French Table Manners Matter...

Old Feb 16th, 2013, 05:28 AM
  #141  
 
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'No eating until the person serving (at home) has sat down to eat.' - this part is right.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 07:47 AM
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I agree with nona1, people should wait till host sits, and even at home at casual meals that rule stands.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 08:27 AM
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Absolutely, it seems such basic courtesy, nothing to do with any cultural table manners.

As I said earlier table RULES can depend on country and social class but in France table MANNERS transcend any class in that anyone that wasn't raised by wolves will know how to behave respectfully of others: waiting for the person serving to sit down before eating, not speaking with your mouth full, not toying with your cell phone, cutting the cheese so as not to leave only the rind to other people, etc, do these really need to be stated in writing, is is not just common sense / basic politeness? I am from a working class / lower middle-class background and have been friends (not just acquaintances) with people ranging from what some would call "white trash", "rednecks", to royal princesses and everything in between and we have all been taught the same basics.

Some major social differences in France are that in high social circles such as nobility:
- dessert is only eaten with a fork (even for ice-cream) and using a spoon is a clear sign that you are a commoner. For the rest of the population, which is the vast majority, people use a dessert spoon and most restaurants, even high end ones, will bring a spoon rather than a fork.
- a knife should never be used to push food against the fork, only bread is allowed (whereas using the knife seems to be good manners in the UK). In other social circles, there is no rule but using bread is more common anyway.
- mopping sauce with bread is acceptable only if using the fork. For anyone else, using your hands is common and perfectly acceptable.
- one of my noble friends told me that when she was a teenager she wanted to help and served wine to guests. Her uncle said nothing but asked her to follow her into the kitchen. There he violently slapped her in the face to teach her that a lady is never to touch a bottle of alcohol! Now that is just one particular anecdote and I don't know if this rule is observed by most nobles attached to tradition or if that Marquis was a little extreme...

Of course, nobles know how to adapt and frequently break their rules when they are in more casual settings or restaurants but instinctively abide by them when among themselves in more formal circumstances.


The main cultural differences between France and the US or UK are that in France:
- you place the fork face down
- your hands should be on the table, not on your lap and elbows should never rest on the table (this is taught in any family but whether it is enforced at home will depend on the family. Many people know it is not done in public but will find it acceptable at home or in casual settings, while other families will not accept it even at home)
- no bread is to be eaten before a meal, regardless of social background: in high society it is a definite no no, in lower circles it just comes down to grandma's good old warning about not ruining your appetite before a meal. So the fact that bread and butter are served in high end Michelin starred restaurants seems to indicate that they indeed cater to an international clientèle.

Despite the original post, there is NO RULE whatsoever about using both knife and fork rather than the fork alone, etc. In high circles, it is only stated that if a knife is not needed the fork should be held in the right hand and if a knife is needed then the knife is held in the right hand and the fork in the left hand. There is absolutely no obligation to keep a knife if your hands if there is nothing to cut on the plate.
Bread pieces should be torn by hand, never cut with a knife. If bread such as a baguette needs to be cut, it is cut in the kitchen before being presented on the table in a basket.

All that being said, one of the most basic rules in politeness is to make others feel comfortable. Therefore if someone were to use the wrong glass or wrong fork and were chastised for their ignorance, the only rude person would be the one chastising them. Another thing is if you do something that you are not comfortable with, you will look awkward and that is worse than any supposed faux-pas you could make. For instance, the fork in the bread to mop sauce looks so ridiculous TO ME that if I were in a setting where it wasn't acceptable to mop the bread with my hands I would rather not mop at all than use a fork.
Véronique
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 09:42 AM
  #144  
 
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Your noble friend's noble uncle needs his head examined, after an equally violent slap in the face.

Just goes to show domestic violence is not exclusive to the "lower classes."
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 09:58 AM
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"dessert is only eaten with a fork (even for ice-cream) and using a spoon is a clear sign that you are a commoner."

Depends on the dessert......try eating crème brûlée or île flottante with a fork !
I've neverr seen or heard of ice-cream being eaten with a fork.
There are special spoons for it and they are called "cuillères à glace".
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 10:12 AM
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Cathinjoetown,

Yep, seems like hitting a woman was more acceptable to him than a woman holding a bottle of wine. Different values... Actually he was her great uncle and was an old man then and is probably dead now.

