A Tale of Two Countries, and their Snack Foods

I recently traveled to Paris, which offered me a chance to observe all sorts of things, including the stunningly important issue of the ways airlines differ in feeding their passengers.

On Air France, the morning snack service consisted of the usual beverages (coffee, tea, water, juice, soda). Then the flight attendant presented a plastic tray, which was filled with breakfast pastry and little napkins. I selected pain au chocolat.

pain au chocolat

Pain au chocolat, the morning snack on Air France.

It’s a bit of trouble to get fresh pastry on a plane. Somewhere someone has to actually make the pastry, then it needs to get shipped to the airport and loaded onto the plane — all in short order, or else your snack goodie will be about as moist and chewy as your seat cushion/personal flotation device.

I’m not suggesting that Air France is being all that visionary or altruistic. They’re merely reacting to the cultural norm. The traditional light breakfast fare in France is often coffee and a croissant, so offering the same on a flight is kind of a no-brainer.

With that in mind, what does Delta Airlines offer?

Prepackaged pretzels and peanuts, the snack handout on Delta Airlines

The pain au chocolat was not the best one I had in Paris (after that one, my mouth wanted to spend the afternoon in bed, staring at the ceiling smoking cigarettes). But it was still pretty good.

The pastry was small, tasty, and not many people said no to them. I expect that the flight attendants ran out of them, or came pretty close. It was a little ceremony: the box was presented to you, and you got to choose between a croissant, pain au chocolat, or an escargot aux raisins. The latter has nothing to do with snails; in fact it’s a spiral pastry with raisins in it. They look like this:

The entire Air France morning snack ritual seemed to encompass the French approach to food: It’s fresh; it’s personal; the portions are small; it’s high-quality. When you eat good food, you pay attention to it.

So what do the two plastic packages of pretzels and peanuts say about the American approach to food? Well let’s open that package up a little.

Is it fresh? No, not in the way bakery goods are. It was put in a plastic package, but that could have happened days, weeks or even months ago.

Is it personal? No. There is no ceremony involved, no opportunity to survey the items and select one. The flight attendant reaches into a container, pulls two out, and hands them to you.

Is it high quality? Only if you think you can eat haute cuisine by shopping at the gas station.

Are the portions small? Yes, but if you’ve ever asked a flight attendant for more peanuts or pretzels, they’re all too happy to give you a handful. Since the snacks have almost no worth, no one minds giving you as much as you want.

Put another way, the peanuts and pretzels are mass produced low-cost and last for ages — they’re forgettable food widgets, but you’re welcome to eat as much as you want.

Needless to say, after eating the French way for a week (smaller, local, quality-driven, personal — the French way produces food like mom used to make!), it’s a little hard to come back to a country where so much of the food is bland, mass produced, and wrapped in plastic.

Sigh. Pass the peanuts.

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Americans’ Slacks: Down in the Trousers

While millions are transfixed on men in tassels, sequins and hair gel sliding on the ice, there’s another competition going on at the Winter Olympics–curling.

Yet the parallels between curling, figure skating and dubious sartorial choices cannot be denied. Case in point: the Norwegians sported a dynamic pair of pants earlier this week. (Your far-flung correspondent did not fail to notice this. Or post pics.)

The pants made the papers. The pants got their own Facebook fan page. The page has almost 100,000 fans (I joined–but I didn’t inhale). The pants have great Facebook updates, in the third person, such as this earlier one, “Almost 83,000 fans! The pants are humbled by your support,” and this one from mid-match: “Norway and the pants up 3-2 after 5. Very exciting match!”

As exciting as the pants are, the US curled off against Denmark today. A very exciting match as well, that actually went to extra frames.

But before we get to the action, what were they wearing? The Americans were in stolid white shirts and black slacks. Very stolid. Sober. Proper. And Boring. They looked every bit the soporific golfer.

Ah, but the Danes! Red shorts, black pants … and white belts.You know, kinda hip! Oh, and the skip? He had on a silver belt buckle that would have made the Pendleton Round-Up proud.

Danish curler Lars Vilandt showing off that winning fashion edge.

The Americans and Danes went back and forth … no one ahead by more than one point … tied at the end of 10 … and … the Danes won in an extra frame.

Why? I think you know why. Oh, and did I mention that the Americans are now 0 and 4? Three of those matches they’ve lost by a single point. Rock. Whatever you call it. But still, losing by a belt buckle.

Back to the Norwegians. They wore a different pair of pants today:

Even the volunteer can't stop staring at those pants.

But how did they do?

They won 7-4, making them 3 and 1 in the prelims.

So if I were the Americans, I’d be looking for something–anything–to help my competitive edge.

Here’s what to do: Give the dull threads to Goodwill, and go shopping with something with some verve. One more suggestion? I know this guy who did quite well with miracle trousers. And cravats.

The Winter Olympics: A Border Skirmish

So Salon.com ran this column about the Winter Olympics by some random columnist/douche/shit-disturber the other day. A typical bit:

We go to Men’s 500 Meter Speed Skating, only we don’t, because the ice is all slushy. Why? Because the Zamboni machines used to groom the ice are either broken, or ineffectual. There is an hour delay, and Costas, now speaking from beneath a pompadour that appears varnished in shoe polish, declares the situation “strange, and not acceptable.”

Note to Canada: that was you getting fired.

Because, I mean, look at it: what’s the one thing you should know how to do at this point, in terms of athletic preparedness? We’re not asking you to produce a gripping television series, or a memorable historical figure. Just keep the ice smooth, Canada. That’s all you had to do. And you had, like, eight years to plan for this.

Here’s your box. Security will see you out.

Then, to its credit, Salon gave roughly equal real estate to the letters from Canadians that came in response.

“You suggest — without irony, as an American, in 2010 — that we, a nation with a population one tenth the size of yours, should have spent another $360 million on an opening ceremony because, I guess, it wasn’t good enough for you. Call us crazy (or boring), I know, but here we save up for our retirement, not our heart attacks.

We put the proudest, butchiest lesbian ever on an international stage to sing the living shit out of a song widely considered to be among the best ever written. Ever. We’re understandably proud of that. (Also, that lesbian? Totally allowed to get married here in our hopelessly-decade-behind-the-times little backwater. When, oh, when will we ever catch up to rest of the world?)

We put on an original experience designed to showcase our talents, history and contributions. It wasn’t a homogenized, sanitized Hollywood production, and I’m glad because that’s not who we are. You didn’t have to love it but it’s really amazing that you couldn’t even try to appreciate it and throw out a few kind words to your neighbour. Criticism is one thing. This was just flat-out arrogant, ignorant bitchiness.”

— Sweet Jane