Conviviale

9th January 2017

I bought a raclette machine at uni after having the meal once in France. The meal, the machine and the cheese share a name: raclette.

A swiss cheese; a machine with metal paddles in which you can melt slices of the former; and a self-assembled mound of potatoes and ham, covered in said molten cheese. It’s a warming, winter meal and a sociable affair.

Convivialité is a prized award for French meals, too often ruled by snobbery. But in many places, eating is the social event. In England, we still have separate dining rooms to kitchens and most of us panic when cooking for others. 

I recently signed up for an Italian course (you can expect to read about it in a future post) and received an email welcoming me to the course and (among other things) warning me not to mistake intimacy for friendship.

When our Spanish friend was staying with us, she was very happy sleeping (in her bizarrely contorted forms) while we got ready for work around her. With her, we shared dull routine parts of life. And never felt like seeing her was an obligation or a an event. She just comfortably fitted in out day-to-day.

In general, British people have a private, private life. I certainly do. And I would like to think I’m more open than most. 

*

11th March 2017

But where the Brits might lack in openess in friendship, there is one institution (perhaps only one) that makes me proud to share in its heritage: the pub.

Sure, you may have laughed but I’m quite serious. And in particular, I am in love with my new local.

One of my favourite books is A Confederacy of Dunces. I could rave about it much more but for now I’ll merely mention how beautiful it weaves together the lives of so many different but painfully-human characters. The best pubs do the same.

As I write this, I am in my new local (I won’t name it for fear of flooding it with my many quasi-illiterate followers). To my left are some good looking girls being chatted up by some handsome lads, all dressed up for a night out. To my right are four men, pushing fifty, drinking Guiness, talking football and work.

The music is on point – as ever – and a woman in her forties danced alone the whole way through one song. In front of me are three twenty-somethings playing cards and bursing their beers. The couple have argued while the third was at the bar but they’re doing their best to hide it. 

Behind me is a young couple and in front, two guys drinking G&Ts. At the bar are three old regulars whose drinks are refilled without needing to ask; a couple on a date sit further along; at the other end is a man on his own with learning difficulties. When they have a moments, the bar staff talk with him. Otherwise he nurses his stout and watches people order there drink with a big smile.

Since I started writing, an old man joined the middle-aged men, his face etched with deep lines but his head full of hair. The dancer found a woman at another table to slow dance through What a Wonderful World. A couple my parents age have argued and left. The last remaining child (asleep in his pram) has been taken home.

The pub is wonderful place where we can come together. Many of my European friends are impressed. In much of Europe the young and the old have separate bars. For better or worse, the English, the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish make an evening out of a pint (or two). An evening shared by all.

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