“Would you like some camembert?”
“Have you ever tried French cheese?”
“Naná, you’re in France! You have to eat some fromage.”
These are the statements that have haunted me since the day that I arrived in France. Putting aside that I am not a huge fan of cheese in general, and the only cheeses that I do happen to like tend to be Italian or Swiss (usually the ones that are not mature aka stinky).
Thus, it has become almost a weekly event that I must politely decline the numerous offerings of brie, camembert, and chèvre from enthusiastic French people that wish for me to experience whatever cheesy delight that occurs to them. To top it off, not only are my taste buds in fervent protest of this staple of French cuisine, and dare I say French culture, but my entire digestive system deems it intolerable as well.
Honestly, being lactose in tolerant back home was pretty easy. Since I lived in New York City, I had access to any type of cuisine that I was craving, and my options for dairy-free milks as well as other dairy substitutes when grocery shopping were immense.
I could easily enjoy my tea, coffee, or any other beverage since I was able to ask for almond or soy milk when I went to a café, which might also be partially due to American culture (the willingness to change food orders/substitute things in order to please the customer, and thus, turning a larger profit).
In France, however, some people look at you as if you are a member of a completely different species or as if you have no taste if you decide to make any modifications to your order. It can also be difficult to refuse people’s offerings of dairy when you are invited to someone’s home.
I must admit that many people have been understanding, but others act as though they have never heard of lactose intolerance or that it isn’t that serious; however, it is that serious, not that they would know since they are not the ones that have to deal with the consequences of indulging in some breakfast emmental or dessert yogurt.
The worst part is that dairy is almost unavoidable in this country, whether someone offers it to you or not. To put it simply, if you do not wish to cook every single meal that you eat and you do not live in a big city with non-dairy options in restaurants, you will have a difficult time avoiding dairy. With its affinity for meat and dairy, as well as its stubbornness with regards to modifications with cuisine, France is probably a vegan’s worst nightmare.
For someone who does not include cheese into my daily food consumption due to my distaste for it, being lactose intolerant can actually be a good excuse to politely decline those who offer it to me (for those who understand and respect food intolerances/allergies, that is).
Also, I guess I can take comfort in the fact that my skin and my digestive system are thanking me for not consuming dairy. In conclusion, being lactose intolerant in France is not the end of the world, but it definitely requires you to be creative in the kitchen and attentive when reveling in French cuisine.
Naná is a proud Brooklyn native and aspiring digital nomad. She enjoys travel, nature, and art. Her other hobbies include reading fantasy novels, binge-watching series on Netflix, and language-learning. Find her @blackbelletravels