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French Dining Etiquette: Eating with the Frenchies

Lemontartalain

After over 17 years of Frenchie living, I am largely used to the etiquette of dining chez les Francais – along with all of their implicitly understood rules and regulations.

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A brunch with Parisian friends for which the first guest arrived 30 minutes after the announced time, and an 8 pm French dinner party invitation with food finally served at 10 pm, prompted the following list of tips for enjoying error-free dining in the land of berêts, baguettes and smelly cheese.

Les Faux Pas qu’il ne Faut pas faire (errors to avoid), a few pointers for socializing Chez les Francais with hopes of avoiding unnecessary uncomfortable moments.

Rule 1: Never, never, never arrive early. Not even one minute. This is highly unacceptable (and unheard of) behavior in France. Walk around the block a few times, have a café, do some lèche-vitrine (window shop), but do not ring that bell even one minute in advance.

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Rule 2: Never arrive right on time either, except for a formal meal, or in a restaurant. Even for a sit- down meal, your host will expect you 5-10 minutes late. For a party, a casual brunch or cocktail, you will be expected 20-45 minutes past the specified time. Arriving on the dot might find your host not only not ready, but also not particularly overjoyed by your presence.

Savon

Rule 3: Always bring a little something for the host, be it a bottle of wine, a homemade goodie or a bouquet of flowers. Remember, showing up empty-handed is seriously frowned upon in France. Note: Do not bring gifts of soap or bouquets of mums. Soap makes your hostess feel like you are implying she doesn’t wash, and mums are brought to cemeteries to cover gravestones.

Rule 4: In France, à table (at the table), one does not speak of politics, money, or religion. One does not ask a French person their salary, their religious beliefs or who they voted for. This is the ultimate insult to a Frenchie!

Rule 5: You don’t have to help with dishes. In the U.S. it’s the norm, even rude, not to help your host clean up the mess. In France the logic is that you are the guest and you are there to relax. When you invite your friends over they will expect you to extend the same courtesy and will not offer to help you with any of the clean-up either. The first few times this happened in my apartment I was annoyed at the lack of help. Now, I appreciate being able to relax when dining out and letting my guests relax when they dine chez moi.

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Rule 6: Eat what is on your plate. The French have low (up from no) tolerance for finicky eaters. It is very rude to decline what your host has prepared, and even ruder not to finish what is on your plate. NOTE: If you are a vegetarian or have a true food allergy don’t be shy. Your host  just might be sympathetic.

Rule 7: Remain open-minded. Try everything. From blood sausage, steak tartare, pan-fried fois gras, rabbit w/prunes, baked pigeon and deer stew to escargot, raw sea urchins, fried oysters, frogs legs, tripe and andouillette, I have been there and tried that. These dishes are not found in my normal eating repertoire, and there may not be a second time for many of them, but I think my hosts appreciated the effort that went into my sampling of their fare. Not only will the French be impressed by your ability to reach out of your American comfort zone, you may just discover a new favorite.

Let us know about your French dining experiences!

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Written by Erica Berman for the HiP Paris Blog. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.

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Written by Erica Berman

Erica BermanErica Berman grew up in Lexington,Mass. After graduating from Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Journalism and an intensive summer at Middlebury College (Vermont), Erica came to Paris with hopes of submerging herself in French culture and perfecting her French -- and she never left. Erica is the founder and owner of Haven in Paris and the blog HiP Paris. She now splits her time between Paris (Montmartre), Maine (Damariscotta), Massachusetts (Lexington) and Italy (Genova). In her all-too-rare free time, Erica likes to travel off the beaten track, explore Paris, read, take photos, cook, ski, hike and enjoy long Sunday brunches with her friends.

Website: Erica Berman

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Posted in Parisian Living | 25 Comments »

25 Responses to “French Dining Etiquette: Eating with the Frenchies”

  • mimi/cigalechanta says:

    Bringing flowers is not a good idea, The hostess must stop what she’s doing to search for a suitable vase.

  • Laetitia says:

    Hi Erica,

    Being French and having lived in various English-speaking countries, I totally agree with all your rules, except the one about politics. We definitely talk about it with guests. However, it usually turns out into a huge debate, which can seem worrying for those not used to it ;)

  • cigalechanta(mimi) says:

    I disagree about the conversation issues, Friends from Provence, Normandy and the Vienne were always having us engage in Politics.
    But never as I recall religion.

  • Line says:

    I strongly disagree about the topics of conversation, of course we discuss politics, and even religion, à table ! Debating politics and the news in general is almost a national sport ;)

  • Yep, things are definitely different b/w France and the US! Thanks for sharing. – Erica

  • cigalechanta (mimi) says:

    I’m in Cambridge Ma.
    my late husband was from Lincoln.
    You reminded me of our first invitation to dine at a Provencal home. We arrived on time.
    Our hostess was just out of her shower.
    Lesson learned!

