Parisian Living

French Dining Etiquette: Eating with the Frenchies

by Erica Berman
Written By

Erica Berman

Erica 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 went to Paris with hopes of submerging herself in French culture and perfecting her French -- and she stayed 20 years. Erica is the founder of the HiP Paris Blog and Haven In her former company. She now splits her time between Paris (Montmartre) and Maine (Midcoast). She recently started a non-profit growing organic produce for the food insecure in Maine called Veggies to Table. In her all-too-rare free time, Erica likes to travel off the beaten track, explore Paris and Maine, read, take photos, cook, kayak, hike and enjoy long Sunday brunches with her friends. View Erica Berman's Website

26 comments on “French Dining Etiquette: Eating with the Frenchies

mimi/cigalechanta

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

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)

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.

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 😉

cigalechanta (mimi)

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!

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

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.

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!

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.

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

parisbreakfast

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

Colin from Baileys, Wine Merchants from Beccles in the UK

“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.

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.

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!!

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!

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

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.

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.”

Hi Nichole thanks for letting me know this was helpful!

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 ^_^

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

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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