The other night, Understanding Frenchman was at mine and I was serving dinner. He watched me as I poured soup into bowls, then took the two plates out from underneath to put our slices of toast on.
"Jen and Arnaud," he said, referring to two friends that we had had dinner with at the weekend, "were having the same conversation as us.The one about the plates."
Jen and Arnaud are a Franco-British couple like us and I was relieved to hear that we are not the only ones who have in depth discussions over the dinner table about aspects of our daily routine which same-nationality couples probably don't even notice, never mind discuss. Like the Great Plate Debate.
Let me explain.
On the first morning of my very first experience of living in a French family, it was rudely brought to my attention that the French, when they serve bread at the table, do not find it necessary to use a plate. I say rudely, because at the same time as we were happily eating bread and jam straight off the kitchen table, so was my host family's large, slobbery black Labrador dog. Very few things would put me off fresh baguette served with thick butter and a layer of confiture, but this was one of them.
Since then, I have had plenty of opportunities to observe that, while the presence of drooling dog was fairly unusual, the absence of plate was not. This caused me to ask myself two profound existential questions. Firstly, why? And secondly, is it important?
I have yet to come up with a satisfactory answer to the first. Perhaps the hard crust of a French baguette makes it less likely to leave crumbs on the table than a British loaf. Perhaps because we more routinely spread on butter, we're more worried about the table getting sticky. Or maybe we have more of a liking for table cloths, or a stronger aversion to wiping hard surfaces.
Luckily, the second question is easier. The answer to this one is quite clearly "not in the slightest." Unless, of course, there's a slavering canine somewhere in the vicinity.