To live comme il faut (as one should)

Two chocolate bars and a packet of crisps. This is your average UK university student lunch on a school day, gobbled hastily between lectures, with perhaps a can of coke for hydration. And this will be all you eat, all day. Of an evening, maybe some beer to go with a Domino’s pizza delivery. You’re eating a varied diet if it’s a Chinese takeaway one night and a kebab the next. If your waistline isn’t expanding as a result of this, it’s probably shrinking rapidly as, without mum there to cook, you’re barely eating anything at all.

Back home, there is little concept of taking care of oneself; “healthy” habits such as eating proper food and exercising are either scoffed at as “boring” or pretentious, or else viewed as some kind of faraway mecca, who’s attainment is hardly worth the sweat. It’s basically expected of you as a student to eat crap and be sedentary, with your main exercise coming from throwing drunken shapes around a nightclub dancefloor.

It’s well-known that Europeans are slimmer and healthier on the continent. English women are obsessed with the French woman conundrum: how can they drink so much wine, eat all that cheese and chocolate, foie gras, bread, etc. and still be slimmer? The answer isn’t rocket science, but something deeply rooted in the psychology of a people. It’s a difference in attitude, priorities and environment.

For the average European, it is not “extra” or “special” to eat a proper, large, hot meal at lunch time, rather than throwing a few crackers down the throat. It’s normal. The students I live with actually cook proper meals in the evening. Sure, we’ve all been guilty of doing the typical student pasta dish, but it’s a proper meal at least. No takeaways – there just aren’t that many in Switzerland (and they’d be too expensive anyway).

I was on the metro once, and sitting opposite me was a very stylish-looking young man, probably a fellow student, with some friends. He reached into his bag, brought out a huge tupperware box that was full of some kind of couscous and tomato salad, and started digging in. Now, you’re probably thinking, so what? Precisely. If you’re sniggering a little right now, I bet you’re English. Let’s face it, in England, his mates would all stare at him, and probably mock him for having a packed lunch – “Aahh, gaaaay!” No, in England a “cool” guy would never have a tupperware box full of couscous in the first place. In reality, it was lunch time, he was probably hungry, so he started eating the lunch he’d packed, on the metro. Big. Deal.

This is the fundamental attitude difference between young English people and the Europeans I have encountered: less self-consciousness. Eating is a perfectly normal thing, why does it have to be a source of apprehension? Why does eating vegetables as opposed to crap need to be something “special” and commented on?

In addition, the food culture in England is atrocious. You just have to compare university canteens to see what I mean. Here, the choices feel endless. We have pizza chefs, a whole array of “plat du jour”s, sandwiches, a guy who makes special Lebanese wraps, baguettes, salad bars, Asian meals, pasta, fresh cakes and pastries…the list goes on. I never have packed lunches, not because it’s “uncool” or because I don’t care about saving money, but simply because the canteens are so great I just want to eat at uni everyday.  I hear EPFL is even better… that’s next week’s lunch destination sorted, then!

Anyway, a “healthy” European lifestyle (and waistline) is simple. Eat properly. Respect yourself. Don’t have a ridiculous attitude toward food. Get some exercise. It’s easier in the beautiful Switzerland, where there are breathtaking landscapes to go hiking in, and mountains to ski on. And junk food costs a bomb. Yet somehow I don’t seem to be losing weight. Why is that? Oh yes…alcohol consumption. Zut.


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