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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

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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