Posts Tagged ‘food’

French Etiquette in a Nutshell

October 25, 2008

Yesterday, my french class talked about the world of french food and dining. My french professor’s wife Catherine shared a few tips on her french dining experience as a Singaporean in his family. Here’s a brief recount on what I learnt en ma classe de français..


Whatever the occasion is, always make an effort to dress well. Your best bet would be smart casual for casual gatherings though you should avoid jeans. The french being fashion forward, pays extra attention to dressing details. So impress while not being overdressed.

Arrival Time

Punctuality is a sign that you have been well brought up, and it is said that the higher north you go in France, the most stricter it gets in terms of punctuality. As a general guideline, you should never be more than 15 minutes late. Anything after that grace period, please inform the host before hand.


Yes you need to being your host something as a token of appreciation for inviting you over for dinner. Save ideas include fresh flowers or chocolates. And of course like in most other cultures, Chrysanthemums are out of the question since they are typically associated with funeral wreaths! Wines are definitely generous, but skip it unless you are some sort of wine specialist! Don’t forget, most french people know their wines very well and can be very particular on the type you bring. So yes, skip it!

Aperitif / Cocktails as Pre-Dinner Drinks

An aperitif is an alcoholic drink taken before a meal to stimulate the appetite. The term comes from a latin origin in the 19th century which meant, “to open”. A cocktail is an alcholic drink consisting of a sprit or serveral sprits mixed together with other ingredients such as fruit juice, lemonade or cream. Of course, you can always ask for a non-alcoholic drink, and your host will offer juice or fizzy drinks. Never choose upon these offers, take whatever that he offers first!

Also, wait for the host to lead before you drink. It is polite to make eye contact as you say, “Santé”, which means, “to health”.

Main Course

Even though the invitation starts at 8:00pm, the actual dinner will commence around 9:30pm at the earliest. Expect a starter, a main course, salad and then cheese. At the table, observe how the host places her guests. The female guest-of-honour will be placed next to the host on his right. The “next-female-in-line” will be placed on the host’s left. Likewise, the male guest-of-honour will be placed on the right of the hostess. The other guests then seat accordingly, alternating between men and women. Take note that there should never be 13 people at a table as it is a sign of bad luck.. apparently because of a religious origin, that at The Last Supper before Jesus died, there were 13 members at the table.

Don’t eat before the host starts. As the french people do not like the idea of refrigerating or warming up food that has been set out for a while, the host will shuffle constantly to the kitchen to prepare the next course. The french believe in serving the food french, taking care of all the preparation details.

Try everything even if you don’t like it. Refusing food is taken as a form of insult to the host.


You can talk about everything except taboo topics such as religion, politics and sex. The french enjoy a “verbal conflict”. Sometimes, they will provoke you to talk about how you really feel towards a particular issue just to hear different opinions. In this case, talk to them and make them see your point even though they disagree. In the conversation process and for obvious reasons, ensure that you don’t hurt the anyone’s feelings, shock them unnecessary or attack them.


Served after the main course with vinaigrette dressing. Don’t ever cut the leaves if they are too big. You should instead, fold them with your fork and knife. Remember, it is impolite to the host to cut them.


There are over 400 types of cheese in France. The french eat more cheese than any other nation in the world, an amazing total of 20.4 kg (45 lbs.) per person per year! A definite must for any french meal.


The french bread is bread made from white wheat flour that has a strong and chewy crust, served constantly through the meal. Usually the bread is shaped into a torpedo, batard, or baguette style. The host may prepare the bread several times a day so his guests can have access to fresh bread for dinner or a late-night snack.


The french pressed coffee is usually thicker and stronger and has more sediment than drip-brewed coffee. As the used grounds remain in the drink after brewing, the coffee should be served immediately so as to not become bitter from over-extraction. Coffee is usually offered after the main course and is normally taken in the living room.

Final notes

For more notes on french dining, check out the following website: Table Etiquette in France. Just remember, you should always go with the flow and observe the people and their behavior around.

And finally Catherine quotes Oscar Wilde, “Experience is the name we give to our mistakes”, so you will be more experienced on your next visit!