A Vegetarian in Paris
I pretty much get the same reaction when people find out I’m a vegetarian, regardless of where I find myself in the world. It varies from looks of pity, to genuine incomprehension, to “OK, but you still eat chicken right?” (I’ve gotten that answer in at least four different countries).
Some quick background on my dietary habits: I was raised vegetarian, and stopped eating fish when I was about 15 years old. So I’ve had plenty of practice living life without eating meat.
When I visited France back in 1999...well let's just say the options were limited. I pretty much had the choice of bread and cheese if I wanted a sandwich, and a salad if I was lucky (and if I begged the server to keep the meat out).
But when I came back to live in Paris in 2005, I was surprised to see how much easier it had become to live my animal-friendly lifestyle. There were more vegetarian menu options, servers had grown more accustomed to my requesting items “sans viande” (without meat), and it was even easier to find basic meat substitutes at the supermarket.
Still, as much as France has improved, it should come as no surprise to anyone that it still isn’t exactly the #1 spot in the world to be vegetarian.
For those of you who are interested in the countries with the top veggie-friendly reputations, here is a list from Expatify.com of the Top Ten Best Countries to be Vegetarian:
8. Hong Kong
7. United States
4. United Kingdom
So far, I've been to four out of ten: clearly I need to plan a trip to Asia, stat.
While I am happy with my choice to be vegetarian, I also strongly believe that local cuisine is a huge part of being fully immersed in a foreign culture.
Frankly, I think it’s up there with learning the language. So I’m well aware that by deciding not to eat meat, I’m kind of missing out. Luckily, I’ve never tried a Big Mac, or Beef bourguignon, so I don’t know the full extent of what I’m missing!
Overall, when traveling or living abroad, I think it's always important to strike a balance between adapting to a new culture, and keeping a bit of your own along for the ride. I like to think that I've managed to strike a pretty good balance between the two while living in France.