There are some stereotypes when it comes to the food of France… that it’s inaccessible, that it’s hard to replicate back home, that it’s all gourmet cuisine. While the French do offer some gourmet delicacies – like foie gras – don’t let any of those stereotypes stop you from experiencing the cuisine firsthand on a culinary vacation in France.
It’s true that the French love and appreciate their food, and as such, you’ll discover an amazing and mouthwatering array of flavors during a culinary vacation in France. That said too, presentation and manners matter a lot in France. So here are a few ‘don’ts’ about French etiquette to keep in mind on your next trip to France.
1. Touch the produce
All that beautiful produce… it’s tempting to pick them up and smell! But that’s frowned upon in France. Even so, the vendors love to talk about their food and they’ll happily share what they recommend and even give you some advice about their wares. And if you do want a taste to experience the produce first, just ask! (For more about shopping at a market in France, many of our one-day French cooking classes include a tour of the local market).
2. Forget to make dinner reservations
While many cafes won’t require dinner reservations, if there’s a gourmet or Michelin-restaurant high on your list of must-eats — and you have free time on your itinerary — be sure to make a reservation in advance. Many restaurants throughout France are small and require reservations. Also keep in mind that dinner starts late in France! So chances are you won’t be eating any earlier than 8:30 p.m.
3. At a dinner with a host, dive into your food
The beautiful presentation, the fresh produce: it’ll be tempting to start eating as soon as the plate of food is delivered to the table, but wait! The host, or the chef, will say “Bon Appetit” to signal it’s time to start eating. The same goes with the toast and aperitif; follow the host, or chef’s, lead.
4. Grab any fork
If you’re enjoying a multi-course meal — as you’ll often do after a hands-on cooking class — and aren’t sure which utensil to use, remember this rule of thumb: start from the outside and work your way in. In some cases too, the table will be cleared along with the utensils and you’ll be given fresh utensils. Additionally, when it comes to eating, the knife should be held in the right hand, while the fork in the left when eating. When you’re not eating, be sure to keep your hands on the table (but not your elbows). Some say that this dates back to a time when people hid daggers in their laps. As another story goes, it was a dining rule instituted by Louis XVIIth who believed he’d uncovered a conspiracy in which someone was trying to poison his drinks and food!
5. Bite into the whole piece of bread
The French love their bread, and you’ll find it with just about every meal. But whether you’re eating a baguette or a a piece of bread at dinner, don’t just bite right into the bread. Rather tear it into smaller pieces before eating. And then where should you put the bread when you’re not eating it, since it’s often served with a few courses? Often there won’t be a bread plate, so it’s perfectly acceptable to put it right on the tablecloth.
The French aren’t the only one with etiquette customs (for Italian ‘don’ts’ see this blog post). And while you may find some of the etiquette and customs strange, it’s very much a part of their culture. So immerse yourself in their world during your culinary vacation in France and experience the food the way they do too, and you might just find more of an appreciation of their dining culture!
By Liz Hall
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