France is a country that is synonymous with the word ‘style’. Their clothes, their food and even their manners scream perfection – well most of the time at least!
Now, while their food and clothes may be very well known across the world, a lot of their table manners are not. When I first visited France, I went there assuming that it was much like every other European country, but boy was I wrong. It was such a huge culture shock to me because a lot of what they do seemed very un-European. But once I was corrected – well, after a few times – I got the hang of it!
So if you plan on visiting the land of the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre soon, knowing these little French food customs will help you blend in just like a local.
They’re French – Not Dutch
In most countries, it’s the norm when groups of people go out together for everyone to split the bill equally. This is done so that everyone contributes so that no one ever owes anybody else anything.
But in France, splitting the bill is considered to be quite miserly. Typically one person will pay the entire bill themselves, and the next time, another person will do it.
Theoretically, this doesn’t make any sense, because one person may end up spending more over time, and others may get away scot-free without ever paying anything. Now while this isn’t an ideal scenario the French are notorious for being very image conscious. So they would rather be the one spending all their money than come out looking like the miser.
So unless the group has discussed otherwise, it is understood that the person who has invited everyone out will be the one footing the bill – but that being said – it is expected that the next time, someone else will invite the same group out and pay the bill.
Bread isn’t just bread
As is the way in most western nations, bread is a staple. And you are supposed to use a knife and a fork to eat everything – at times even your bread. However, in France, bread is used more as a utensil that as an accompaniment.
Usually, pieces of bread are torn off – not directly bit into – and are used to dip into sauces and to end the meal. It’s even used at the very end of a meal to clean all of the sauce left on a plate!
It is always placed directly on the tablecloth or on a separate bread plate and is not kept on the main plate.
In most parts of the world, children are given lighter foods to eat. But in France, parents feed their children exactly what they’re eaten whether it is Foie Gras or a big juicy steak. The idea behind this is to develop a “good” sense of taste in children so that they grow up with a better appreciation for food.
If you were to go to a restaurant and ask for ice with your water – you’d probably get a weird look from the waiter. Most drinks like water, juice, milk, etc are drunk at room temperature and not cold. There’s no real reason for this, it’s just one of their customs.
Also, when in a group setting, drinks aren’t to be served until the host arrives – and they cannot be drunk until the host makes a toast or simply takes a drink first.
From then on, you must not serve yourself any drinks and must wait for it to be offered or served to you, in case you aren’t offered any more drinks, then it’s likely a sign that the party’s over.
À La Table
The French like discussing the day’s events or intellectual topics and cellphone use is strictly not allowed. Meal times are meant to be enjoyed by everyone contributing to the conversation, so if someone is otherwise occupied it is taken as an insult.
Also, one thing you must never ask at the table is “Where is the restroom?” That is considered to be very rude. Instead, if you’re at a restaurant then you should excuse yourself and go and ask a server for the restroom.
If you happen to be dining at a Frenchman’s house, then don’t worry. As is the custom, the host will show you around and will mention the location of the restroom prior to beginning the meal – to avoid this question being asked at the table!