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

Notebook

Share
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

Recruitment Genius: 3rd Line Virtualisation, Windows & Server Engineer

£40000 - £47000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A 3rd Line Virtualisation / Sto...

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Service Engineer

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A successful national service f...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Fixed Term Contract

£17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We currently require an experie...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Andy Coulson  

Andy Coulson: With former News of the World editor cleared of perjury charges, what will he do next?

James Cusick James Cusick
Jack Warner  

Fifa corruption: Strip Qatar of the World Cup? Not likely

Tom Peck
Syria civil war: Meet the military commander who says his soldiers will not rest until every inch of their war torn country is free of Islamist 'terrorists'

‘We won’t stop until Syria is back to normal’

Near the front lines with Islamist-controlled towns where Assad’s troops were besieged just last month, Robert Fisk meets a commander confidently preparing his soldiers for battle
The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation may undermine Hillary's chances

The inside story of how Bill Clinton built a $2bn global foundation...

... and how it may undermine Hillary's chances in 2016
12 best olive oils

Extra-virgin, cold-press, early-harvest, ultra-premium: 12 best olive oils

Choosing an olive oil is a surprising minefield. Save yourself the hassle with our handy guide
Rafa Benitez Real Madrid unveiling: New manager full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

Benitez full of emotion at Bernabeu homecoming

There were tears in the former Liverpool manager’s eyes as he was unveiled as Real Madrid coach. But the Spaniard knows he must make tough decisions if he is to succeed
Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?