In 1961, a gangly Californian with a funny voice introduced Americans to French cuisine – and culture. The recent release of “Julie & Julia” has launched a renewed Julia Child love-fest. The film chronicles Julia Child’s foray into French cooking in post-World War II France as well as how a Manhattan secretary named Julie Powell followed in her footsteps 40 years later.
But you don’t have to be a food-lover to appreciate Julia Child. In her book, My Life in France, Julia describes how she threw herself into the culture of France. Food was only a part of that. She describes meeting up with an old friend who was also living in France, “ . . . she loathed the Parisians, whom she considered horrid, mean, grasping, chiseling, and unfriendly in every way.” In contrast, Julia “loved the people, the food, the lay of the land, the civilized atmosphere, and the generous pace of life.”
Julia also briefly describes her life in China during World War II, a country and a culture that she and Paul Child, who later became her husband, also enjoyed. “We loved the earthy Chinese people and their marvelously crowded and noisy restaurants, and we spent a lot of our off-hours exploring different types of regional foods together.”
It reminds me of an old proverb. An old man was sitting outside a city’s gates. A traveler stopped and asked the old man what kind of people lived in the city. He replied, “What were the people like in the city you just left?” The traveler responded that they were horrible, mean, and cheats. The old man replied, “You will find the same people here.” The traveler kept going past the city. A second traveler asked the old man, “What kind of people live here?” The old man replied again with a question. “What were the people like in the city you just left?” The traveler said, “They were wonderful, kind, and generous.” The old man said, “You will find the same people here.”
The moral is that a lot of our interactions with new people, new cultures, and new experiences are influenced by our own attitudes and preconceptions. Julia brought the same cheerful, pleasant attitude to the people she met in China and France and so she found happiness wherever she went.
It’s a lesson that she emphasized in her signature sign-off, “Bon appétit.” To enjoy life, people, and food, anticipate that it will be good – or “bon.”