On Eating Alone in Paris

Rue Montorgueil, a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with specialty food shops, gives the solo traveler an opportunity to pick up picnic provisions, or a sweet treat. CreditJoann Pai for The New York Times

By Stephanie Rosenbloom, New York Times

France has its share of fast-food chains. Still, the French have historically spent more time eating than the people of other nations — more than two hours a day, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. As the writer Alice B. Toklas wrote, the French bring to the table “the same appreciation, respect, intelligence and lively interest that they have for the other arts, for painting, for literature and for the theatre.”

Eating alone, however, in Paris and beyond, has soured plenty of appetites. Nathaniel Hawthorne cherished his solitude (“It is so sweet to be alone,” he wrote to his wife in 1844), but not at mealtime. “I am ashamed to eat alone,” he noted in his diary. “It becomes the mere gratification of animal appetite … these solitary meals are the dismallest part of my present experience.”

Solo dining even prompted the Pope to look for company. Vatican tradition had called for the pontiff to eat by himself. But in 1959, during Pope John XXIII’s first year as the spiritual ruler, the Daily Boston Globe published the headline: “He Shatters Tradition, Refuses to Dine Alone.” “I tried it for one week, and I was not comfortable,” the pontiff explained. “Then I searched through sacred scripture for something saying I had to eat alone. I found nothing, so I gave it up, and it’s much better now.”

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