Restaurant etiquette in France

Feb 8th, 2008, 05:36 AM
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I once read, I believe it was in the book "Almost French", by an Australian woman who married a French man, a story about the hands below the table vs. on the table custom. (My apologies if in fact I read it somewhere else completely.)

Anyway, an American gentleman was dining at a private house in Paris, and, as is the American custom, kept his left hand in his lap during most of the meal. One of the French men there razzed him about it, saying something along the lines of, "What are you doing with your hand in your lap? Playing with yourself?"

Whereupon the American, who was sitting next to the Frenchman's spouse, replied, "No, I'm playing with your wife."

Evidently that rejoinder met with great approval and the teasing about American table customs was abandoned (temporarily anyway).
NorCalif is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 06:36 AM
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The custom of hands under the table was actually inspired by Louis VI, who grabbed onto a table leg to avoid being dragged away to the guillotine.
RonZ is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 06:41 AM
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Then he must have been a time traveler since it was his descendant Louis XVi who went to the guillotine.

Ackislander is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 06:58 AM
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I think the above story related is apocrphyphal (I know some poster on here claimed it happened to him personally, also) -- but in any case, the idea that French people would find it clever and polite to discuss vulgar things in public while berating someone in public (a completely rude thing to do) because they come from a country with slightly different table manner customs would only prove how crude and rude such French people would be.

No polite person insists that someone from a foreign country change their own customs to suit another country because they are traveling there a few days, when those customs are simply the way people are used to holding their fork, etc. To do so is rude in itself.

There are a few restaurants or cafes in Paris where you might bring your own wine because they don't have a license to serve it (I"ve been to one but it's an out-of-the-way neighborhood place no tourist would go, and every local person brought their own bottle of wine, if they wanted any). You'd have to know about them, though. I wonder what guidebook would suggest it's okay to bring your own things into a restaurant? That is bizarre, it makes as much sense to say that you could bring in your own food and just use the place to order drinks, like a picnic table.
Christina is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 10:23 AM
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When I was a little boy and came with my parents to France, it WAS acceptable in country cafés (as opposed to city cafés) to bring your own food and picnic there as long as you ordered drinks.

Times have changed.
kerouac is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 10:50 AM
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That is bizarre, it makes as much sense to say that you could bring in your own food and just use the place to order drinks, like a picnic table.

Next time in Bavaria, check the beer gardens for huge signs saying that it's okay to bring your own food (even if all of them also sell food!) - but not the drinks! So you do exactly as you said it was bizarre: Bring your food, and use the place to order drinks, like a picnic table.

Bring your own booze... regular custom in many restaurants, e.g. all over Australia or New Zealand.

Just because something is not common in Paris or toute la France, does not mean that it does not exist.

Cowboy1968 is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 11:07 AM
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Someone mentioned not bringing pastries into a cafe. You can definitely do this if it's a cafe that doesn't sell them.

We do this all the time in Normandy and it's not a problem at all.
Lynneb is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 11:33 AM
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Bringing food and drink into a restaurant would be frowned upon, and I'm not sure I can see what purpose it would serve. That would be like bringing your portable DVD player to the movie theater.

As for the rest, you can do what you want. Nobody is going to be auditing the position of your hands or your fork.
AnthonyGA is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 09:16 PM
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My French "parents" insisted on the "hands above" etiquette in restaurants and the "salad is rolled/folded" until manageable in size, never cut. (Not that I can imagine why it makes a difference since it's all going to shortlly be chomped up anyway.) And even though bread may be placed on the table ahead of the other food, you don't eat the bread until you've been served the food. And a "lady" never pours any drink-it's the gentleman's role...unless you're in a fine restaurant, and then neither do it; the waitstaff takes care of everything relating to the service.

Now days things are a little more relaxed; no need to obsess. Go have a great meal.

klondike is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 10:00 PM
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I would say that the only of those rules that is still really in use is the one about not cutting salad, unless you are talking about a state dinner.
kerouac is offline  
Feb 8th, 2008, 10:48 PM
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Polly Platt's French or Foe? has some entertaining stuff on table manners - and everything else.
farrermog is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 05:55 AM
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I have to say that, for the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone, anywhere would take offense or feel shock at such habits as where you would place your hands, how you hold your utensils, or whether you cut lettuce into bite-sized pieces. Clearly, I'm not clued into the dining practices of the upper crust, but I'm not a lout, either and I certainly don't condone rude or disgusting behavior at the table. I'm sorry, but to me, it is those who would enforce these archaic and meaningless rules against fork switching or lettuce cutting who are insufferable. I guess they'd boot me out of one of these places in no time at all!
smetz is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 07:00 AM
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Smetz I think you have taken this converstaion a little too much to heart, I haven't read a single comment by anyone here condemming anyone for anything. Most are merely commenting on what they have been taught, observed or believe to be true.

No one has said " how rude it is to cut lettuce" but rather, in response to OPs query merely repeated it is considered rude to cut lettuce. This thread condems no one , but many posts explain cultural differences and most of us here like to know what the cultural differents are and the cultural norms for certain behaviours. Doesn't mean any are superior overall, just more accepted in some places then others.

