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French Dining 101

Ahhh the French. Commonly known for their delicious cuisine and high social order. While these both may be true, there is a lot to know before jumping to conclusions about the etiquette of enjoying a meal in France. CEA Aix has helped to open my eyes to the differences and similarities of French and American dining by holding a meal at a locals home.

Christine used to be a host of students but now enjoys making meals for small groups of CEA-ers. In total, my dinner consisted of 5 students and Christine. We enjoyed emmantal cheese tart, zucchini gratin, chicken with olives, and the best chocolate mousse I may ever eat. She made us a delicious meal, offered us wine, and held conversations with us all in French. So here's what you need to know before dining with the French!

 Chocolat Mousse!

1. Rendez-vous?

First things first, DON'T arrive before the time you are invited. This is extremely important for dinner parties. Surprising your host before they have finished preparing the meal or have finished getting dressed is rude. Typically the French are 10-15 minutes late.

2. Les Cadeaux

In France, it's common to come bearing gifts. Flowers or wine work just fine as the gift doesn't need to be deeply personal. It's just a way to show thanks for a delicious meal and all the hard work that went into it!

 Steak dinner in Nice, France

3. Put your hands in the air!

The French actually get uncomfortable that Americans place hands in their laps when dining. They prefer to keep their hands on the table at all times. This goes back to old times when people couldn't be trusted with weapons. Safety first, I guess!

4. Don't pack your plate.

Only take as much as you plan to eat. You can always grab more, but leaving a plate full of food is disrespectful and a waste! It will also be assumed you didn't like the meal if food is left. No worries if you're still hungry, your host will always try to offer you seconds or thirds but if you are full just say "Non, merci."

 No bread plate? Remember to place it on the table!

5. Where does my bread go?

Alright, I'll admit, I don't typically think too deeply about my bread, but I soon learned this rule: If no bread plate is provided, it is expected that the bread is placed on the tablecloth. Why? I haven't found a direct answer. Let me know if you have a reason.

 My favorite thing in Aix? People watching
at Les Deux Garcons all afternoon.

6. Stay as you please.

French meals typically consist of three courses. This takes time so don't rush a meal. Also, while this doesn't apply to a meal at home, it's an important concept in France. When you order a coffee or meal at a restaurant, you basically have purchased the table for as long as you please. You don't have to leave unless the workers begin to set up for a meal  time.

I hope these 6 quick rules give you a quick idea of how to eat a meal as the French do. If ever in doubt, just watch your dinner host and always remember, meals are meant to be enjoyed. Americans eat, the French dine!


Sophia Hendrix is the Fall 2014 CEA MOJO in Aix-en-Provence, France. She is currently a sophomore at Ohio University.


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