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242. ART de VIVRE

I often clash with friends and even members of my family about ways and manners of doing things. Specially, being French, about table manners. It is said that the French have a special ART de VIVRE concerning food and eating habits and other things as well. When looking for a translation into English of this particular phrase, I found that people were at a loss with it: "art of living" does not really translate the concept.

Let me explain my views on this. It has to do with esthetics and the epicurean philosophy. As applied to life it means: the manners showing your sense of beauty with which you tackle a given situation or activity. Your "art de vivre" shows you have an ideal for beauty. Linked with epicurian philosophy it shows you have the ability to see beauty in every simple gestures of human activity and you derive pleasure out of it. Your perception of beauty triggers a feeling of pleasure.

For my part I have a highly developed perception of beauty and it triggers in me a strong feeling of pleasure when the level of beauty is achieved. I am not talking of the beauty of ladies as seen by men. I am talking of the harmony, sense of peace and balance, you can find in everything. French culture, as I know it, has developed this need for harmony, balance and peace in every field of life and particularly with anything to do with food and eating habits. The contrary applies when my sense of harmony is aggressed and the peace is destroyed by anyone who has no "art de vivre", I get very depressed.

For example... say I'll have someone for lunch. It will be at the table simply decorated, the plates perhaps matching the color of the tablecloth, a glass above the plate and in the middle of it, cuttlery on each side. The food is served, not out of the pot in the kitchen and then delivered, but in a nice dish at the table so that everyone is free to help themselves for the amount they require. The food is eaten as accompaniement to a pleasure giving conversation, not gulped in a hurry to satisfy mondane needs. The food is eaten completely to show respect for those who prepared it. Harmony, peace and pleasure converge.

When I have teenagers for lunch who nowadays don't have this "art de vivre", destroy the beauty and kill my pleasure, I get quickly angry and depressed.

Can you teach "art de vivre"? or is it innate, inborn, inbred? How did I learn about it? At home? At school? in books? in films?

Will this French "art de vivre" survive my generation or will it disappear within the next decade?


Those manners, not necessarily table manners, showing a definite sense of beauty with which any given situation or activity is tackled, have been developed over the last few thousand years, in France and on continental Europe in general. This age old ideal for beauty shows best in our old cathedrals and in our landscapes. Beauty for its own sake. Linked with the epicurean philosophy throughout the centuries, every little gesture of human activity was made to gain and give pleasure. 

To finish, here's an article in "The Local", France's news in English, entitled: The French eating habits the world should learn from.

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