Personally I hate it when the cashier looks at my CC at the grocers and says " thanks Jane" instead of thanks MRS. so and so, I am twice her age and I DO find such informality unsettling. Doesn't mean I hate her, think shes stupid or bad, its just the way I was raised to expect certain etiquette.
bozama is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 07:20 AM
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1. If Cholmondley W had met the Queen, he would likely know that she is "HM" not "HRH".

2. Hopalongmay, you are to be admired for even asking about knife and fork etiquette.

When I was growing up, there were only 2 ways of eating:

1. the way you described -- some here in Canada called that, sniffily, "eating like an American"

2. the British/ Continental way ie fork always in left hand, tines down; knife in right, gripped in the fist but with index finger atop the knife.

(Okay, okay, if you were eating peas it was alright to switch the fork to your right and scoop them up.... But when held in the left hand, the fork was NEVER used tines-up.)

My mother practised 1, my father 2. I followed him, not her.

Somehow in the years since my boyhood, ersatz practices have emerged that defy explanation. No-one seems to practise 1 or 2 anymore.

These weirdnesses are not confined to the young.

Knives are held like scalpels. Forks are held like bass fiddles.

Some people grip their utensils in ways so awkward and inefficient that they appear to be victims of some degnerative muscular condition. And the knife and fork switch back and forth really as a kind of punctuation to the user's conversation.

So any consistent, efficient, comely style should be okay all 'round.

My favourite quote from starchy grandmother, when asked why she had rejected marriage proposal from nouveau-riche Mr. X:

"My dear, I could never love a man who held his knife like a pen!"
tedgale is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 07:40 AM
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When I was 19 I lived with a French family and when we went to a restaurant I tried my best to have the best table manners. I got yelled at for putting my hands in my lap....several times because they just kept going there out of habit.

Apparently the French keep their hands on the table because a long long time ago men would hide weapons under the table and keeping the hands in sight reduced the number of dinner time killings.

Other differences: French waiters rarely ask you if you need anything during a meal....if you do ask for something they sometimes don't bring it....they don't serve coffee with a dessert...the coffee is always the last thing...dogs are allowed in restaurants...there are dogs but no doggie bags....French waiters won't greet you with"Hi! my name is Pierre and i'll be your waiter today!" They don't want to be your friend; they just want to take your order. No offense is intended. If you order mineral water, they might ask you gaz ou sans gaz (carbonated or non). L'eau plate is another way of saying non-carbonated. I know i'm rambling, but hope this helps.
gaelle is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 07:50 AM
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>> gaz ou sans gaz

That is not what they say. They say "gazeuse ou non gazeuse?" Only if somebody clearly does not understand French might they use the word "gaz" by itself.

You won't see a complete baguette on a restaurant table (unless it's supposed to be some form of medieval operation in a converted barn), but if you have a baguette on the table in a French home, you must never leave it in an upside down position. (In most cases it would roll back over by itself if you did that, but if not, my grandmother might shriek "The devil is dancing on the bread!")
kerouac is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 09:11 AM
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Of all the restaurants we ate at in France/Europe. I can't remember one time when ANYBODY was watching how we ate our dinner. Maybe we already had good restaurant etiquette without even trying?

It would be inappropriate to bring your own drinks to Applebee's to save money. Why wouldn't it be in Paris restaurants?

Feb 9th, 2008, 12:34 PM
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Just to sort of reiterate/back up what other people are saying:

1) I've never seen anyone do the bottled water thing, and some cafés in my neighborhood are phasing out the bring-you-own-pastry-for-breakfast thing too; signs on the door say "No outside pastry" or something to that effect. In my experience as long as you don't order a pop (esp. in heavily touristed areas, but not always the case!) drinks aren't that expensive (relatively speaking; I don't want to bring up the "which is a better value" argument again).

2) My French prof who is a major foodie taught us about the hands thing as it was to make sure you weren't going to go all Macbeth at the dinner table.

3) Yes, it's okay, but actually not that difficult to keep them in the same hands. Also makes you eat slower ...

As for the people who are all miffed that you actually posted this, I think it's great because you're trying to be respectful of the differences in culture.

However, don't get too hung up on what you should and shouldn't do. If you always think about it, it'll make you crazy. Sometimes people think I'm odd because I eat my salad first and then the main course, but I don't care anymore. If a Frenchie told me to put my hands on the table I'd probably tell him something a lot worse. I actually don't think anyone would say anything.

Enjoy the food (I do!) and go for wine instead of pop. Tastes better and is more ... enjoyable
Sheepie87 is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 12:58 PM
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Last time I was in Chamonix at breakfast time, I asked for a croissant with my coffee, and they said "we don't have any but there's a bakery across the street" -- so I went and bought what I wanted and came back to have it with my coffee.

But this is not too common.
kerouac is offline  
Feb 9th, 2008, 01:11 PM
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No, that's happened to me a few times in different places, too
sheila is offline  

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