Exchange students still getting used to eating meals at different times
After five months at OU, most exchange students are getting used to the different foods they eat every day in America. But what many of exchange students still struggle to understand are the meal times.
“They eat anything at anytime,” Amélie Plot said.
The French law student said she’s not used to eating early, even with her family.
“In France, when I eat with my family, it’s never before 8 or 8:30,” Plot said. “Here, with my host family, we ate Christmas dinner at 5:30.”
After five months in the U.S., Plot said she’s still not used to the American meal time.
“If I eat at 6, since I often go to bed late, at midnight I’m hungry again,” Plot said.
One of the big differences is the abundance of snacks in American culture, Plot said.
“The problem is that here, everyone nibbles,” Plot said. “They eat snacks all the time, so they don’t mind eating early because they will eat again after that.”
For Leila Hamaidi, a French business student, snacks play a different and more structured role. In France, many children eat a snack after getting home from school called “goûter” — also called “the 4 o’clock” — a tradition some French students carry on throughout college.
“When I come back from class, I eat my goûter, so I can wait until 8 or 9 to have a proper dinner,” Hamaidi said.
But a year abroad — and the parties that come with it — often will not adhere to a precise eating schedule. Despite the odd meal times of the week, the weekends are different, Hamaidi said.
“After a big party, when I usually wake up at 1-something, I always go for a brunch,” Hamaidi said. “It’s the perfect I’m-hungry-but-I’m-too-lazy-to-cook meal.”
After a late start to the day because of the previous night’s revelry, noon can seem too early to eat lunch because it’s more like a late breakfast, with which American college students might agree.
But even on a normal week day, noon seems too early to eat lunch for students like Alexander Manosalvas, a Spanish electrical engineering student.
“With my family, we usually wait for my father to come back from work to have lunch, so usually around 2 or 3 p.m.,” he said.
Manosalvas said many Spanish families have a small break around 5 or 6 p.m. called “merienda,” when they eat a piece of fruit, a pastry or something small to hold them over until dinner at 9 or 10 p.m.
Manosalvas said he’s run into issues eating later because of the early closing times of restaurants on campus.
“Most Union restaurants are open for dinner until 7 and Couch Restaurants for lunch until 2. What about those who eat later?” Manosalvas asked.
The restrictive hours are no problem for Tim Slater, a British aerospace engineering student who said he usually eats dinner around 7 p.m. but knows people back home who have dinner at 4 or 5 p.m.
“It works with the values you’ve been brought up with,” he said.
Like the French and Spanish breaks, Slater said the British have what they call tea time around 4 or 5 p.m., keeping them from nibbling on snacks between lunch and dinner.
“When I was a lot younger, my parents would make sure I wasn’t eating snacks between the meal. Now that I control my own diet, I still try to apply that,” Slater said.
Slater said he thinks the lack of a scheduled healthy snack in American culture is not an excuse to eat all the time.
“People use the culture as an excuse. It’s what they tell themselves to make it acceptable, but in the end, they know they shouldn’t do it,” he said. “Once you start, you’ll consider it acceptable eating snacks anytime, and you’ll carry on eating. It’s self-discipline, really.”