  • Hi Cindi… Thanks for the comment. I asked my French partner and he said ‘Frenchie’ was mignon (cute). He is not Canadian so I think we are safe in France!

  • cindi says:

    Re: is “Frenchie” taboo? “Frenchie” is to the French as “Yankee” is to Americans. It depends on intent, tone and who’s using the word. (It’s considered an insult by French-Canadians, so it’s likely an insult in France, too.)

    That’s not your intent, but it’s good to be aware.

  • Ayame says:

    So if my (possible) mother-in-law cooks dinner for me, I shouldn’t help wash the dishes after? Even if it’s just informal?

    Also, what if I have the trinity of sins: can’t drink wine (nauseous after half a glass), can’t eat cheese, and cannot—even to save my life—eat escargot. Can I decline wine? Am I screwed? lol

    Love your site! I’m going to have to memorize everything. Going to Paris in 3 months and I’m terrified lol.

  • Erica says:

    Hi Carol,
    I have no idea if using the word “Frenchie” is taboo or not, but I think it’s kind of cute!

  • parisbreakfast says:

    So it is not taboo to use the word ‘Frenchie’?

  • [...] Erica let’s you know just how to eat at home with the Frenchies [...]

  • “Remain open-minded. Try everything.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Try visiting the Boulevard Ney for a quick and delicious lunch. For under 10 euro’s you can eat and drink like a king, admittedly you will be in a betting shop !

    I was also very impressed by the andouillette sausage at Paris Airport … it was superb and far out-classes anything that you would find at a UK airport.

  • Hi Linda, There are definitely, and luckily, lots of exceptions to all rules. :-) In general though, they are not thrilled to be asked their political vues in France. And to ask who they voted for… that’s a real no no!!

  • Hi Kate. Sorry for the very late reply to your comment. I would love to hear about your experiences and observations. Mine are of course, just mine and not the end all be all. I am always thrilled to hear other people’s anecdotes. I personally try to try most things but I have to admit, I really can’t do steak tartare. You are brave :-) Erica

  • Linda says:

    I guess there are exceptions to every rule as I’ve had many French people jump up to help clear the table, even loading the dish washer (they helped set the table too) and I’ve had a Frenchman get boiling mad when we didn’t agree with his particular political point-he brought up the subject too. I did once ask a group of French women if they had voted for someone and they moved their fingers back and forth like a metronome and said you never asked anyone about how they voted.

  • Kate says:

    I don’t have your 17-year experience, Erica, but I’ve lived in Paris a couple times, and while the dishes rule makes sense to me (and obviously the not showing up empty-handed!), the bits about not arriving on time, what not to discuss, and no tolerance for finicky eaters conflict with some of my experiences/observations.

    My guess is that, like in the US, everyone does things a little bit differently, and some people are more formal than others.

    And, regardless of where you are, I definitely support your rule about trying whatever food you are offered! My rule has always been – if they eat it, I can eat it. And you never know when you’ll have the opportunity to try it again. As I result, I love steak tartare, something I never would have tried on my own!

  • Thomas says:

    I am quite pleased at the number of articles recently written about the Marais. We will be staying there for a week in the Fall and reading the favorable reports by the staff at HiP has made me even more excited at choosing this area.

  • Will says:

    Back in the U.S. I’m punctual to the point of obsession, and love that I’m expected to relax and show up a bit late when in France. Your pig’s feet meal reminded me of a Calvin Trillin story from when he was vacationing in Spain. He ordered the “bull’s foot soup” and was presented a bowl of broth with a hoof in it. He wrote that “It was an unfortunately precise description.”

  • [...] into a French home for dinner, be prepared for a treat, but don’t be unprepared!  In “Eating with the Frenchies,” Haven In Paris has got you covered with the information you need to arrive armed and [...]

  • haveninparis says:

    Hi Nichole thanks for letting me know this was helpful!

  • Millie says:

    Such a well written piece Erica – succinct & right on the money! Rule #7 is imperative, why travel when you restrict your choices to the point of ridiculousness. It numbs the mind & insults your hosts.
    Millie ^_^

  • haveninparis says:

    Hi Millie,
    Thanks for your compliments. Yes, we must try these things. Last night I had to try pig feet (was dining with a French friend), which horrified me, but I did. They were, well… let’s just say I could not move beyond the fact that I actually was eating the foot of a pig! – Erica

  • nichole says:

    This was so helpful. Thanks!

    I like the idea of not feeling pressure to help clean up after dinner when you are a guest in someone’s home. I never mind cleaning up after I’ve hosted, but people always jump in to help. I want them to relax!

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