I Threw a Small Dinner Party in Paris — Here's What I Learned


I recently spent some time in Paris. I’d been twice before, but this visit I stayed with an American man whom I’d recently met. We’d spent a total of four hours together one night in Rome, exactly a month prior.

To say the visit didn’t go as planned is an understatement.

The first two days went okay. Then, on day three, he told me he had to attend an emergency meeting. I thought I’d have some time to myself, but that wasn’t the case. Before stepping out, he informed me that three of his co-founders were coming over later. He then proceeded to ask me to prepare dinner. For everyone.

I was taken aback by his request as we’d been romantically involved for less than a week.

Still, I was a guest in his home and didn’t want to come off as ungrateful, so I agreed.

I had three hours to get ready, plan a menu, shop for ingredients and prepare dinner.

I threw together a menu and jotted down a grocery list:

– Roasted chicken from the butcher downstairs
– Local fingerling potatoes which I would drizzle with truffle oil and sprinkle with sea salt
– Salad with fennel, oranges, olives and a lemon vinaigrette
– Fresh bread and butter … bien sur

My first stop was the butcher. I don’t speak French and was unable to communicate what I wanted, but luckily a young man behind me spoke English and kindly translated. The chickens weren’t ready – they needed to roast for another 30 minutes – but he promised he’d set aside two. Next, off to the market! There, by pointing and miming, I was able to communicate what I needed and brought it all back to the apartment. I unloaded the bags, washed the potatoes and went back to the butcher.

In the half hour I was away, it had become a boisterous gathering spot for locals, who chatted and laughed as they sipped wine and picked up items for dinner. As the butcher handed me my chickens, he offered me a glass of wine. With only an hour to get dinner on the table, I had to refuse – denying my love for wine, appreciation for community and interest in European food culture – I could feel the resentment towards my host growing.

Alas, I returned home and started to cook.

I preheated the oven and threw in the potatoes. I washed the lettuce and sliced fennel and citrus. I then carved and plated the chickens. At this point, the potatoes were done – I pulled them from the oven, drizzled them with truffle oil and generously sprinkled them with sea salt. I plated the salad and dressed it with olive oil and fresh lemon. Le dîner est complétée!

The partners were the first to arrive, followed by my date, who showed up with a half-eaten loaf of bread. Apparently, it was so fresh it was impossible to resist. I took it to the kitchen to be sliced.

Proud of my accomplishment, I carried each dish to the coffee table which doubled as our dinner table.

As we ate, crowded along a sofa in a dimly lit traditional Parisian apartment, I watched my dinner companions, who chatted away in French. Some differences between how Americans and the French experienced their meal were unmissable.

Americans plated everything at once, spoke while eating, took no pause between bites and helped themselves to seconds, even thirds. The French ate in courses, pausing between bites to speak. They did not have seconds.

Having spent nearly two years as the lead dietitian at a residential eating disorder clinic, I’ve become gifted at observing others eat. Though this meal didn’t forgo study, it was a stark difference from my clinic days. I was struck by how slow the French ate. With no need to stuff their faces, the meal was enjoyed with pleasure and dispersed with talk.

Business picked up as dinner ended, and I politely excused myself. Though the meal helped to abate my resentment, I didn’t feel the need to continue playing the wife role – I knew my host wasn’t for me.

Though things didn’t go as planned, it was a night and trip that reminded me to slow down.