Mary Dejevsky: If you want to understand la différence, watch Masterchef in France


Related Topics

Little offers a more direct window into what someone else's culture really values than their adverts and television shows. A few years back, I managed to see four different national renditions of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire within a few months. The questions, the manners, the dress and demeanour of the compère were all telling in their own way. Similarly Big Brother, which originated in The Netherlands, before conquering the rest of Europe.

In France it's impossible to ignore the preponderance of advertising for food and the emphasis is on taste, regional character and quality – quite unlike the health and nostalgia themes that dominate food marketing here.

In Russia, Masterchef and cookery programmes in general have a huge following – quite a change, given that 20 years ago shops were empty and the first task would have been to hunt down some ingredients. As for the French version of Masterchef, well, this is the TV cookery genre taken to a whole new level. An episode I watched a couple of weeks ago featured a run-off requiring the competitors not just to prepare the "perfect coquille St Jacques", a fiddly challenge at the best of times, but to do it against the clock. Another dish, presented by a quaking female aspirant, met with the response that it had all the taste of a "salt-free zone" – which, by the way, was not meant as a compliment.

And this reminded me that I'd spent a week in provincial France without either seeing or hearing any of the warnings about the perils of salt consumption which nag us here; that there had always been salt cellars and pepper pots on – admittedly quite ordinary – restaurant tables, and that only once, with unusually bland moules marinières at a chain hotel, had I been tempted to reach for extra salt at all. So are the French storing up for themselves an epidemic of high blood pressure and heart disease in the future? Will there come a time when the average Briton is prancing around in the peak of low-salt health, while French hospitals are stuffed with stroke patients? Or could it be that, rather than obsessing about salt consumption, Britain's health guardians would be better employed encouraging us to scale back consumption of those fast foods that once owed their taste to salt, but, thanks to the vigilant salt police, no longer taste of much at all, and trying to raise the quality of food generally.

Driving out of London towards the M20, I faced the dreaded sign: Underpass Closed. Avoid Area. As usual, the board appeared far too late to make any detour possible. I resigned myself to a long wait. But what was this? There was no jam and the road turned out to be open. A few days later, a taxi driver made my day, refusing all payment on the grounds that it had been a terrible journey, half the roads had been closed and he'd taken all the wrong routes. So dramatically do such small and random pieces of good fortune lighten the mood, that I wonder whether it would not be possible to incorporate them somehow into official policy, to make us feel a bit better in these otherwise grim times.

How about more warnings of roads that are not, in fact, blocked? Or taxi drivers agreeing to waive one fare a week? Or utility companies routinely admitting a small error in our favour and dispatching an annual refund (it would be like having an inadvertent savings account).

Or transport companies overestimating the arrival time for buses, so that the wait was always shorter than stated? There must be dozens more ways in which those with the power to make our lives a misery could, once in a while, give us a pleasant surprise.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Part Time SEN 1:1 Teacher

£40 - £80 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experience SEN Te...

KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Shropsh...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Take a moment to imagine you're Ed Miliband...

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside  

Autumn’s subtle charm is greatly enhanced by this Indian summer

Michael McCarthy
Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits