. He also reduced fires in the city by giving people a place to put their hot ashes without causing fires. The name also means "a little beautiful" (peu-belle), ironically, which is probably why it is a feminine word.

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  10. This reminds me of the dumpster dive dinner party that Fred and Carrie of "Portlandia" threw for guests. I think the guests knew they were going to be served food from the dumpster and they all made excuses. You had no such luxury. Between this and the chic beating you, I'm starting to wonder if I really do want to live in Paris!

    Nah, of course I want to live in Paris. You don't write about the 95% of normal people walking around, right?

    I think one day someone is going to beat the crap out of Victor. You just can't say and do things like he does.

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    1. Oh no! Paris is a fantastic place to live! So many wonderful things to see, people to meet, things to do! My posts are just vignettes of the wackier side of Paris. I feel like there are so many wonderful blogs that paint Paris as a perfect city (and in many ways it is) with the best shops, restaurants and beautiful photography.

      I like to offer a different side because no place is perfect. What city is? I suspect that's why many of you stop by. It's comic relief, even if the joke is usually on me!

      Yes! I did see that Portlandia! I forgot about that episode (going to re-watch it this weekend)! Who are you favorite characters? Mine are the lesbian bookshop owners Candace and Toni. I used to live in the PNW and had several professors who were literally just like that. It's a spot-on impersonation!

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    2. I like Peter and Nance. I think of them if I'm stupid enough to wait in a long line outside of a trendy breakfast spot! Ha. I did that in Nashville a few weeks ago, but the food was really good.

      I also like Fred and Carrie a lot because of their scenes with the mayor. And their strange friendship.

      Don't worry. You're not throwing me off Paris. :)

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  12. Wait. What were the reactions of the other guests? There must have been more conversation about this! Dinner from a garbage can rivals Louis XIV! No one else was shocked? My jaw is still dropped. I already did not like Victor because he hates Americans but now?? Was he at your wedding? I cant wait to discuss this in person.

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