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French language dilemmas: Is it really rude to say 'Bon appétit' in France?

The Local France
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French language dilemmas: Is it really rude to say 'Bon appétit' in France?
Should posh dinners start with a 'bon appetit'? Photo by Christophe Petit-Tesson / POOL / AFP)

It's one of those phrases that even non French-speakers will know, and it's widely used around the globe at the start of a meal, but is it really true that French people consider it rude and uncouth?


A quick Google search in French will bring up an array of results around bon appétit, including blog posts discussing why these two little words when used together are not fit for purpose. 

Another explains "Why you should never say 'Bon appetit'". 

So what's the problem with it?

According to the bloggers, it's too biological as it refers to the physiological act of digesting. 

One blogger goes as far as to suggest it's akin to saying, "Enjoy your good intestinal transit"

And apparently to some, the person saying it will be considered boorish and uncouth.  


French expert on good manners, Jérémy Côme told BFM TV that there is no question about whether or not you should say bon appétit because the expression means "good digestion". 

"We do not say bon appétit, said Côme. "It's too intimate, it's the phrase to ban, Bon déjeuner (enjoy your lunch), Bon dîner but not Bon Appétit." 

Another reason for the phrase being considered unfit for purpose is that it suggests that you need courage to eat the meal in front of you and if said by guests at a dinner party it could be considered insulting to the host.

READ ALSO Pas de souci: Why French language experts are divided over 'no worries'

Is this a widely held view?

It's a long way from being universal, and in fact you will frequently hear bon appétit in France either from your dinner companions or from the server who brings your meal in a café or restaurant.

It seems that this one divides on generational lines and perhaps also along class lines, with bourgeois families more likely to shun bon appétit.

"It's a generational thing and while strictly you're not supposed to do it, people of my generation say it all the time," Clotilde Dusoulier, Paris food writer and author of the blog Chocolate & Zucchini told The Local. 

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"Manners have loosened up from previous generations. Rules around meals are less codified and dining is more about enjoyment. It's also seen as a signal that you can begin the meal," Dusoulier, who is aged in her 30s, said. 

"It used to be seen as informal but the younger generation in France is all about informality around food. We're doing away with a lot of the old rules of etiquette," she added. 

French language expert Camille Chevalier-Karfis and founder of the language site French Today says it's all a question of setting. 

"In France as in many countries, there are different levels of etiquette. If invited for supper with the Queen, you will not behave the same way as you do when sharing a casual meals with our friends, and things will be different yet again if you were invited to your boss's house," she told The Local. 



"So, saying bon appétit may not be acceptable in the most formal of situations. Whether it is used appropriately or not, the fact is that it is otherwise extremely common to say bon appétit before starting your meal in France.



If you're dining somewhere posh, or if you're just not sure which is appropriate, there are some alternatives which are always acceptable;

Bonne dégustation - literally meaning 'good tasting' this is the more refined version and has a suggestion that you will be savouring a culinary experience, rather than just bolting down a sandwich

Bon déjeuner - the other option is to specify the meal, so you can say 'enjoy your lunch'

Bon dîner - or 'enjoy your dinner'

Bon app - this is the shortened form of bon appétit, so definitely one for informal situations, but it's nonetheless widely used, especially by younger people. You might use this one if having dinner with friends, or maybe if you see your co-worker heading out to lunch


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