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Of French chocolate and wine

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When it comes to chocolate, bitter is better, at least for me. I am partial to Swiss, but the French also make mean dark chocolates. Shopping at Trader Joe's today, my wife couldn't find my favorite Swiss dark, so instead she got me the French variety. You know, Chocolat Noir.

As it is my habit to read every possible word on a food label, I came across this sentence on the back of this particular chocolate: "Taste at room temperature like a good red wine". Only the French could come up with a phrase like that, comparing any food, or perhaps any experience, to wine. Now I know that as an American I am supposed to hate anything French, but I don't. I think Europeans know the real secret to life and how to enjoy it to the fullest.

My experience with the French culture hasn’t always been positive. I took seven years of intensive French courses in school and I resented the language throughout. All I can show for my French education is a handful of words I can barely pronounce. I can't count how many French exams I flunked, but they were many. In contrast, I loved the English language from the first time I was exposed to it. The unpleasant experience might have put me on the path of detesting anything French, but as I grew I learned that judging a culture by its language is hardly sane.

On my first business trip to France, I recall the chain-smoking French plant manager offering us a basket full of wine and beer during a meeting. As Americans we declined, but he was unabashed about enjoying a few during the meeting. Their approach and openness to the issues of human pleasures such as food and drink, tobacco, and sexuality are taboo subjects for our culture, yet I can't help being envious of their relaxed way of life.

I am certainly not all admiration for the French, nor am I planning to learn the language that tormented me so much as a child. But I'm unapologetic to admit that there are certain parts of their culture that we, as uptight people, can and should learn from. Swiss dark chocolate and Napa Valley red wine will do just fine.

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