For my final exam at Le Cordon Bleu, I had to prepare a dish called blanquette de veau. It’s a veal stew — sounds good, right? Except that it’s stewed in cream, and thickened with egg yolk, and in the case of that exam, served over rice. It was the whitest white on white food I’d ever made — Mr. English (who helped me study) and I are still recovering from it. Bleck.
What spurred you to write a book of French trivia?
There are so many strange and fascinating things about France that people don’t know about. Most books about France just deal with the obvious clichés.
Tell us about your background! Why France? Why trivia?
Although I am British, I have lived in France for ten years. Mainly in Paris, but in the country also. I find my adopted country fascinating and want to share my discoveries with readers.
How did you uncover so much about France? What were your sources like? Your research?
I spent a lot of time in French libraries and poring over French magazines, books, and newspapers. A lot of the information in the book has hitherto only been available to a French readership and is published for the first time in English in this book.
What was the most astonishing thing you uncovered?
That the croissant was invented in Austria!
Were there any facts that you wish you could have included in the book but didn’t — or couldn’t? Spill!
There is an French urban myth that it is illegal to call a pig Napoleon in France. Sadly, it’s not true.
Anything you uncovered that you just couldn’t believe?
That there is a wild kangaroo population just outside Paris.
In looking back on the whole project, what do you take away about France from the myriad facts that come together to describe it?
That France, as ever, is so much more interesting than the clichés.
What are your five favorite tidbits from the book?
- There is a town in France where UFOs are banned from landing.
- Marie-Antoinette never said ‘Let them eat cake.’ The phrase was probably invented by the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
- There is a French law stating that all alcohol is banned from the workplace – except beer, wine, and cider.
- When Hitler invaded Paris, the French cut the ropes of the lift in the Eiffel Tower to stop him climbing it.
- The first champagne coupe was, according to legend, molded on the left breast of Marie-Antoinette.
What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A sense of the huge diversity and paradox that you find in modern France, beyond the clichés.