French social customs 4: table manners part 2

People in France eat out a lot (although somewhat less during the present crise).  On Sundays, you will often see whole families from grandparents down to babies tucking into a five-course meal.  This is the reason why French children are generally so well behaved in restaurants.  They have got the eating out habit early.  They also get used to eating en famille.

For my other posts about French customs, please see Customs under Topics in the right-hand sidebar. For Part 1 of Table Manners, about how to behave when invited for a meal by French people, please click here.

  

Arrival: it’s customary to greet everybody when you enter a restaurant, as it is when you go into a shop (but unnecessary in a big supermarket – just in case you were thinking of trying it).  I like this habit, although it took a while to get used to it.  In England, people would think you were barmy.  It makes sense, though: why pretend no one else exists but you?  Diners at adjacent tables often wish each other ‘Bon appetit’ as well.   

The menu: as well as à la carte, most restaurants offer a fixed price menu (some offer only that), which is normally good value.  The main course often changes daily, according to what is in season or available at the market.  It is therefore cooked that day and not microwaved from the freezer.   

One of our local restaurants, L’Auberge de la Grange du Cros, is a converted barn in a tiny hamlet.  Thierry does the front of house (serving up to 30 diners) while Rebecca cooks in a converted dovecote.  Thierry’s performance alone is worth the journey, as he describes each course in poetic French – he also speaks English.  The menu changes every week and is always interesting, combining locally sourced ingredients with an imaginative twist.  This is this week’s menu:  

  • Starter: Duck in puff pastry or blue cheese and walnut muffin
  • Main course: Guinea fowl with a saffron cream sauce or shoulder of lamb stuffed with chard with a garlic sauce
  • Cheese: A gigantic tray with a good selection of cheeses
  • Dessert: Lemon tart or Pain retrouvé (difficult to translate, but their take on a classic French dessert, pain perdu).
  •  

    All this plus 25cl of wine per person for 19 € a head (NB since I wrote this Thierry has put his prices up to 22 Euros a head, but it’s still excellent value).  Apéritifs and coffee are extra, which is standard practice. Between courses:  should you keep your knife and fork or put them on the plate to be removed? Whatever you do, it will be wrong.  It used to be very common to use the same cutlery throughout the meal (and sometimes the same plate), but with the advent of dishwashers, this is dying out. However, most of the truckers’/artisans’ lunchtime restaurants still operate this practice.  It is not done to snap your fingers and shout ‘Garçon!’ when you want the plates cleared.  The waiter is probably le patron and, even if he isn’t, it’s rude and overbearing.    

    Thankfully, smoking is now banned so smokers have to go outside.  Before the complete ban came in, restaurants had to designate no-smoking tables.  Some got round this by having just one, surrounded by smoking tables.  

    Paying: some restaurants still don’t take credit cards, so it’s worth checking before turning up, otherwise you could end up doing the washing-up.  You don’t tip in France – it’s included in the total.  They don’t have that irritating practice of leaving the total blank on the credit card slip or the electronic machine.  

    Departure: say goodbye to everyone as you leave.  

    Bon appetit!  

    Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved.  

     

     

       

       

     

       

       

     

       

       

     

       

       
       
         
         
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    About nessafrance

    My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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