I spent last Christmas among Dutch family members.
I made a total of seven charlottes prior to Christmas (so now I'm thoroughly sick of them for the coming 10 years), toyed with 3 base recipes, and eventually came up with my own mango-passion-fruit-Cointreau combination. I agonised as to which colour of roses to decorate it with (red). As the French say (not really, but that's the spirit): 'It's Christmas, merde! "Tis the season to fuss a bit!"'
When the charlotte's big moment came close, I turned it upside on its plate, praying it would hold itself up, and put the fresh roses on top. I don't want to brag, but frankly it was gorgeous. That's when Dutch practicality really got in the way of French panache. My host insisted on putting a blue plastic cutting board under my precious cake as she feared for her tablecloth when I would serve it. I was floored. I felt not just disappointed but deeply insulted too. After so much care and work, the tablecloth took precedence over the beauty of my cake. I was far too polite to say anything so the matter was not taken further, but it was hard to digest.
To me, it was a vivid example of how food and the rituals around it are highly culturally sensitive matters - something you hear a lot studying here, though I'd never felt it so personally before. Now I've now realised how differently the French and the Dutch see things.
Emile Cole from France, MSc Organic Agriculture
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