Cancoillote is a semi liquid cheese from Franche-Comte, a region of North-East France, next to Switzerland. It’s quit stinky and has a strange taste for people that are not used to eating French cheeses. It’s a very local cheese, being unknown by most of the rest of France (and the world).
I was spending time at a professional networking event a few days ago, when I engaged conversation with a pretty western women. She was from Kansas and we talked a little bit about America as I recently made my first trip there. She explained how different life was in Kansas where she grew up, and in New York or Chicago, that I had just visited. This is when the conversation took a very different turn.
She started to speak to me in French, and said “I have spent a year at the University of Besancon”. Besancon is the capital of Franche-Comte, the French region next to mine. It’s a charming city and supposed to be very lively, though I am not quite sure how it could retain the attention of a foreigner for one full year. She also knew my town (Dijon), that is a little larger as she was spending weekends there. Then she said a really unexpected sentence: “Do you like cancoillote?” Here I was in Shanghai, drinking sparkling white wine dressed in a suit in a professional gathering, being asked about a cheese that I did not eat since about 10 or 15 years by this very pretty women from Kansas that I had just met. I have to admit that I was truly flabbergasted. We then chatted for a while about this cheese (that she did not like at all) and this part of rural France that I used to go skiing to. This was a really nice conversation and I could not help thinking about the wondeful taste of cancoillote on freshly boilled potatoes for a few days afterwards.
This conversation, with it combination of surprise and real fun, was typical of the new Shanghai. Shanghai today is the place where people from all over the world come to work, visit or study. As most of us have left friends and families, we go to cafes, bars, restaurants and networking events to make new friends and meet people. It’s a melting pot of every nationality you can think of, coming here attracted by business opportunities and adventure in this world famous city. I have stopped counting the number of countries or Chinese provinces (larger than many European countries) that I have friends from, but it’s probably around 100 by now. This is Shanghai today, and was also Shanghai yesterday. The old Shanghai was also a place where people from all nationalities and origin would meet and live together. The French concession did not have only French, nor the international settlement only Brits and Americans. Large numbers of Europeans, Russians, Americans and many other as well a Chinese immigrants from other provinces were attracted by the spectacular growth. The old Shanghai was the melting pot of Asia, as much as Hong Kong became later. Like New York or London, this city has a talent to bring people from everywhere in the world and make them meet and interact. Although it was frozen for many years, the spirit was kept alive in the memory of many people both abroad and in China, and it has come back. Shanghai is really becoming a world city again.
PS: I am going to France in a few weeks… be sure that I will have some Cancoillote then.