What’s for Flunch?

I saw this sign in Paris and it gave me a chuckle, so I took a picture. Flunch. It looks like a typo, or one of those cute Euro near-misses at rendering a sign in English.

It took me another week to actually look it up. According to Wikipedia, Flunch is a restaurant chain roughly comparable to Sizzler. More interesting is the entry’s trivia section: “The word ‘flunch’ is a portmanteau of ‘fast’ and ‘lunch’; it has become part of French slang, coining the verb, ‘fluncher’.”

That’s a slightly disturbing trend. Imagine if American fast food restaurants achieve verb status — or, almost as bad, if their marketing departments attempt to promote their names by turning them into verbs:

  • “Just let me Arby’s this before the meeting starts”
  • “We’re not just eating lunch, we’re Fuddruckering it”
  • “I love the way that girl Chick-Fil-As her food with her sensuous lips”

But that’s only a mildly amusing concept for us Americans, because we’ve been Dunkin’ Donutsed by marketers for so long, we’re used to fast food companies committing language atrocities. I’ve actually written about it before, when I came to obvious conclusion that many of the foods with crappy names — Hardee’s Monster Biscuit, Bob Evans Stacked and Stuffed Caramel Banana Pecan Hotcakes — tend to be epically crappy foods.

I happen to be Dairy Queening in and out of a book called Pardon My French: Unleash Your Inner Gaul, which is a guide to French words and phrases, especially ones that explain some quirk of French culture.

In the book’s first section (Food and Drink, mais bien sur), the author Charles Timoney explains the phrase manger chaud — literally, to eat hot.

The average French person will expect to eat mat at least once a day and will also expect at least one dish of each main meal to be served hot. Suggesting that a colleague might skip a decent meal and just grab a sandwich may well be met with an appalled cry of “Mais if faut manger chaud!”

If we can take Timoney at his word (unless he’s secretly a cultural knuckle-dragger, I’m inclined to, since he’s lived there 20-plus years), a proper hot sit-down meal is a big deal to the French. I mean, all you have to do is walk around Paris and see the soixante million or so cafes and bistros, compared to the relatively low number of MacDonald’s and Starbucks.

But there’s another disturbing trend that’s more disturbing than bad verbing. Slate magazine points it out in their story, Why is there so much violent crime at fast-food restaurants? A lowlight reel:

In January, Toledo, Ohio, resident Melodi Dushane punched out a McDonald’s drive-through window when she was told they didn’t sell Chicken McNuggets in the morning. Another woman recently drove through a crowd of people in a McDonald’s parking lot, injuring four. In 2008, a Los Angeles man punched a 16-year-old girl in the face at a McDonald’s after she complained about him cutting the line. A Wendy’s customer reportedly assaulted a female clerk at a drive-through window in 2007 after she didn’t tell him to “have a nice day.”

The story cites a number of reasons for this: location on busy streets, the restaurants keep long hours, and a lot of cash, their customers tend to be younger and poorer, and so do their employees. But the reason I found most interesting was at the bottom of the piece:

Customers may feel stressed out, too. Professors at the University of Toronto released a study in 2010 concluding that exposure to the logos of fast-food chains like Wendy’s and Burger King made people hasty and impatient. When “fast” food doesn’t live up to its name, people might lash out.

That’s kind of rich, isn’t it? The golden arches condition us to expect speed. We’ve become Pavlov’s dinner guests.

I’m not surprised customers are stressed out. Think about the fast food business model: They want you to speed up to the counter (or drive-through), order, pay, and then leave. They don’t want people in their restaurants, since that creates a mess they have to pay someone to clean up. The entire place is designed to be bright, clean-looking, and inhospitable: the molded furniture, the tiny tables, the fluorescent lighting,  the lack of amenities on the table, the lack of a waiter, etc. Often they wrap your food for you (whether you want it wrapped or not), the default assumption being that you’re going to eat somewhere else.

Yet another book about France I was Krispy Kreme-ing recently explained the difference between restaurants and bistros. Since that book is still in Paris and I am not, I’ll have to lean on Wikipedia for a brief history:

Bistros likely developed out of the basement kitchens of Parisian apartments, where tenants paid for both room and board. Landlords could supplement their income by opening their kitchen to the paying public. Menus were built around foods that were simple, could be prepared in quantity and would keep over time. Wine and coffee were also served.

In Paris,  restaurants were for the well-to-do, and the bistros were for the working class (kind of our like our fast-food restaurants, but without dancing spokes-clowns). Nowadays, Parisiens are being infected by flunch, and the US is a littered landscape of Carl’s Jr.,  El Pollo Loco, Panda Express, and Quiznos, where people brawl and mow each other down with their cars.

Meanwhile, we’re still trying to master the art of the bistro — something the Parisiens figured out back in 1884.

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2 thoughts on “What’s for Flunch?

  1. I suppose we need to stay out of fast food chains for our health and our safety! I ate at a Flunch once, for the pure novelty of it and, let’s just say that it was not the best food I ate in Paris!

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