Pvoyageuse,

The spoon used for liquidy desserts like île flottante is called 'cuillère à entremet' apparently in that particular social circle and should only be used for what cannot be eaten with the fork. And using a 'cuillère à glace' would forever ban you from being re-invited I have never seen ice-cream being eaten with a fork either but I don't belong to nobility.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 11:11 AM
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It took me at least a decade to feel comfortable eating with only one fork and switching it to my right hand, which is now second nature now since I live in the states long enough. This may be a good thread to ask WHAT ARE PROPER AMERICAN TABLE MANNERS if anyone REALLY knows since all these years I have been winging it.

Arm and elbows:
Growing up abroad I was annoyingly reminded and harassed to keep them as close as possible to myself, to avoid laying elbows on the table, and to never lift them from the plate except to put food in my mouth. It was strictly enforced and ingrained in me. Hand gesture while talking at the dinner table especially without putting the silverware down is an abominable crime in my family. Do all these still apply in proper American table manners? I've been hammering these to our kids all their lives but sometimes wonder if I'm even teaching them the right things.

Finishing:
Do you tip the soup bowl only towards yourself or away or sideways when finishing the last few spoonfuls?
Are we supposed to leave the silverware upward or downward when we're done? Does crossing them mean I'm not finished (do not remove yet, still hungry)? I can never figure this out, everyone has their own habit without any purpose/message. My instinct in the US has been to follow what others are doing around me, so sometimes I leave them up or down or crossed and tip the bowl according to what others are doing, that's what I told my kids to do on the basis of being courteous in other people's houses.

Anybody knows?
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 11:16 AM
  #148  
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Typo: " never lift them from the plate" I mean never lift the silverware from the plate
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 11:54 AM
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It's not just France and Britain who consider it rude not to use knife and fork in tandem, it's the same in Australia and New Zealand and in fact most of the western world. A friend and I (from New Zealand) were backpacking in the US a few years ago. We decided to take our evening meal at a truckstop near Terre Haute, Indiana. As we sat eating our meal the lady who ran the place walked past our table, stopped and said in a loud voice, "Oh, my stars, ain't he dainty." I quizzed her on this and she pointed to the knife and fork in my hand and said, "heck, nobody uses a knife around here they just jam the food in their mouths with their hands, sometimes they'll lose a finger in the process."
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 01:14 PM
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I was invited to dinner tonight but preferred to decline due to the possiblity of trauma induced by this thread, so I can certainly understand the jitters of visitors.

And yet I automatically ignore a lot of the rules -- but having them put back in one's mind is detrimental to one's pleasure.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 01:19 PM
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Really I think table manners (being courteous and respectful) are so much more important than table rules (where and how to place the fork and so on). Honestly I couldn't care less what foreign or other French guests could do with their silverware at my dinner table, or if they keep their hand on their lap or on the table, I don't even pay attention.

What matters to me when I have guests over is that they enjoy the food, the company and the time spent together. They can bring their German, Italian, US, New Zealand, British or Australian ways to my French table, I don't care and probably won't even notice. And when I am abroad I never worry about my ways being different as long as I am aware of major cultural taboos. I was only made aware of my being different once when I was 13 staying with an English family: I was struggling to grab peas with my fork since there was no bread to help and they suggested I use a knife to push the food (which is not done in France). But I felt they were teaching me English ways to be helpful, not to reprimand me. I now use my knife to push the food to the fork in France even if it is not supposed to be done and I have never seen anyone looking shocked either. If anyone was looking at how I use my knife and fork then they would be the rude ones. You can tell when people are well-mannered or not and it has nothing to do with these cultural codes. Some eat neatly with their (clean) hands, others eat and behave like pigs with fine silverware.

While I can't speak for every French person, it seems to me that we French people are more into manners than rules. The one thing I think most French people will find shocking is seeing fine food not being appreciated for what it is: bringing a nice bottle of champagne and seeing it get mixed with orange juice or people spreading a high quality foie gras flat on the bread as if it was pâté, etc. So the only thing foreigners need to be aware of is how important good quality food and ingredients are to us, and stop worrying about where and how to put your knife and fork on the plate.

