Contemporary French Civilization

Why the French hate doggie bags

Contemporary French Civilization (2017), 42, (3-4), 373–389.

Abstract

Recent attempts to institute the practice of doggie bags, often referred to by the French as a “foreign practice,” have generally failed in France. My paper examines in some detail the negative publicity attaching there to the concept of taking home leftovers from a restaurant meal, and then some of the reasons why this might be the case. I consider some of the traditional ritual rules of the French dining experience as lived within a certain non-domestic space and time. I set this contemporary phenomenon within the context of an older institution: the (long) nineteenth-century practice of selling rich people’s leftover food to poor people at market or in restaurants, in the form of a composed plate of many courses known as l’arlequin or “the harlequin.” While the more affluent bought harlequins to feed to their dogs or cats, the poor bought them to feed themselves, and this stigma still sticks to the idea of leftovers. This is the case, it turns out, even in contemporary soup kitchens, where the unemployed and the homeless accept charitable dinners but often have difficulty accepting the offer of supplementary food to take away.

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Beizer, Janet