Good manner tips: France
We all know France for its nouvelle cuisine, esteemed wines and delectable cheeses.
But this country is famous also for its haute couture, its unparalleled artisan traditions, and of course, ‘l’art de la table’: the proper way to behave at the table.
L’art de la table goes from the arrangement of tableware to what topics are deemed appropriate for conversation.
the origins de l’art de la table
In Paris, the French consider the art of tableware a highly meticulous art form, especially when it comes to cutlery.
The esteemed “mise en place a la French”, is an actual style of table setting where the first requirement is to place the cutlery downwards on the table.
The Italians brought about this particular custom or more precisely, a certain Florentine Caterina de Medici, who in the 1500s, introduced the French to the principles of the ‘Galateo’ (the 500 year old guide to polite manners). The forks, knives and spoons were turned down towards the tablecloth in order to show off the noble coat of arms engraved on the back of the handle.
Nevertheless, and nobility aside, if you do not want to cut a poor figure at a French table, it would be advisable to stick to the following guidelines
As for the majority of the French, good manners are taken very seriously. They are instilled from an early age to be practiced scrupulously with pride.
GREETINGS AND INTRODUCTIONS
Arriving on time for an invitation is fundamental just as arriving earlier than requested is a no-go. This is a quintessential rule of French etiquette which should always be adhered to.
Upon entering a restaurant or someone’s residence, it is always nice to meet and greet with a familiar “bonjour” (good morning) or “bonsoir” (good evening) if after 6pm.
Make sure you greet the staff as well before asking for assistance; remember to say “au revoir” or “merci” when you take your leave.
When it comes to names, it would be advisable to use Monsieur, Madame or Mademoiselle.
it would be nice to use their surnames as well, until you are on more familiar terms and are invited to move on to first name basis.
The French love a firm handshake as you can never go wrong with this gesture.
Among friends and family, kissing “bise” or “bisous”, is also a common way of greeting one another. This can range from the more common of two kisses, up to four in other parts of France. A kiss is merely a light peck on the cheek or rather, an air kiss, where the lips are pursed as if kissing without actually touching each other.
TO THE TABLE
As a firm rule, it is always the mistress of the house who first takes her seat and puts the napkin on her lap and subsequently the guests would follow suit.
Do not sit down before she does. Make sure not to drag your chair as this can be noisy and most annoying, not only to the French!
As a guest, be sure never to take the initiative, as it’s considered to be in bad taste.
LET THE DINNER BEGIN
Once seated, do not keep your hands on your lap but rather, place them in full view on the table.
bread is not an appetizer
Repeat after me… Bread is not an appetizer!
We are all too familiar with the heavenly scent of freshly baked bread, served perhaps with a good dollop of golden butter. Although it looks particularly tempting, it is rarely considered a good idea.
Our advice is to steer clear of the bread basket and leave it well alone!
In France the bread is used as a tool to collect food; in fact you can find it positioned directly on the table almost as if it were a knife or fork.
ready, steady….. steady….
Always wait for all the guests to be served before you consider taking your first bite. Be aware of all that takes place around you and bide your time until everyone is ready to commence.
If you are invited to lunch or dinner, remember never to pour the wine. It is up to the host to do so.
the servings: leave room for what follows!
A typical French meal consists of an appetizer, such as a salad or cold cuts, a lavish main course which is usually then followed by a cheese plate piled with delectable wedges such as camembert, brie or chevre. Finally, to top it off, fruit and/or a small pastry is usually served for desert.
With this in mind, be extremely careful not to overindulge, especially during the first course. It would seem ungracious to let the rest of the courses go untouched, not to mention such a shame!
sharing is caring
Whatever you do, do not touch that last remaining slice on the sharing plate whether it is a cold cut or the last portion of cake. In this case, it is much better to leave it to waste as the contrary would only make you look greedy and hungry for more.
Make sure you have fun! Paying attention to those around you and contributing to the conversation is on every culture’s list of good behaviour. Turn off your phone, stick to neutral topics (steering clear of religion and politics), smile a lot and enjoy yourself.
After all, over the years, from generation to generation, gatherings around the dining table have resulted in many a solid relationship and continue to bring us together, time and time again.