All Ya Need to Know About Table Manners in France


“Good manners consist of doing precisely what everyone thinks should be done, especially when no one knows quite what that is.” – P.J. O’Rourke (“Modern Manners,” 1988)

Let’s start with bread — that wonderful French contribution to good eating. If you have a bread plate, your bread goes there. If you don’t have one (as is usually the case), leave a piece of bread on the table beside your plate. Don’t cut the bread and don’t butter it entirely. Instead, break from it a morsel at a time and, if you wish, butter that.

Now for the rule I really hate: Don’t dip your bread in that sumptuous sauce. When you are done eating your fish or fowl or meat, leave the plate as is. It’s what the French consider very “mal eleve” (badly brought up) to put bread in sauce. I don’t know why, and I admit I’ve had a great deal of trouble with this rule. On my latest trip to Paris, I dined formally about six times and believe I had five accidental dippings.

Bread and asparagus are the only two things you may pick up with your hands.

When it comes to salad, don’t cut the lettuce. Instead, fold large pieces with your fork and knife.

When dining at a restaurant, the man sits with his back to the restaurant and the woman with her back to the wall. The man orders the food and pours the wine and water for his female dining companion.

If you are at all undecided, it’s a very good idea to ask the waiter what sort of wine would go with the food you are eating. The French are much more particular than Americans about matching food and wine. When in Rome … .

As in the United States, place your knife and fork across the plate, pointing to the left, to signal the waiter that you are done with your meal. Beginning the meal by saying “Bon appetit!” is considered gauche.

(This, I learned only today.) If you are dining at someone’s home, don’t touch your silverware until the hostess has taken the first bite. In a restaurant, the man will wait for the woman to begin.

What else?

Oh yes — it’s considered a terrible sin to tip off the corner of a wedge of cheese. Instead, slice it along the side so that you preserve the triangular shape. Cut Roquefort from the side, not the end — and don’t take all of the blue part. Cut round cheese as you’d cut a pie.

If you are going to a dinner party, don’t bring a bottle of wine. It’s considered impolite. If you want to thank your hosts, you can send them fine chocolates afterward.

And — very important — when the lady of the house serves you orange juice (after the meal), it’s time to leave.