Table manners at a French table

Or how to eat the right way.

Thanks to Elena-Maria, I now have a napkin to add to my piece on French Table Manners that I originally posted on 5 Dec, 07. This is surprisingly my most read article. Hardly a day goes by without a hit on this article. So today after reading this piece on what the correct use of a napkins says I thought I would post this again. The link will take you to Tea at Trianon, which will direct you to an additional site with some spectacular table settings.

If this post seems a bit sissy to some, it is not. Dinner at our house was not a hit or miss, catch a bite before you go out, or a frozen dinner. My mother, (as every wife should do) cooked for my father, not for me, my sister or brother. No! We were and (still are, when I am in my mothers house) expected to eat dinner at 5:30. We did not dress for dinner but we also did not show up in dirty clothes with dirty hands. It just wasn't done. We ate in silence, unless an adult asked us a question, and remained at out seat until my father excused us. We either ate what was placed before us or we went hungry. Of course this is all in opposition to today's families, which eat on the run, pick up something on the way home or the way out. We have stopped communicating and watch TV at the table. Oh and we were expected to clean the table, do the dishes and sweep the floor after the meal. The children of today are losing so much... I have updated this post a bit...

You should place your napkin in your lap immediately after being seated.
False. Once the lady of the house places her napkin in her lap, other guests should follow suit.

You should keep the hand that you are not using to hold your fork out of sight.
False. Both hands should be visible at all times.

Use cut your meat with your right hand and eat with your left.
True, the fork is held in the left hand and food is cut with your right. (Only my granddaughter Savannah has mastered this.)

When eating a pie or cake which is cut in a triangle you should eat from the outside to inside to preserve the shape of the desert.True. Never start from the small and eat out, eat from the big side and eat in.

It is permissible to ask to use the restroom during dinner.False, It is rude (mal-levé, poorly brought up) to ask to use the restroom at any time while attending a dinner. Go before you leave home. This includes restaurants.

Your bread should go in the upper left edge of your plate.False. Bread is placed directly on the tablecloth, unless it is a formal meal in which bread plates are used.

When the aperitif is served, you wait for the host to give the toast before drinking.
True. You should wait for the host to lead the way, whether an aperitif or dinner course. Once everyone has been served a drink, the host will generally make a short toast after which the glass-clinking begins. It is polite to make eye contact as you say, “Sante'.”

You should tear your bread into a bite-sized piece before eating it.True. It is very impolite to take a bite from the whole piece of bread.

If someone asks you to pass the salt, you pass both the salt and pepper.False. In the U.S., the salt and pepper are “married,” meaning they should always stay together on the table. In France if you are asked for the salt, you simply pass the salt or pepper.

After each course, you should wipe your plate with a piece of bread.True. However, this should be done gently as a means of cleaning the plate for the next course, not slopping up the leftover sauce. It is more polite to use a piece of bread on your fork, rather than in your hand. In a more formal setting, each course is served on a new plate, so cleaning the plate is not necessary.

Wine glasses should be filled up to five millimeters from the brim.False. When pouring wine, stop when the glass is three-fourths full. (If you are a woman the wine glass is usually filled to about half way up. Hence the glass is half full or half empty.)

When invited for apéros, you should bring a gift for the hostess.
False. For apéros, no gift is necessary. If you are invited for dinner, you should bring a gift for the hostess. Good ideas are flowers, or a pre-agreed dessert or cheese dish. My daughter, Genevieve tells me that it is indeed a faux-pas to bring wine to a dinner in France. I apologize.

A French dinner often consists of a salad with vinaigrette for the starter, main course, cheese course, dessert, and coffee. True. Bread, wine, and mineral water are offered throughout the meal.

It is acceptable to eat pommes (french fries)with your fingers.
False. While fast food (ugh!) has made its mark in France, eating foods with your fingers is still strictly limited when you are at the dinner table. If in doubt, follow the lead of your hostess.



elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, I needed to read this again myself!

Brantigny said...

I do not believe you.

Percival Devante said...

Brilliant article. My readers would be thrilled to see it. Swell & Dandy has linked to it. God bless.


Rollory said...

"When eating a pie or cake which is cut in a triangle you should eat from the outside to inside to preserve the shape of the desert.True. Never start from the small and eat out, eat from the big side and eat in."

Having spent quite a lot of time as a child in France eating in various houses where good manners were taken for granted, I can state with certainty that this is not the case. I have NEVER seen anyone eat a piece of pie in that manner. The outer edge crust has always been the last thing to be eaten.

I particularly remember some dinners with some very high-class people where a number of instructions were impressed upon me such as which fork to use for the salad and which to use for the meat. Had something as odd as eating the desert from the outside in happened, I am sure I would have noticed such an unusual thing.

Brantigny said...

That bit of advise comes from Angers. My youngest daughter Genevieve, attended University there and was instumental in the writing of this article.

I will approach her with this comment.


Anonymous said...

Most of these rigid "rules" serve no purpose except to induce stress and indigestion. Good table manners are one thing. Exaggerated awkward rules are another. As for forbidding diners from getting up to use the bathroom, that's just plain cruel. Do you know how many people have irritable bowel syndrome? Tumors? Bladder incontinence? The human body is poorly constructed and we aren't meant to function like West Point robots.

Brantigny said...

You probably will never read this reply however I will answer you.

Refrain from going to France if you are bound and determined to flaunt the rules of their society. These rules would not prevent you from asking discretly for the W/C and it will not be refused you. You will still be looked at as a foreigner of course, who does not respect the customs of your host country.
The French are some of the most destressed peoples on earth!
I do not get the point about West Point robots. There are latrines at West Point. If you are incontinent go leave your home.

Your comment was stupid.

Anonymous said...

I bet Jesus would be at home in a formal French dining room.

Brantigny said...

...and so is this one. Jesus in his incorporated state was brought up in a Jewish household, they reclined at meals and ate with their fingers. However thera are jews who live in France and subscribe to the same dining.