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DINING

Why you shouldn’t actually say ‘Bon appétit’ in France

It's one of the first phrases you learn to say in French and you'll hear it everywhere you go but officially anyway, the two little words "bon appétit" should never actually be uttered in France. Here's why.

Why you shouldn't actually say 'Bon appétit' in France
Photo: Jorge Royan/Flickr
Anyone who has ever had a French lesson will know the phrase “bon appétit”. 
 
And even if you haven't you'll be familiar with it because it's one of the most commonly used French expressions in English too. 
 
But woe betide you if you say it to anyone who's a stickler for good manners in France. 
 
Apparently, despite the fact that everyone from French children to foreign learners alike are told that it is polite to use the phrase at meal times, we shouldn't actually say “Bon Appétit” before we tuck in to our food.
 
A quick Google search in French will bring up an array of results, 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'” (see below). 
 
 
Astoundingly, the tradition of not saying “bon appétit”, often shortened to “bon app”, dates back to the Middle Ages when people started to see food and dining as more than just a question of survival. 
 
When cuisine began to be seen as a form of pleasure, people decided it was wrong to draw attention to the physiological act of digesting which is highlighted by the phrase “Bon appétit”. 
 
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 diner' but not Bon Appétit.” 
 
Another good way of replacing the phrase is by saying “Bonne degustation” says Côme. In French “degustation” means “to taste” or “savour” so the focus is on the pleasure of eating or indeed drinking.
 
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.
 
 
Younger generation
 
However there are some dissenters who say that “Bon appetit” is not considered rude anymore. 
 
“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. 
 
“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 at the Queen's, 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.”
 
READ ALSO:
22 things about the French language you don't know until you live in France
Photo: Faks87/flickr
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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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