Bonjour tout le monde, I mentioned in my post for ‘Soupe de Moules’ (see blog under starters) a couple of tips on how to eat soup in Paris ( Never with wine and never with bread!) So I thought that I would share with you some table/restaurant etiquette* to stop you from making ‘faux pas’ when dining out in Paris, and that may even get you better service – or at least treated with a little more respect by the Parisian waiters!
Parisian waiters – are rare breed indeed, often seen as haughty, condescending or even downright rude, along with shop assistants and lets face it the French in general!
The first thing to learn is to let go of the Anglo-Saxon idea that ‘The Customer is always right’ and that we have the right to swan in and out of shops and restaurants as if we owned them, treating the staff as our temporary servants,
In Latin cultures, and France for all its close association with the UK and the US, and its northern borders, is essentially a Latin culture, this is not the case.
In the UK and the US shops and restaurants etc are seen as ‘public domain’ and we have the right to mooch around at leisure. In France however, these establishments are ‘private domain’ and we enter them on the invitation of the owner (I was confused by signs saying ‘free entrée’ and ‘welcome to come inside’ on the doors of small shops when I first moved to Paris, as for me shops were accessible to all….) It is therefore polite to say ‘bonjour madame/monsieur’ when entering a shop and ‘mercimadame/monsieur, au revoir or bonnejournee (the French equivalent to ‘have a nice day’) when leaving. Even if you have not bought anything, this will be greatly appreciated and set you aside from other ignorant tourists who are being treated with disdain.
The fact is that if they are rude to you – you have often been rude first, albeit you have not realised………..
The same goes for restaurants. A good friend who was visiting the Champs Elysees with me, was puzzled when I stood at the entrance to an obviously half empty restaurant in the rain, while other tourists pushed past us and took the best seats beneath the heater (yes we were eating ‘al fresco’ in winter!)
The waiter saw us, I gave him a cursory nod, to which he replied with the same degree of acknowledgment and I asked him if he had a table for two. He immediately swept us to a lovely table for four, separating the two small tables, and took away the heater from above a group of bewildered Japanese tourists.He then brought us a menu and kept the other two parties waiting while he advised us on the ‘plat du jour’ I had simply observed the unspoken rules and been well rewarded!
Parisian waiters follow a rigorous training to be given the honour of wearing the long black apron. Watch them weaving their way, expertly balancing trays laden with plates, bottles and glasses on one hand raised above their heads, through impossibly tight spaces, often up and down narrow spiral staircases, narrowly missing a colleague coming in the opposite direction.
The other thing to note is NEVER snap your fingers and call ‘garcon’ across a crowded restaurant. The best way to attract a waiter is to either, catch his eye and give him a polite nod, or by saying ‘S’il vous plait monsieur’ as he glides past your table, he may not return immediately, but you will have been placed in a mental queue and he will serve you when your turn arrives. Parisan waiters are not merely students working to get themselves through UNI, they have expertise on all the food that is served in their restaurants and also on the wine, and are more than happy to advise on both. Their efficiency is second to none – unless of course, you don’t follow the rules…..
Now that you have your table and you know all about how to eat soup, there is just one more little piece of table etiquette* that is essential when eating in France – where to place your hands………
I the UK it is seen as extremely rude to eat with your hands on the table, and any unoccupied hand/hands should stay firmly out of sight on your lap.
In France it is the very opposite that applies…..I was appalled when my partner first ate at my house as he placed his hands on the table, thinking he had no table manners, but while eating out with a French family in a restaurant at Lille, the mother severely reprimanded her 8 years old son for sitting with his hands beneath the table. The child replied in French ‘but Lindy is doing it’ to which the mother replied to my horror (also in French, not realising that I could understand) ‘ Lindy doesn’t know any better, she is English’
One major lesson learnt the hard way………
The story goes that the French keep there hands where they can be seen, or who knows what they could be getting up to under the table – ooh la la!
That said, this does not mean that you can also rest your elbows on the table – the polite way is to gently rest the hand, making a very loose fist with the fingers curling inward, at wrist level on the edge of the table – I think that this looks quite elegant, and this can also often be an unspoken sign to waiters that you are not in fact an ignorant hand hiding tourist, but ‘un vraiParisien’ or at least trying to be………….
So next time that you find yourself in the beautiful ‘City of Light’, put these simple tips into action and see what a difference it makes.
* ‘etiquette’ is a false friend ‘faux amis’ in English it means ‘social manners’
But in French it means a sticky label (as on a wine bottle!)