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Things you should never do when dining in France

The Local France
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Things you should never do when dining in France
A person prepares a slice of foie gras (Photo by Stefano RELLANDINI / AFP)

The French love their food rules, so here's how to get through the minefield of a French dinner unscathed, according to Paris-based author cook book author and teacher of French cooking classes Susan Herrmann Loomis.

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Don't ask for more food

Sure, the French often serve smaller portions, but asking for more would "clearly be a faux pas", said Herrmann Loomis.

"It would be an insult to the chef or cook to ask for more. If they offer more, of course, then you're safe."

And if you're still hungry just remember that there is still cheese and dessert to come. 

Don't get your steak well done

These days French chefs may be used to the fact that some people are sensitive to the sight of the slightest trace of blood in a steak, but in France it has been known for chefs to refuse to grill an entrecôte "bien cuit" (well done). 

Either go for "à point" (medium) and get used to it like everyone else - or just order the chicken.

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Don't put your bread on the plate

While it may be tempting to put your bread on your dinner plate like you do back home, resist the urge in France, said Herrmann Loomis. 

"In France the bread goes on the table. They think it's odd if you try to balance a piece on your plate. It's a custom."

Don't put butter on the bread

"The French just don't do it except at breakfast, and then they slather it on," Herrmann Loomis told The Local.

"But the French don't serve butter with meals so don’t expect any." And don't put any on your croissant either, it's made of butter.

Don't drink anything but wine or water with dinner

"Americans often drink coffee with their meals and I have seen people ask for it here," Herrmann Loomis said. 

But this isn't the French way to do it. Here it's wine or water. Also on the banned list of drinks is coke (maybe for kids but it's not typical). Beer is OK depending on the meal - it goes great with choucroute, for instance, or mussels. 

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Cut into cheese correctly (or let someone else do it)

There are so many faux pas with cutting cheese that you're bound to go wrong from the beginning. 

For a start the cheese comes after the salad, before the dessert. 

But most importantly, you have to cut it the right way. Cut the cheese in the direction it's already been vit, never cut off the point and don’t leave the cheese board looking a warzone, she added.

Don't cut up the lettuce

Cutting the lettuce with a knife and fork is a faux pas in France, Herrmann Loomis said. 

"If you cut the lettuce it is an insult to the cook and suggests to them it was not prepared correctly. The right thing to do is just fold the lettuce leaves and put them in your mouth."

Don't eat with your hands

It might sound like obvious advice, but you'd be surprised at what some people think is good dinner table etiquette. 

"Don’t take a chicken leg and pick it up," Herrmann Loomis explained. "Use the knife and fork."

Leave the ketchup alone

Basically no one in their right mind should ask for ketchup at a French dinner table or in a French restaurant unless you're having French fries, but it still happens. 

Your addiction to the red sauce can cause all sorts of problems in France, especially if you want it on your omelette - but you're just going to have to quit it. The same goes for BBQ sauce, unless you're at an American style joint, and don’t expect any "French dressing" on your salad. Where do you think you are?

Don't spread your foie gras

"Many French people are proud of foie gras; when it is served cooked and chilled, take a generous slice, set it on the toast that will be served with it, and enjoy. Don’t treat it like a mousse, and try to spread it," Herrmann Loomis advised.

"This controversial delicacy and like all fine foods in France you have to treat it with the respect the locals think it deserves. And a big part of this is resisting any urge to spread it on bread before you eat it. It's not a Brussels paté, you'll be told."

"And while we're at it, don’t talk about animal cruelty when there is foie gras in the neighborhood. It’s a traditional dish; the French copied it from the Egyptians a gazillion years ago, so if you really have a problem with it, take it to Egypt."  

Another version of this story was published in 2013. You can sign up for cooking courses with Susan Herrmann Loomis at her website here.

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Comments (3)

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Anonymous 2019/07/07 00:58
A question for all you out there :Is it acceptable to ask that magret de canard be served 'bien chaud'? I like duck quite a bit but it is often served tepid or even near room temperature. How can I ask for the duck to be served hot? Thank you!
Anonymous 2019/07/05 13:53
I completely agree about cutting the cheese. How it irritates me when someone cuts a large chunk taking the point - effectively leaving the next person with the back skin!
Anonymous 2019/07/04 20:49
Well, I'm sure its all true but personally I don't care if the "chef" is upset. He's a cook, and should stay in the kitchen and get on with his job - cooking food for which people pay.

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