Une table pour un, s’il vous plaît

Table for oneSadder than destitution, sadder than a beggar is the man who eats alone in public. Nothing more contradicts the laws of man or beast, for animals always do each other the honor of sharing or disputing each other’s food.” (Jean Baudrillard, French philosopher)

With Debbie Downer quotes like that floating around the internet, no wonder I’m apprehensive about dining alone in Paris. I’m not worried about travelling alone (other than a fear of a large, snoring seatmate that I *can’t* drape my legs across on the flight). I don’t mind — and in fact am kind of excited about — sightseeing and shopping and just strolling on my own. Choosing where I want to eat for every single meal with no need for compromise is tantalizing. But when it comes to actually sitting alone at mealtime I have a significant dread.

Maybe if it were somewhere other than Paris I would give it less thought. But in my favorite place in the world to eat, I want my week to overflow with fantastic meals. I don’t want to choose restaurants just because they show up on some list of solo-diner friendly restaurants. (Though I probably will check out one or two communal table places — the Washington Post suggests L’Auvergne Gourmande.)

So why the seemingly universal horror of dining alone? It’s certainly not a new phenomenon:

We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink, for dining alone is leading the life of a lion or wolf.” (Epicurus)

Humans have always come together to share meals. And while single-serving meals may fly off the freezer shelves, eating at home alone in front of the tv is an entirely different matter than presenting oneself to the maître d’ and asking for a table for one. Entire chapters of books are devoted to the topic, particularly in the books on solo women’s travel I’ve read lately. There seem to be two takes on the experience.

One is to survive mealtime through the use of books, newspapers or other props designed to entertain the diner and shield her from pitying stares of the happy couples and groups dining nearby. The second philosophy resonates more with me. It encourages the diner to fully engage in the experience. Don’t distract yourself from the pleasures of your tastebuds by hiding behind a book. Pay attention to your food and your surroundings. I like this thought. Part of my reason for flying thousands of miles to Paris is to enjoy the food.

Camembert fondue in a bread bowl and fried potatoesIn my one experience to date eating alone in Europe — lunch last fall at Starcooker in Paris — I think I made a compromise between the two schools of thought. I studied my map and guidebook until my food came, then dug into my Camembert fondue in a bread bowl and fried potatoes with a dedicated focus on taste and smell. The experience of eating alone was novel enough that I rather enjoyed it. Knowing of course that I’d dine with my husband that night and tell him all about it made it that much easier. I don’t know how I’ll feel when lunch and dinner every day for a week are taken alone.

I need to look on an advantage of sitting alone. As a couple we’re much more insulated from the people around us. By myself I may be more likely to meet interesting people nearby. And if nothing else, the obligatory French glass of wine ought to lend a happy feeling to the meal.

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