ANGERS: Hip-Hip-Hip-Hippopotamus

Well, this weekend I had my first European restaurant experience.

I know I’ve been here for two and a half months, but I’m on a budget (read: relatively poor), so I usually settle between grocery shopping, kebabs, and snacking on the cheapest pastry at a boulangerie. 

This past Sunday though, we had six French high school students from Tersac come for a college visit of UCO and the First Year in France program. Benoit, the director of the St. Edward’s Angers program, arranged for a handful of French and American students to dine with the visitors.

My eyes lit up when I got to choose which restaurant we would go to. Finally, my chance to try Hippopotamus.

Hippopotamus is a chain restaurant that has locations all over France– I would compare it to a Chili’s or Applebee’s– and since I arrived, I’ve been entranced by its’ name and look. Also, it’s so cute when native French speakers say the name because they pronounce it “e-poh-pot-a-moos,” and I always die a little inside when they do.

Anyway, we get to the restaurant and they have snacks already on the table. Barbecue potato chips, to be precise. It was no chips and salsa, but it was more than I had expected based on tales I had heard about European restaurant customer service.

Next, they brought us some cold bread rolls, but no butter. I ate one anyway because carbs.

I began my voyage through the menu, which was completely in French (obviously). Each person had a budget of fifteen euros, and each item on the menu costed at least that much.

My eyes went straight to the burger page. Could it be? Was that guacamole on the Nouvelle Orleans Burger? I’m not sure why their Southwestern burger has a Cajun name, but etymology was the least of my worries. Finally, all my Tex-Mex-less months were going to come to an end.

I noticed the biggest difference between American and European restaurants when it came time to order: altering the menu items is not a thing. One American tried to get mac-n-cheese instead of French fries, and the waiter just shook his head “no.” I tried to get American sauce instead of barbecue, and got the same response. The language barrier probably didn’t help.

When the burger finally came, it was incredibly disappointing. The beef patty was puny and flavorless; the guacamole had a weird aftertaste; and the fries looked fake. The worst part was realizing that no one eats with their hands in France, and I would have to follow suit.

As I cut my burger with a fork and knife, I could hear every American weeping at this horrific sight. The burger was mangled and looked more like a salad with bread crumbs. Half way through, I couldn’t take it anymore.

I looked at the other Americans, said, “ah, screw it,” and ate my burger the only proper way to eat a burger: with my hands.