So I finally got round to submitting the first assignment for my travel writing course. The brief was to write a guide on some aspect of my hometown in 500 words. Photo courtesy of fondue fiend Louise Imbsen.
Dinner in Geneva: fitting in with the locals
Well, when I say “the locals”, I’ve only on rare occasions met a true Genevois. Of Geneva’s 200,000 or so inhabitants, almost half are expats, and many of the others are Italian, Portuguese or Spanish immigrants from the 1960s and 1980s. This makes things a little complicated when it comes to social etiquette.
First things first: saying hello. In Geneva, we kiss three times, starting with the right cheek. This already becomes problematic as the French and the Italians tend to start with the left cheek, and kiss just twice, with potential for a more intimate greeting than you had intended as you bump lips. Depending on how attractive the other person is, this may or may not be a bad thing. Then there are the Swedes, The Huggers; the Brits, who prefer the formal handshake; and yet others who stick to the cool nod, avoiding physical contact altogether.
To sample a classic Swiss dish, you can’t go wrong with a fondue. The pot of melted cheese mixed with white wine and Kirsch is a social meal and perfect for those wintry nights. Order a platter of viande séchée with pickles to start. Correct fondue protocol is as follows: after the obligatory “Bon appétit!”, break a piece of bread into small chunks, then stick them one by one onto your fork and dip into the cheese. If you drop your bread in the pot, you must down your wine. (My dad claims this is just a ruse by men to get me drunk.) Do stick to wine, as water will make the cheese coagulate in your stomach. (Bleurgh.) Make sure you look the other person in the eye as you clink your glasses, or you’ll have bad sex for seven years. (This tends to lead to some exaggerated glaring to avoid this terrible fate.) “Santé!”
If the temperature of the fondue has been kept just right – adjusting the flame of the burner throughout the evening can be the source of some contention – you will eventually arrive at la religieuse, a layer of crusty cheese at the bottom of the pot to be savoured at the end of the meal. Then it’s time to order a moitié-moitié, a digestif of one half Williamine liqueur and one half Williamine eau-de-vie, to help break down all that cheese. After that, coffee. Okay, this is the Italian influence, but it is unacceptable to drink cappuccino or latte in the evening. Milky coffee is for breakfast; after dinner, you may have an espresso or, even better, a ristretto.
Finally, we arrive at the controversial topic of tipping. Tip is included in Switzerland so in theory you “shouldn’t” leave anything but some still think that’s rude. A compromise is to at least round up the total. As you leave the restaurant, you smile to the waiters, “Merci, au revoir, bonne soirée!”. The kissing ritual is repeated with your friends. Et voilà! You’ve survived your first dinner, Geneva style.