Gestures, Toastmaster's Speech 5

This speech is intended to focus on the gestures made by the speaker. Whenever you see something in double-parenthesis, this indicates a hand gesture that I will be making during the speech. I place this caveat here, otherwise the speech will be only amusing and not absolutely hilarious like the rest of junk I post here.

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If there is one thing I learned in the 4.5 months I lived in France, it is to never ever, under any circumstances, request ‘French Fries’ with a meal. Now, this rule isn’t because of the idiotic name change implemented at the Congressional cafeteria in the run-up to the Iraq war, because everyone thinks ‘Freedom Fries’ is dumb, not just the French. The French simply don’t understand why we Americans must refer to this deep-fried delicacy as having a French origin. The problem is, we’re not referring to this dish as French. The correct way to refer to sliced and fried potatoes is ‘Frenched Fries’. Note the ‘ed’ on the end of the first word and how it is different from how this dish is normally entitled, ‘French Fries’. When we say that potatoes are 'frenched’, we are referring specifically to the way in which they are cut ((chopping motion)). The name has nothing to do with what country they are from or any political affiliation, but with the method used to prepare the food.

So what, you say. Well, that’s just my first ((hold up index finger)) rule about dining in France which I want to share with you today. My second ((hold up two fingers) rule for French dining regards the menu. Specifically, the amount of the French language you must master in order not to starve. I refer to this as 'Menu French’ ((motion like I am opening a book)). There were several items I learned to steer away from when reading a menu, given my delicate palate. Whenever I saw the word 'poisson’, I immediately thought of the English word 'poison.’ The French word for fish is poisson. Given thatfish in France is served with the head on and I don’t enjoy my dinner staring back at me ((point to my eyes)), the association of poisson and poison made perfect sense.

Similar in concept was the term 'langouste’. This time in addition to the eyes, the 'food item’ ((hand quotes)) had antenna ((wiggle fingers on the sides of my head)) and pincer claws ((make pinching motions with hands)). If you had not already guessed, 'longouste’ would be the French word for crawfish. When served with a leafy green salad, which is all I thought I was getting when I made this ordering faux pas, it is a common appetizer.

Ordering is itself a different process in France, which leads me to my third point ((hold up three fingers), deciphering the menu layout. Most traditional restaurants have the option of ordering a la carte, just as is found in American restaurants, but it is not the normal way to order. The concept of a 'plate meal’ is deeply entrenched in French society and is frankly one if the concepts that I grew to adore. For a set price, you can select from a limited set of menu items, one from each course of the meal. Most mid-range and lower restaurants allow the selection of an appetizer, a main dish and a dessert. What is so wonderful about this method is its simplicity and its ability to make a meal of your choosing without having to wonder if this will cost an arm and a leg or just your firstborn.

Moving on to point four ((four fingers)), I submit to you that we as Americans rush through our meals without stopping to enjoy the conversation or to appreciate what went into the meal we are enjoying. All too often, we shovel ((shoveling motion over the shoulder)) our food into our mouths to get past the meal and on to something else. Our restaurant culture reinforces this by requiring all wait staff to push table turnover so they make more in tips each evening.

French culture does away with this by forcing patrons to slow down. Way down, in fact. Slow like playing a record at half speed slow. If your waiter doesn’t appear at your table until about 20 minutes after you have been seated, this isn’t dereliction of duty or some snooty Frenchman, its actually common courtesy. Trying to speed up the waiter is actually rude. If at an hour into your stay in the restaurant, you have your appetizer, feel lucky. Most meals last two and a half to three hours and once your dessert is delivered, you’ll have to trip or lasso the waiter just to get the check. Don’t think them rude, consider that they are doing their best to make sure you remember why it is you chose to eat out.

When you next dine in gay Paris, remember these tips for a more pleasant dining experience. Oh, and one more thing, if you’re ever offered a 'French Hot Dog’, my suggestion is to decline. That is unless you just happen to like eating a hot dog bun with a snail in it ((make gesture like you’re eating a hot dog)).

Gestures, Toastmaster's Speech 5
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