These days, it's all about French fancies...
If you believed the slew of books written about them recently, you'd think the French had cracked it. The women don't get fat and have uncovered the secret to feeling beautiful every day.
The children don't throw tantrums, because French parenting is so good and everyone balances life and work to perfection, while pausing at mealtimes for a piece of cheese and an apple.
The most recent in this genre comes from a US diplomat's wife called Ann Mah, who spent a year travelling from Alsace to Avignon to write Mastering the Art of French Eating.
Well, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but a trip to western France has convinced me that French eating is having a bit of a crise de foie. They may all be feeling beautiful, but I saw more fat women, fat men, fat children and elasticated waists in France than I've ever seen before. The following observations may not offer any causal connections, but I'm seeing a trend. A couple opposite me on a TGV were eating Snickers bars at 9.30 in the morning. Bakeries in ancient towns are now stuffed with gargantuan, super-sized sugary muffins, cookies and and glazed doughnuts.
Compared to how things were in the 1980s when, as a student in the south-west, I myself mastered the art of French eating, there has been a revolution. It is true that French restaurant opening times are still regimented: miss l'heure du midi and forget it, the kitchen will be closed 'til dinner time.
The difference now, though, is that you can guzzle a range of fatty, sugary snacks between meals. Consumption of French bread is slipping, meanwhile, with young people eating 30% less bread than a decade ago. My niece (21) and on an Erasmus university year in the Loire, shares a flat with two French students. The Irish, English and Scottish go to the weekly market for fresh vegetables to make hearty potage for a few euros and get visitors to import porridge oats via the Eurostar.
Their French co-locataires think such behaviour eccentric, as they head off to Lidl on their motos to stock up on sugary breakfast cereals, 'promo' (value) frozen pizzas and ready meals. Surely, it is the end of civilisation as we know it.