Paris meet-up! + "Ticket Restaurant": an idea worth spreading?

Bougainvillea plant and golden retriever (c) Kristin Espinasse
Looking in our kitchen window, Smokey says, "Ever seen those signs in French restaurants: "Nous acceptons les Tickets Restaurant?"

"Yes, Smokey dear, I've seen those stickers in the window--but you don't need a ticket to eat at this greasy spoon! Now take a seat and I'll be right out with your Croquettes du Jour!" (Photo taken after Friday's storm, which took down our bougainvillea. But it was a happy accident--it made such a pretty window frame!) 

ticket restaurant (tee-kay reh-stor-ahn)

    : meal voucher (offered to salaried employees)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc read the following Wikipedia definition (the English translation is found in the story column, below): Download Ticket MP3 or Wav file

C'est un support de paiement remis par l'employeur au salarié pour lui permettre d'acquitter tout ou partie du prix de son repas compris dans l'horaire de travail journalier. Il est en général utilisé pour le paiement d'un repas dans un restaurant, ou pour l'achat de nourriture dans un magasin. C'est un avantage social alternatif au restaurant d'entreprise.

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A Day in a FRENCH Life... by Kristin Espinasse

Food stamps are in the news. Whereas they were once given to children and the elderly, today working-age Americans are claiming the "nutritional aid."

Out in my vegetable patch I'm sifting through seeds and the latest infos--finding it hard to believe that, back home, things have come to this. When I left Arizona for France, in '92, people were throwing food in the dumpster. Now, some are dumpster diving!

For those who don't want to glean à la Agnès Varda, victory gardens are back in style--just as they were during WW1. People are changing out their front lawns for rows and rows of lettuce, beans, and tomatoes. Some of these kitchen gardens are as attractive as the former, manicured, jardins that they've replaced--in many cases even prettier....

jardin de moins (c) Kristin Espinasse
Some are even growing medicinal herbs and flowers....

Personal potagers--and, when not possible, community gardens--are definitely one answer to the food crisis. (And the act of pulling weeds and planting seeds is calming in these uncertain times.) But as I plant rows and rows of fava beans and mangetouts (amazed at how prolific and easy they are to grow) I think about those who do not have the time to enjoy food-giving soil....

When you work from home, it's easy to nip out and dig a 10 minute trench for radish seeds or spend 15 minutes filling a large bucket with dirt and potatoes (use one "mother" or sprouted potato and get a 1.5 pound yield!) not such an easy task when you work 20, sometimes 60 or more minutes from home (unless your boss will overlook a bucket of patates in your south-facing cubicle?).

That's when a light goes off: le ticket resto--France's genial meal-voucher! What better time than now to introduce this European invention, which began in post-war England!

"That's not government aide," Jean-Marc points out. Les tickets restos are an employee perk."

He's right, and Wikipedia goes on to say:

A meal voucher is a payment aide offered by an employer to the salaried worker, permitting him or her not to have to pay all or part of the price of a meal consumed during work hours. It is generally used to pay a restaurant tab or the purchase of food in a store. It's an alternative advantage to a company cafeteria.

Jean-Marc and Wikipedia may be right about that, but if more companies would offer the "perk," maybe more people would meet their daily nutritional requirements as well as get a hot meal--in some cases their only meal of the day.

The French may not have been throwing out food when I arrived in the early 90s (as a starry-eyed girlfriend to a French national), but they sure appeared cushioned from need. It seemed everyone could see the doctor--who still made house calls, for under $20--and most workers received meal tickets--whether they needed them or not. It was another one of those citizen's rights.  (According to the popular food blog, Chocolate and Zucchini, French law requires businesses to provide a dining room for their employees. Where this is not possible they must offer tickets restaurants, so that an employee may eat in dignity and comfort (i.e. away from his or her desk). 

I remember a colleague's outrage on learning that not all employees received the same advantage. We were sitting in a busy bistro, in Marseilles, the scent of roasted chicken and potatoes wafting through the air, carafes of wine on every table, dessert--meringues, tiramisus, crème caramels on the rolled out tray. "Que desirez-vous?" the waiter had asked.

My colleague ordered the same several-course meal as all the other "employed" patrons were ordering (from Chamber of Commerce teachers, like us, to what looked like a variety of workers)--and she didn't forget chocolate for dessert!

"Un fondant," she said, ordering the chocolate cake with the soft, melted interior. 

Gosh that sounded good! But as a temporary worker (without the same meal ticket advantage) I opted for a cup of coffee.

To my surprise my colleague ordered a dessert for each of us and handed the waiter an extra ticket. "I'm a little hungry today," she said, batting her eyelashes. 

Her gesture was thoughtful--and we would just see if the extra ticket would work. She wouldn't be the first to attempt to use the meal vouchers in a sneaky way--some even succeed in buying alcohol and cigarettes and other non-restaurant purchases (it is not unheard of for a supermarket to accept tickets restos as payment for milk and butter--and maybe the latest tabloid? and a pack of gum to go with it?! And how about those préservatifs next to the check out register? Little did French Enterprise know her employee perks were also helping to curb unwanted pregnancy!)

Yes, there are abuses of the system. But overall restaurant tickets seem like a great idea in this economy. What, dear reader, do you think about the meal voucher scheme? Can you see your company handing these out (or do you have a lunch room, making it a moot point)? Would it incite you to order the chocolate mousse? Or would it come in handy when you ran out of hairspray or M&Ms (or, and Smokey would like to add, croquettes)? And would your local mini-market tolerate the substitution?

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Sponsored by: Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone. Click here for photos

Book signing Ann Mah and Kristin Espinasse 

Two book events--in Paris. Hope to see you at one of them!

  • My friend Robin is hosting a book signing for Ann Mah and me! (For those who participated in my bookcover vote, now you know which was chosen!) Robin has thoughtfully extended this invitation to French Word-A-Day readers and she encourages you to bring copies of Ann's and my own books if you already own them. As well, there will be books for sale. Owing to limited space, please contact Robin right away if you can make it to this book event. Her email is [email protected]
  • Also, Ann will be giving a book talk with Patricia Wells, on February 5th at the American Library, 7:30pm.  The two authors will interview each other. I can't wait!

Note: I've had another big set-back in the production of the "First French Essais" book. The full-color photos I submitted (and carefully sub-titled) were too small for printing purposes! It's back to the drawing board as I toss those and go through 20,000 photos, looking for just the right ones to illustrate each chapter. And it just dawned on me that, because I tend to severely crop my pictures, I may have trouble finding photos of 300 dpi or higher!

Ever feel like giving up when you're this close? How do you find the motivation to pull through to the finish line? Comments welcome! Meantime, I'll have copies of Blossoming in Provence for this upcoming book signing....

1-blue sky

First almond blossoms. Pop! pop! pop! and the tree will soon be bursting with pink petals...stealing the spotlight from the bright blue sky. (P.S. in case you were wondering, nope--this photo's too small too! At only 735 x 777 pixels it won't print to 6x9!) Rolling up sleeves....

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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety