I recently heard a pastor refer to France as a spiritual wasteland, and this wasn’t the first time I had heard this.
Twenty-one of our students went to France this past spring break and I asked them if they found this to be true. They agreed that French culture is very secular. Very few people in France go to church, and they don’t really talk, or even think, about God. They have beautiful churches, but the students observed large gift shops in two of the most beautiful churches they visited, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur.
But, they also saw evidence that perhaps the French aren’t as spiritually dry as we might think, and that they are, in some ways, expressing some aspects of honouring the Creator better than we do.
SLOW FAST FOOD
The most obvious example for the students was the French approach to food. The French value food, so when they eat, they take their time. A meal is not a mere biological necessity between work and an evening Bible study. The meal is one of the most important events of the day. The students said, “Even the fast food is slow.”
ASK FOR THE BILL
And meals aren’t just about the food. They are very much about the conversation that takes place over the meal. The French enjoy nothing more than great food with good friends. Here, restaurants try to maximize the number of seatings in an evening by carefully moving diners from the appetizer to the bill as quickly as possible without them feeling rushed. In France, you and your friends are expected to enjoy each other’s company for hours. If you want a bill, you have to ask for it.
UNDERWEAR AND MOTOR OIL
Rather than serving groceries in the same store that also sells underwear and motor oil (Walmart, Target, etc.), the French have rows of small, independently owned specialty stores. Each only sells one thing–cheese, meat, pastry, bread, fish, vegetables. The idea is that if you specialize, you can better ensure the quality of your wares, and the resultant meals will be a lot more enjoyable.
Very early, the Bible establishes humanity’s three key relationships: with God, with others, and with Creation. The French do very little to nurture the first, hence the appellation “godless,” but, at least in their approach to meals, they do really well with the second two. They take the good gifts of God and treat them as the treasures they are.
Our culture conceived of Kraft Dinner which sells for $1.27 a box and takes less than 10 minutes to make and even less to consume even if we include the time it takes to offer a prayer acknowledging God’s gustatory providence.