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DINING

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

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?

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)

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.

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Alternatives

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

FOOD & DRINK

Does Beaujolais Nouveau wine deserve its bad reputation?

Beaujolais Nouveau wine suffers from a number of negative stereotypes - but are these rumours more fiction than fact?

Does Beaujolais Nouveau wine deserve its bad reputation?

Each year – on the third Thursday of November – people across the world celebrate one thing, and it is not Thanksgiving. It is the release of the Beaujolais Nouveau, a French wine coming from the east of France, south of the wine growing region of Burgundy.

The release of the Beaujolais Nouveau vintage brings with it lots of celebration – four days of it in the Beaujolais region itself. The vintage is then shipped far and wide for people to consume, more often than not at a very affordable price of just a few euros. 

READ MORE: Beaujolais Nouveau: 13 things you need to know about France’s famous wine

Unfortunately, however, the light, red wine also has suffered from a negative reputation. Critics (or perhaps just those who have drunk too many glasses) say it gives you a hangover, tastes terrible (apparently similar to bananas to some), and above all that it is low-quality.

But to Rod Phillips, wine expert and author of “French Wine: A History”, Beaujolais Nouveau is “young, fruity, bright, cheerful.” 

Phillips went on to say that it is “not a wine to discuss or contemplate,” but “that doesn’t make it bad wine. It’s different from structured, more subtle and nuanced wines.”

For Caroline Conner, sommelier and head of Lyon Wine Tastings, Beaujolais Nouveau is “really fun” and highly encourages people to give the wine a chance, particularly from local producers. 

You can hear Caroline Conner discuss Beaujolais Nouveau in the new episode of the Talking France podcast. Download here or listen below.

Conner explained the stories of Beaujolais Nouveau wine causing hangovers has nothing to do with the way the wine is made, or even how quickly it is produced –  using grapes that were harvested just a few months before being bottled. 

“It’s not about the technique, it’s because most of it is mass produced. Any mass produced wine is probably going to give you a hangover,” the sommelier explained. 

Of course hangovers also depend on how much you drink – of any wine.

According to Rod Phillips, the stereotype that Beaujolais wine is of poor quality stretches back hundreds of years.

“The region had a setback in the Middle Ages and took a long time to recover,” explained Phillips.

In 1395, the Duke of Burgundy issued an edict – grapes from the Gamay vine were “injurious to the human creature” and wine that came from them had “terrible bitterness.” He is even thought to have said that the vine itself was an “evil and disloyal plant.”

According to Phillips, this decree was in the Duke’s interest: “He was protecting pinot noir, which was used for Burgundy’s already-famous wines.

More and more producers were growing Gamay because it had a higher yield, so made more and cheaper wine. They appealed to the Duke to ban Gamay and he obliged in terms that produced an enduring belief that Gamay was an inferior wine.”

This impacted Beaujolais wine because it is produced from that same “disloyal plant” – the Gamay grape. It was not until after the second World War that Beaujolais red wine grew in popularity outside of eastern France.

In the 1970s and 80s, the wine had a surge in popularity, with the start of the Beaujolais Nouveau phenomenon, and the mass production of the wine to be cheaply sent across the world. 

Conner described Beaujolais Nouveau as a “big party” at that time, with celebrations from London to Japan. While it has decreased in popularity in recent years, the third Thursday of November remains an important date in the French calendar.

What about the other Beaujolais wines?

Both wine experts also pointed to the fact that Beaujolais Nouveau is not the only wine to come out of the region. 

“There are a lots of different tiers of quality,” said Conner, adding that the Nouveau only accounts for about 20 percent of production. “The rest of Beaujolais wine is quite different.”

Phillips echoed these sentiments, noting an improvement in quality for other “Beaujolais Crus.”

“More recently people have discovered the 10 Beaujolais Crus (Morgon, Chénas, Brouilly, etc.) which are a real step up in quality,” he said. “There’s a sense in which Beaujolais Nouveau was a drag on the high quality wines of the region because it was associated with inexpensive, easy-drinking wines.”

And as for Beaujolais Nouveau itself, “it’s not all cheap and mass produced,” according to Conner.

If you really want to enjoy a good Beaujolais Nouveau, the sommelier recommends going “to a good caviste or a good restaurant” and drinking wine that was made by a “small producer.”

How much should you spend to get a really good bottle? Conner suggests 20 euros believing you’ll get far more value for money if you spend that amount on a Beaujolais rather than a Burgundy – which you pay a premium on because of its famous name

“You’ll find some excellent value,” she promised.

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