1997 French Fries? (Vol 1: No 10)

After lunch we walked back to the bus, gathered up everyone, and headed out of town. Originally our plans were to take the motorway back to Paris and then head south, but the trucker’s strike changed all that.  Instead, we took a small two-lane road heading southeast through the countryside.  This, being my first experience off the beaten path in France, was an eye-opening journey.  We traveled through miles and miles of wheat fields south of Chartres that reminded me very much of those I’d seen in Oklahoma and Kansas.

As we neared the area of Burgundy, the fields turned to mountains with evergreens at their tops.  The valleys were filled with grapevines stretching from one small village to the next.  Somewhere around Dijon we stopped for a break and many of us purchased little jars of their famous mustard.  No “grey poupon” here, just well seasoned mustard laced with that famous white wine.

Dijon gave me a different perspective on France, its people, and its culture.  Until this time I’ve only visited Paris, and I soon learned that was not the best representation of the country.  Here in Dijon we got off the bus in the town center and walked down the main street peeking in shops and checking out the mustard, olives, culinary items, and wine.  I picked up on a different dialect and with it a different attitude for the local folks.  They were different than the Parisians.

Yes, I know, the local people we interacted with were shopkeepers who ultimately were there to sell us tourists some of their stuff…but they were nice about it.  They weren’t like the Parisian shopkeepers who spoke English in a haughty and curt voice.  Here in Dijon they spoke very little English but seemed to go out of their way to help us with our shopping.  Between our silly “sign language,”  the two or three words we knew in French, and their limited English vocabulary, we all had a great time buying bread, cheese, mustard, and wine. 

Later we sat down at a cafe and were presented a menu entirely in French.  There was no “tourist” menu as there had been in Paris.  Charlotte saw a pile of french fries loaded with ketchup at a nearby table and set out to find them on the menu.  After all the pitiful food we’d had on this trip, fries looked really good to me too.  So here we were, sitting at this cute little French cafe in Dijon’s town center trying to figure out what the French word for FRENCH fries was! 

Well, we couldn’t locate it on the menu, so finally when the waitress came over to get our order she pointed at the table and plate of fries.  The waitress laughing said, “ahhh, french fries…pommes frites!, avec ketchup?”  Not quite getting the translation but hearing “ketchup” Charlotte knew she had hit pay-dirt and voiced a confident oui, oui, s’il vous plaît!

So goes the story of how we got our first order of FRENCH fries in Dijon, France!


About the Author
David McGuffin established David McGuffin's Exploring Europe, Inc. in 2001 to formally offer European tours. Since then, he has taken several thousand satisfied customers on memorable and educational tours to Europe.
  1. Beth Reply

    Hey David, I am so glad you and Charlottte have scoped out so many places and have figured out most of the “do’s and don’t” of each country. Me, being of limited travels, have only been out of the country one time and that was to Montreal, Canada. Even though we were visiting in July, we still wore long pants and sleeves thinking that being that far north, we would need them. Unknown to us, they were in the middle of a draught and heat wave, so we were uncomfortably over-dressed. This led to very hot and cranky tourists. When we were ready to eat, and my kids saw a “McDonald’s” sign, that was it. They weren’t interested in any French or Canadian looking places. They wanted chicken nuggets and fries and nothing else. The menu at McDonald’s was in French, but the pictures and numbers were universal! To make sure we were understood, we not only said the numbers, but held up the appropriate number of fingers as well! I know that traveling with you guys, I’ll not go hungry and if we have a hankerin’ for anything close to American food, you’ll make a stab at finding it for us!

  2. Ed Reply


    Thanks for taking Caryn on that Ridgeview Jr High band trip a number of years ago. That was a fine trip for her to see Rome, Venice, Pisa maybe, Switzerland and a number of other great places in Europe. She had a very good time and the trip really gave her something to remember for ever.

    When I think of France I remember my trip to Paris in about 1968 as part of a US Army three day pass.
    I went with my roomate Sgt Gary Williams and we saw a number of places on foot as well as bus. We ate on top of the Eiffel Tower in the resturant there that must now be closed. We went to Arc de Triomphe, Napoleon’s tomb, the Louvre, and other places there. We walked around a lot on foot and we didn’t speak a word of French so we ordered pomme fritz almost every meal when we figured out that means french fries. I really liked that Louvre. Nice house for King Louie XIV! Notre Dame was great and Sacre Coeur Church was great. I took pictures and stil have them although a bit faded now.

    Ed Martin

  3. Michelle Flynn Reply

    Hi David,

    Reading this entry brings back such wonderful memories of our trip to Paris. I remember we had almost as many adults as students in that group. The entire journey was full of various adventures, but one that really stands out about Paris was the wonderful picnic we had in front of the Eiffel tower. I remember you went to several little shops and came back to surprise us with wonderful little tidbits of Parisian cooking. We had everything from plump rotisserie chicken to escargot, tangy cheeses, several types of bread, salads, pasta, stuffed mushrooms, and of course, pastries! As we sat there, unable to move we were so full, the lights on the Eiffel Tower came on and the city took on a whole new life. We really got a taste of what life is like in Paris, not just five minutes on a tourist stop. My children still talk about the fun they had on that trip, their first, but hopefully not their last trip to Europe. We hope to go back soon!

    Michelle Flynn

  4. Dawnielle Johnson Reply

    Things are definitely more “interesting” in the country. When my husband, Wayne, and I were in Normandy he was having very bad earaches. So we decided to go to a pharmacy for some medication, but he had ear tubes so he couldn’t use any liquid medication. Even though I speak French well, I have to admit “ear tubes” is not in my vocabulary. So I tried for several embarrassing minutes to explain that he has “holes in his ears” and we eventually got some medicine. Then the pharmacist said to me, “You speak French beautifully! Where did you learn?” I had to laugh. I had done a horrible job, but this is a very common reaction. People away from the major cities are much more patient and always excited to see someone who has put forth any effort into studying their language.

  5. Jim and Ann Reply

    This experience reminds us of our trip last March with you. It was a Sunday and we were travelling between Switzerland and France. With no specific lunch stop planned, we traveled on, looking for a place that would reflect the local atmosphere–finding one open was a challenge since it was Sunday. What a place you discovered; Le Petit Paris was considered a truck stop! Since we saw the sign OUVERT in the window, the bus driver pulled to the side of the road and you went inside to see if they could serve a meal for 22. They asked that we give them 5 or 10 minutes to prepare the tables for us, then welcomed us inside. What a wonderful stop! The food was excellent, the cost reasonable, the atmosphere local, and the people more than willing to help us interpret the French menu. This was a true highlight of the trip!

  6. Dianne Lyons Reply

    Speaking of Dijon, my husband could not wait to taste “REAL” French Onion Soup, so it was the first thing he ordered at our first meal in Dijon. Guess what? Same as here. He was a little disappointed.

    We have used the point to other peoples dishes very often to order. Once in Poland at the hotel I pointed to what was on another man’s plate and the waitress who spoke good English explained to me it wasn’t on the menu but a stew that was made for the staff. BUT if we wanted to come back for supper we could eat with them. SO WE DID! What fun!

    Also remember going into a Spanish Bar and asking what the bartender was cooking in his big pot….Tappas…..When he didn’t understand me I pointed at the pot and twisted by face into a fish and he shook his face no, so I flapped my arms like a chicken and he laughed and put his hands on top of his head as horns and went MOOoooo! It was a beef stew! I said to him, I WILL HAVE SOME!

  7. Susan Reply

    Learning at least a few words in the language always helps. I usually settle for two or three key phrases such as … bathroom, please and thank you and another beer please!

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