12:30. Class is over and it's time for lunch. You have three options: sandwiches in Bâtiment L or in the main cafeteria, or you can venture upstairs. You decide a sandwich isn't enough to satisfy your hunger, so you arrive at the cafeteria. Knowing what awaits you at the top of the stairs, you pause. Is the food upstairs really what you want? Yes? Then it's time to muster your strength....
As soon as you climb the stairs, you see a large space packed with people. You grab a tray and a small loaf of bread and survey the area. Now, here comes the tricky part. In the cafète you have several options: plat du jour, plat du monde, plat grille, plat chaud, and pizza/pates. Each plat comes with restrictions. If you choose the plat du jour or the plat chaud, you can have two side items: fruit, salad, desert, or drink. But, if you choose one of the other plats, you can only have one side dish. So, what's the best? If there's a long line, chances are it’s good. Logical, right? However, in a French cafète, the lines are all mixed up. Is that the line for the salads and vegetables or for the plat du monde? Pizza or spaghetti? And it's usually so crowded in the room that you can't go from one side to the other!
You've decided on the plat du monde, huh? Good choice; it’s Sweedish meatballs today. You've elbowed your way over the clump that looks like the line? Just hop in where you can; "butting" doesn't exist. If someone gets "in line" in front of you, tans pis. That's too bad. There's nothing you can do; it's how the lines work.
You've received your food without a disaster and now you have to work your way through the sea of people to the cash register. And just because you have a tray, doesn't mean you're Moses. So, you've made it to the register? Congrats! Ce n'est pas facile, ca! Now it's time to pay. You can either pay with cash (en liquide) or with the meal tickets you bought downstairs. There's not a system for French students of a meal plan, etc. No lives at the university, so everyone pays for their meals. But, it's only 3 euro. If you don't have those meal tickets, you need to find the line and stand your ground. Otherwise, simply hand the ticket to the cashier on your way out. Trust me, it's one of the easier parts about your lunch.
The next stop is silverware and condiments. Sounds like a breeze, right? Wrong! There's one station, and one station only. Sometimes one eating utensil or another is out, and there's no counter anywhere to place your tray on. To make matters worse, the French students are just as aggressive about their silverware and Dijon mustard as they are about getting their food. They'll bump you from behind with their trays, cut right in front of you, and anything else that brings to mind the stereotype "the French are rude." Oh, and make sure everything's balanced alright; if you spill something, no one's going to bother to help. Except perhaps for the passing employee. And if it wasn't your fault at all, don't expect anyone to apologize. Rejoice if this doesn't occur; it's both humiliating and very frustrating. And, yes, I know this from experience. And, yes, the only people who offered any sort of sentiment along the lines of "are you okay" were American, and the kind staff member who even refilled my order for me while I attempted to wash off the desert spilled down my front. At least I didn't have to pay again!
Well, if you've survived all of that, you only have to find a seat. Good luck with that one! The eating space is crowded, and if you're with a group of more than two, you should have gotten sandwiches. Me, I'll take my meals in an American cafeteria, thank you, even if the food is worse.
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