Faire une gaffe is a French expression, and the best translation is "to put one's foot in it."
So I'll take you back about one week, to last Wednesday, to explain exactly how "j'ai fait une gaffe!".
The man from the Tour Auto cocktail party had arranged to take me out on a date. His name, by the way, is François (so French!). The only information he gave me was as follows: 9pm, Métro Louvre-Palais Royale, call me when you arrive.
With such little information, I could only assume that we were going for a drink, and perhaps a bite to eat. So I dressed accordingly: Jeans, boots, a white tee and a navy blazer.
When I arrived at Palais Royale, he was waiting for me at the top of the métro stairs... in a suit. And a very formal dinner suit at that. My first thought? When am I ever going to get this clothing thing right?!
We started walking through the Palais Royale which, by the way, is absolutely beautiful. After having covered the weather, the hassles of catching the métro and various other tidbits best classified as 'small chat', we were at a bit of a stand still. Mostly to fill this void, and also because I was dying to know, I decided to ask where we were going.
"A cocktail party" he replied, followed by "that's why I'm wearing a suit."
Great! So this is a cocktail party where we're meant to dress-up, and my silky little black number from last week is hanging up at home.
"Oh, you could have told me" I replied, smiling. But it was one of those restrained smiles. One of those 'I'm really annoyed with you right now, but I don't know you well enough to tell you that, so I'll just smile' kinds of smiles.
We continued walking through the pillared archways. To my right, a selection of very chic and expensive boutiques. To my left, a spectacular garden, lit with fairy lights and scattered with statues and water fountains.
These are the pillared archways.
Then I saw it... the cocktail party. About a hundred or so EXTREMELY well dressed people mingling in this very picturesque garden that lies within the Palais Royale. Even the waiters were wearing penguin suits. Rather than lamenting this wardrobe malfunction, I embraced it and became the token young, under-dressed foreigner.
Let me set you the (gastronomic) scene of this function. At one end of the garden was a very well-equipped bar, this time serving Moet & Chandon, as opposed to Verve, and an extensive variety of red and white wine. I opted for the red, as opposed to the champagne, and not necessarily without reason. Out of the corner of my eye I spied the cheese platter. Sipping on a nice red was good preparation for the cheese banquet which lay ahead. And I kid you not, this cheese platter could have definitely been classified as a banquet. It must have measured about 2 meters squared. Without doubt the largest cheese platter that I have ever encountered in my 23 years of existence.
General Charles De Gaulle famously once asked “how can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?” And the figure doesn’t stop there. Many have since claimed that there are in fact 365 varieties of cheese in France, one for each day of the year. I have even read articles which suggest that France currently produces over 400 varieties of cheese.
Camembert, Brie, Livarot, Pont l'Evêque, comté, Roquefort, chévre, Tome de Savoie, Bleu d'Auvergne, Epoisse, Fourme d'Ambert, Cantal, Vieux Lille, Chaource, Neufchâtel, Maroilles, Munster, Mont d'Or, Saint Nectaire, Reblochon… and the list goes on.
Whether there are 246, 365, or over 400 varieties… I would say that on the evening of the cocktail party, at least a third of all French cheese was sitting on that cheese platter.
A word of warning - you can't simply dive into the cheese platter at the beginning of the evening, or the soirée. The cheese comes last... And if you forget that, a Frenchman will be sure to remind you. I was personally reminded of ‘cheese etiquette 101’ by my date who, as I started to approach the cheese, suggested that it would be better to wait until later. And it wasn’t really a suggestion at all, so much as an order.
So whilst I waited, I enjoyed some petite servings of pea and prosciutto risotto, a piece of quiche and some foie gras on mini-toasts.
Actually it was whilst I was enjoying a bit of foie gras, that something a little bit strange happened.
I had already noticed that François only seemed to know two people at the party. Two men, to be precise. One quite old, the other quite young. The latter was apparently a test driver for Posche, yet when I started to discuss motor sports with him, he didn't really seem to know anything about cars. The older one was just all-together strange, and only seemed to want to discuss Uluru with me (because I'm Australian, and so that's obviously the sort of conversation that I enjoy).
A very elegant-looking lady standing in a nearby cluster of people overheard that I’m English-speaking, and wanted to come over to ‘test-run’ her language skills. She’d recently done course in London. And that’s about as far into the conversation as we got. Before I knew it, Françcois had his arm around my back and was literally pushing me away from the lady, whose name I never even had the chance to hear.
And then something clicked. He didn’t want me talking to any of the other guests at the party. I suppose I didn’t really mind at the time, because he ushered me from the English conversation straight to the cheese platter. Ah ha! It seems that Frenchmen do let you have the cheese at the beginning of the evening – at least, they do when they have an ulterior motive.
As I smeared a big slice of crumbly Roquefort onto a chunk of baguette, I had two simultaneous, yet unrelated thoughts. The first thought came from my stomach, not my brain. The cocktail party in the garden was connected to a restaurant, Restaurant du Palais Royale. It was the kitchen of this restaurant which had provided the evenings’ canapés and cheese. And so my stomach thought, “I really should come back here to sample the menu.” If my stomach wants to sample the menu, then I’m sure yours would too. The address is 110, galerie de Valois 75001 Paris, and the closest Métro Palais Royal - Musée du Louvre, if you’re ever interested.
The restaurant that catered for the function.
As for the second thought? Well that one came from my brain, and it went something along the lines of “I wonder how legitimate François is?” He didn’t want me talking to any of the other guests at the party, and he himself didn’t really seem to know anyone. I will never know this for sure, but I do suspect that he and his two friends gate-crashed that cocktail party. If that’s the case, then I am also (inadvertently) a gate-crasher.
All of a sudden, for no apparent reason, François informed me that we were leaving. “Of course you want to leave, you gatecrasher” I thought. But because I had already consumed more than enough cheese and wine, I was ready to go in any case, and so this didn’t really bother me.
We walked back through the other side of the Palais, pass the likes of Marc Jacobs and Corto Moltedo. He pulled me over to the window of an expensive and modern furniture shop, and pointed out a lamp. “What do you think?” he asked. The lamp was nothing special. A little strange and eccentric looking, it was entirely silver with some erratic curves here and there.
“Well…” I said, “there is NO way that I would ever spend 2000 euro on a lamp that looks like that! I can’t understand how anyone would want to spend that much money to have THAT sitting in their home.
Since he didn’t say anything, and since any silence is an awkward silence on a first date, I felt the need to continue talking…
“What’s it even made of? Really, what do you think makes it worth 2000 euro. I guess each to his own… I’m just not really into extremely modern furniture like that.”
Sill he said nothing, and so we kept walking.
He escorted me to the metro. I asked him several times during the walk what he did for a living, and where he lived. Both questions he repeatedly ignored, overtly changing the topic every time.
The next day he sent me a text message. No hello. No how are you. Just an email address. Intrigued, I looked it up. It was his website. As the page finished downloading I realized that he’s a designer. To be more specific, he’s a lamp designer!
Low and behold, as I scrolled through the images of his various designs, I came across the exact same lamp that I had spent a good 5 minutes criticizing the night before.
Needless to say, that relationship never took off! But at least I discovered a good restaurant, and indulged an exorbitant amount of cheese.