Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Cafe Society

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Cafe Society

Article excerpt

In the nineteenth century a group of Egyptians in Marseilles discover European ways of life. One of them is Rifa'ah Rafe' el-Tahtawi (1801-1873), a pioneer of modern Arabic literature. He lived in Europe between 1826 and 1831.

On the very first day, funny things started to happen at meal time.

First of all they brought us about a hundred chairs to sit on. In this country everybody is amazed when they see people sitting on a carpet or simply on the ground. Then they came back with high tables on which they put white plates. In front of each of us they put a glass, a knife, a fork and a spoon. On each table they put two bottles of water and two containers, one for salt and the other for pepper.


Then they brought the food on big platters that they placed in ones and twos in the middle of each table. They shared out the food among the people sitting down, with each person receiving one portion. You then had to cut it with a knife and lift little pieces to your mouth with a fork, not your fingers. Here you don't use your fingers, or someone else's fork or knife, and you don't drink from someone else's glass. They claim it's healthier and cleaner that way.

We have also noticed that the French never eat from copper dishes even if they've been tin-plated. They only use them for cooking. At table they use shiny plates, and they eat in stages, beginning with soup, then meat, followed by all kinds of vegetables and pasta. Then they eat salad. Sometimes the plates are the same colour as the food. They are green for salad, for example.

They finish their meal with fruit and wine but don't drink much. Then they take tea or coffee, but that depends on how poor or rich they are. For each new dish they give you a clean new plate.

The first time we walked round the town we saw stores full of mirrors and pretty women. …

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