Apr 9, 2014

Things That Make You Go "Hmm": Kiri


Sometimes, living in France, I wonder if the French are purposely being obtuse, or if they simply enjoy reinventing the wheel. Here are just a tiny fraction of the things, as I like to think of them, that make you go "hmmm..."

Doorbells: In Paris, you generally need to know the outside code in order to get in the building. Then once you're inside, you can either buzz the doorbell or, sometimes, input the second digital code. Why not just put the doorbell on the outside?

Now you have to let somebody know you're coming, so that they can give you the code #. Needless to say, this discourages spontaneous drop-ins, because you can't buzz up to ask them the code until you know the code to get in to buzz up.

Snail-mail: I sign up online for the membership number for our family's discount train pass. I receive immediate confirmation that I have successfully signed up. The message goes on to say that I will receive the actual membership number in the regular mail, in 6-8 weeks. Are they planning to chop down the tree, hand-make the paper, distill the ink from organic plants, and then crawl over here from their Paris offices to hand-deliver it? The number has already been generated -- online -- and they know that I have online access because I signed up for it online.

E-mail: An American friend complains that at his Paris law office, there is one e-mail address for the firm. When the secretary receives the e-mails, she prints them out, then walks them over to each lawyer's desk. To respond to e-mails, the lawyers can type up documents at their own computers, then have them printed out and faxed back. Or, the secretary will re-key in the document and e-mail it for them. The lawyers in this particular firm are supposed to respond by fax or phone, ideally. They do have phones that can call out, but they don't have direct numbers in: Each in-coming caller must be patched through the receptionist. Jim has recently moved to a new law firm, where he has not only an office, but also an e-mail address, and his own phone. He's really excited, among other things, not just to have moved law firms but also to have moved centuries.

Real estate: Each neighborhood has many of its own tiny agencies, each of which has its own mostly exclusive listings, for both sales and rental. There is no centralized listing spot -- not for buying or renting, other than a few online consolidators (explorimmo.com, for example, and nearly all of the apartments will already be rented by the time you see the newly-listed property). The lack of centralization is to the detriment of, apparently, everybody, but especially renters and buyers who have to -- literally -- leg it around town, find these hole-in-the-wall agencies, look manually through print-outs of their listings.

Bank Catch 22: You need a local bank account to rent an apartment. But you need a local address to open a bank account. Ready, set, go! Have fun.

A Moveable Kitchen: When they say "apartment unfurnished" they aren't kidding. Not only must you move out all your furniture, you usually must also move out all your kitchen appliances -- refrigerator/freezer, stove-top, oven. From your 4th floor walk-up apartment. Then you move it with you to the next apartment (needless to say, this will also be a 4th floor walk-up), even though the configuration and size for the refrigerator/freezer, stove-top, and oven are not correct in the new cabinetry. You may not have to worry about this if the previous renters have taken all the cabinetry and countertops with them as well. Yes, they do this, and no, I'm not exaggerating. In many cases, the landlords require it. Nobody wins. Everybody loses. And it's why we rent a furnished apartment.

Hey, at least they left the sink and some lower cabinets! It's your lucky day.


Near the end of the '60s, Bel -- the maker of seemingly all French processed cheeses, and already at that time the creator of La Vache Qui Rit -- decided to create a processed cheese specially aimed at children. Never mind that children can eat real cheese, or even La Vache Qui Rit. It was a fabulous Disney-channel style marketing plan. And now, France is flooded with Kiri (the sound of the last two words of their first cheese: "Qui Rit").

It's a pasty, ostensibly cow's milk cheese, also made -- among other things -- with cream, milk proteins, wheat flour, vegetable oil (including palm oil), and the ever-delicious polyphosphates and citrate de sodium. As you can tell, I am not a fan. Not only do I not like it, it actively grosses me out. Imagine watching somebody put an enormous block of cream cheese in their mouth, plain. Now imagine that the block of cream cheese is pastier, gloopier, and faker.

If this is any indication: I buy the box of a dozen Kiri cubes mainly so I can take this photo, do my tasting duty, and write about it. I figure I'll bring the remaining 11 cubes from the box as part of the snack I'm supposed to provide for the gymnastics team this week. Everything else gets devoured by the hungry girls, but I come home with 10 remaining cubes.


All this incredible, French cheese-making prowess around, and this is what they come up with? This is a processed cheese, distilled down from an already processed cheese, for goodness' sake. In the picture below, the Kiri is not even edible. Quite literally. The Kiris pictured are cookbooks of Kiri-inspired ideas made to look like Kiri wrappers. That makes them fake versions of fake cheeses, which are imitations of other fake cheeses. Definitely makes me go "hmmm."


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