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Steinberger blames it all on over-regulation and sees it as part of a general decline in French society. I am sceptical on both counts. Actually, I think that French regulation has had complex effects and the "Royet Law" of 1974 (named for the Mayor of Tours) which protects la petite commerce from many of the regulations governing bigger businesses like supermarkets has helped charcuteries and patisseries to survive. The real problem seems to me to be the weight of tradition which stops a French restaurateur from being light on their feet when compared to an English one. And as for the "decline of French society" — I have survived a few decline debates inspired by Gibbonesque imagery and I think it is very difficult to tell decline from change or the a short term effect from a long term effect until long afterwards. I was very familiar with the "decline of Britain" debate in the 1970s and concluded that most things said were simplistic, ideologically motivated and exaggerated. Perhaps a better analogy would be the "Why are we so crap?" debate which started about British sport in the 1950s and which led to the Sports Councils, the lottery and to a considerable revival in British sport, which had also been weighed down by a sense of its own magnificence. French food, like British sport, has deep cultural roots and probably contains the mechanism of its own revival.

I hope so. I have so many happy memories of French restaurants. The happiest of all was on a late summer's night 40 years ago. We had wandered round ten countries in our A35 van: we had been robbed twice, broken down twice, been lost in the dead of night in the Slovenian mountains, had several brushes with the police and a particularly menacing encounter with Russian guards when trying to cross the Iron Curtain. But one thing that hadn't gone wrong was that we hadn't spent all our funds. So when we staggered over the border back from Belgium into France we booked ourselves into a hotel restaurant for DBB and pulled out the smartest clothes we could muster. The restaurant was full, the wine was affordable, each succeding course was excellent, the patron was friendly and charming to us. When it came to the cheese course we were left with a vast disc with over fifty cheeses on it. The whole thing cost about half what it would have cost in England at the time. It was my wife's first French restaurant meal and it set up the lifelong tradition of a last night treat. It would be nice to think that a young couple could still have that experience. Perhaps they could, but not so spontaneously and only after thorough research on the internet.

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November 14th, 2013
8:11 PM
"I think, for instance, that I personally am still the subject of a kind of French hegemony in that I think of a "proper" meal as a sequence of courses accompanied by appropriate wines with fish always eaten before meat. This is, after all, essentially a French invention, but I have acquired the assumption not just from visiting France, but from high tables, posh restaurants and dinner parties in England." Dishes served sequentially as separate courses originates from Russia.

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