The French and I have very different notions of time. I was prepared for this in some aspects. I learned about cultural differences in my French class.
The French eat later than we do. It’s okay, expected even, to be 15 minutes late to a rendez vous. They call it le quart d'heure de politesse (the quarter hour of politeness).
What my American brain was not prepared for is the lack of precision in time in its entirety.
I first noticed it when asking the time. Instead of getting precise answers to my questions of “quelle heure est-til?” (what time is it?), people would respond with things like “20 ‘til 6” or “quarter past 3” when in reality it was something like 5:38 and not 5:40.
The French seem to care very little about the precious difference between 8:14 and 8:17 (I mean, you can do a lot with 3 minutes!), and will tell you it’s “huit heure et quart” (quarter past 8).
This fluidity in time telling doesn’t stop with the world clock. It also is found when estimating wait periods. When informing me how long it’ll take the delivery guy to get to my apartment, or how long I have to wait before picking up my delicious pizza, I am often told things like, “un petit vingt minutes” (a small twenty-minutes) or “une grosse demi heure” (a fat half hour).
A small twenty minutes? How can twenty minutes be any smaller or bigger than it is, considering it is an exact measurement of time?!
It seems that the French use petit(e) and gros(se) in order to express the American equivalent of about, around, or, between two times (ex. 15– 20 minutes).
That said, the most easily recognizable difference in perception of time comes down to whether FBF or I do the cooking.
Ever since I went off to college and started cooking for myself, I always follow the times written for the food I cook, whether it be pasta, frozen pizza, or a more complex recipe.
FBF does not.
Despite the fact that it is written clearly on the pasta box that to get Al Dente you need to put the pasta in boiling water for 10 minutes, he just wings it. He puts the pasta in and then after a moment determined by who knows what, he goes and does the taste test.
The same thing goes for frozen pizza. Despite the box informing you how long you need to cook the pizza, FBF and La Maman just put them in the oven until they look good.
They don’t set any timers. They don’t keep track of the time.
Sure, if after the ten minutes my pasta is not cooked, I will cook it for longer. But I always set an addition timer.