Eating out has a lot of rules in France, and you will be given a lot more respect if you can follow even just a few of them. These are the ones that stood out most to me having come from Canada. Bon appétit!
The bread stays on the table
Don’t put the bread on your plate. Keep the baguette on the table and tear off pieces as you need them (read: don’t just gnaw off of it).
Fishing for condiments
All accompanying condiments and sauces are served on the actual dish. The only time I saw otherwise was in Dijon, where they offered (you guessed it) Dijon mustard. So forget the ketchup, mayonnaise, vinegar, 99% of all salad dressings, and even butter. That’s right – no buttering up your croissant or baguette. They are basically made of butter so you should do just fine without it. Salt and pepper are not usually offered either. This insinuates that you believe the chef didn’t do a good enough job seasoning the dish already.
Wine or water – those are your choices for the unofficial socially acceptable drinks at a French restaurant. If you do want a soda, expect it to cost a pretty penny; the wine is usually much cheaper. I’m not a big wine drinker myself, so I settle for water, and that’s just fine for me. Coffee is for dessert, and beer is for the bar, so neither are acceptable for dinner.
The fork in the road
The fork goes in the left hand, the knife goes in the right. And the knife stays there too, regardless of if you are actually using it. And for goodness sake, never pick up anything with your hands. If you have to leave the table momentarily and aren’t done eating, let the waiter know by placing them handles-out on the plate, as though ready to be picked up again.
Your hands must be in sight at all times, which means you never rest them in your lap. Rest them on the table instead, by your wrists and not your elbows.
À votre santé!
Before your first sip, be sure to cheers everyone. Also, look them in the eyes when you clink glasses – rumour has it that not doing so will lead to seven years of bad sex.
Never ask for a steak to be “bien cuit” (well done) – this is a big insult to the chef, and you will be refused. Another insult to be careful of is to ask for “more” of anything, no matter how small the portions are. Fill up on baguette if necessary. If all else fails, grab a 5€ crêpe from a street vendor on your way home – they are usually open 24 hours a day.
How’d it go?
Hopefully these tips will help you the next time your French friends invite you to their place for dinner, you have a business meeting at a French restaurant or you find yourself hungry in Paris. There are so many more rules, but these are the easiest ones for a local to spot – and for a non-local to mix up. Of course, I’m still learning myself, so I don’t know them all yet either. If you have any others that you know that you believe should be on this list, tell me in the comments below!