While travelling through France, we spent a lot of time eating in rather ad-hoc places. No matter the situation, if any French person happened by, they always wished us "bon appétit!" Cold sausage in a town square near a historic church? "Bon appétit!" Instant couscous and curry powder on fold-out chairs in a camp-site? "Bon appétit!" Sitting by the side of the road, pouring olive oil out of a plastic squeeze bottle onto torn pieces of day-old baguette? "Bon appétit!" Always said with pleasant, completely irony-free enthusiasm.
I've known waiters to say "bon appétit" when serving me at a restaurant, but I hadn't heard it so much in common everyday usage. But on this day, I finally figured out why.
Our hike from Saissac to Montolieu wasn't the longest of our trip, but it was very hot. We were feeling the accumulation of a week worth of little aches and pains. We had weird over-warmed wine, and ate our field lunch rather late. I somehow managed to miss having any coffee all day until we got to Montolieu. We crashed out for a bit after checking in, but even by the time for our 8pm dinner at our lovely charming B&B, Maison Rives, we were still feeling pretty ragged.
Due to Shannon's vegetarianism and a previous commitment from their usual cook, one of the co-owners prepared us our meal himself. It started with an amazing watermelon-and-garlic-enhanced gazpacho, and was followed by a vegetarian quiche for Shanon and for me a zucchini stuffed with ground lamb and spices. It was wonderful food, lovingly prepared in our host's own home kitchen.
But we couldn't finish it. We were just so tired and queasy.
Through the haze of my exhaustion, I suddenly realized: we were having mauvaise appétit.
This was the reason that every French person personally wishes you "bon appétit" - because in France every meal is special: every meal is an aesthetic experience worthy of being of enjoyed to its fullest, every meal is a social connection between you and the maker of the meal, and every meal is a reflection of the French cultural context that allowed it to exist. Only through having a good appetite can you properly enjoy the distinctly French social, aesthetic, and cultural aspects of your food. It doesn't matter if it's a roadside snack or a feast at a Michelin three-star restaurant in Paris - eating well is its own reward.
Without an appetite, we couldn't enjoy the gift of fine food, we couldn't fully appreciate the knowledge, skill, and affection that our host had put into preparing it, and we couldn't properly connect to the great French cultural tradition of preparing and enjoying food in all of its many aspects.
We were in such bad shape, the two of us couldn't even finish a half litre of wine. We apologized profusely, and related how much we enjoyed and appreciated the food we had, even if we couldn't finish it - in fact, Shannon asked to have the unfinished portion of her quiche for breakfast the next morning. Our host thought we were a little crazy (we were used to that by now) but he did do so.
Thankfully, a good night's sleep indoors was enough to get our spirits back and we were able to thoroughly enjoy the next morning's excellent breakfast - for which our hosts of course wished us "bon appétit."
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