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ETIQUETTE

Things you should NEVER do when dining in France

The French love their food rules, so here's how to get through the minefield of a French dinner unscathed.

Things you should NEVER do when dining in France
Photo: Canon EOS/ Pixabay
With the help of Paris-based cook book author and teacher of French cooking classes, Susan Herrmann Loomis shares some classic faux pas to avoid. 
 
Bon appétit. 
 
Don't ask for more food
 
Sure, the French often serve teeny tiny portions, but asking for more would “clearly be a faux pas”, says 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. 
 
Photo: lehtta1/Pixabay
 
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 rare) and get used to it like everyone else – or just order the chicken.
 
Photo: Alpha/Flickr
 
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, says 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,” says Herrmann Loomis. 
 
“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.
 
Photo: Canon EOS/ Pixabay
 
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 says. 
 
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. 
 
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 adds.
 
Photo: Fedac/Flickr
 
Don't cut up the lettuce
 
Cutting the lettuce with a knife and fork is a faux pas in France, Herrmann Loomis says. 
 
“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 says. “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?
 
Photo: Campus France/Flickr
 
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 says.
 
“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.”  
 
Photo: cyclonebill/Wikimedia
 
Another version of this story was published in 2013

Member comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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!

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CULTURE

Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.

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