I love knowing about rules because there is always interesting history behind them but it doesn't mean each and every one of them needs to be observed, especially when the reason behind it no longer exists.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 01:38 PM
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Haha! Was crossposting with kerouac and I see we reach the same conclusion It is truly a misunderstanding of French culture to not realize that what matters most here is appreciation of the meal, not what you do with your hands and cutlery.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 02:13 PM
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Our basic conclusion would be: as you are polite according to your own customs, the vast majority of the French will be totally indulgent no matter what "mistakes" you make.

However, if you find yourself in some sort of rigid aristocratic meal, you might find yourself in deep trouble. While a true aristocrat will indulge your 'outlandish' customs due to proper upbringing, a wannabe aristocrat could have a ridiculous reaction to things that do not conform to the rules that they think they have learned.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 02:55 PM
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Veronique,

"one of my noble friends told me that when she was a teenager she wanted to help and served wine to guests. Her uncle said nothing but asked her to follow her into the kitchen. There he violently slapped her in the face to teach her that a lady is never to touch a bottle of alcohol! Now that is just one particular anecdote and I don't know if this rule is observed by most nobles attached to tradition or if that Marquis was a little extreme..."

This is a wonderful example to show us that "manners" and customs are sometimes not worth preserving or observing!

I would have thought that such barbaric behaviour would never have been acceptable, but has often been overlooked or excused if the perpetrator was sufficiently rich or powerful that it could be seen as some kind of archaic eccentricity rather than what it is - inexcusable and completely unjustifiable violence against someone not in a position to fightback.

As privileged travellers, beyond the niceties of table manners that we have been arguing about, WE also need to be mindful of other behaviours we observe when we travel and either speak-up at the time (often difficult and sometimes dangerous), or at least make sure that when we post our trip reports or tell others, that we include this information.

We all have a responsibility to bear witness (morally, ethically and completely detached from any religion one may or may not follow) - such dark behaviours will only change when subjected to the ongoing glare of a bright light!

Now I'll hop off my soapbox - you've probably guessed that I'm not a fan of cultural relativism or the barbaric exploitation of those no in a position to fightback!

Rob
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 03:36 PM
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I learn such amazing things from these forums! Coffee bowls, never heard of them but I looked them up and had seen them before. I would have assumed they were for condiments, etc., as a matter of fact I think I have white ones from Ikea that I use for salsa, etc. Too funny.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 04:54 PM
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Hey Monica, come to my house with your coffee bowls and we'll have a nacho party!
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 05:44 PM
  #157  
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I agree French table manners only matter if you are trying to impress some important French host like an in law or to land a business deal.

Most tourists don't have to worry about it since they mostly eat in restaurants. I think most french waiters learn to forgive our faux pas gracefully since Americans have the best table custom in the world - a Big Fat Tip of 18-20% - which is what the typical french tourists are lacking when they come to the states. Even if we try to be cheap we would feel terribly guilty about tipping less than 10% in France. My nephew who works in a Michelin star restaurant in San Francisco complains about finicky french guests who are ignorant about proper tipping.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 05:47 PM
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Are you kidding? I don't feel guilty not tipping American-size tips in France, precisely because it isn't French custom. I'd look ridiculous if I did that. One tips according to LOCAL custom, not what one does at home.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 06:39 PM
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Yes, but you practically live in France, know the local customs very well and presumably speak good painless French.The rest of us may not be like you so the French waiters have to put up with our mindless questions, request for butter for our bread, horseradish with our steak, ice cubes and ketchup...so it is only right that we should tip them more.

One example I can never forget was sitting next to a finicky couple who asked for extra this and that and charmingly mentioned to the french waiter that they would give him a big tip if they can have their steak with horseradish like at home instead of butter and ice cubes for their drinks. The waiter even brought ketchup for their fries! We chatted a lot throughout dinner and at the end they asked me if they should just leave some change as they heard people don't have to tip. I felt bad for the waiter so I reminded them of the fact that they already promised the waiter a big tip.
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Old Feb 16th, 2013, 06:43 PM
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I should ask you now St Cirq, how much do you tip then? Rounding the bill to the next bill? 5% or 7% or depends on how fancy the restaurant is?
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