Operation Undercover in Paris : Have Table Manners

PARIS (Herald de Paris) – We, the French, are lovers. But there’s another world which lies at the center of our social life.  Food. Some of the most famous Chefs are French. Heck, even the word ‘Chef’ is French. Menus in America are filled of French words. Most of the time, those words aren’t used the way they’re supposed to be – I’m thinking of that dumb maître d’ – but it’s French so it must mean good food.

Chances are, when you come to France, you will be invited to have dinner in a French household. Your eyes may fill with twinkling stars, but you should do well to remember that the average menu of a Frenchman is pizza or hamburger.No one will dare serve you this when they invite you, though. You’re safe. Breathe.
Eric Fréchon, famous chef in Le Bristol, just got his third star. Here, it’s a big deal. We respect food, even though we eat junk in our everyday life. We know that we can’t cook pasta when a foreigner comes to our home.

We’ll at least try to correspond to the image you have of us. Even though more than half of my acquaintances cook frozen foods best than real nourishment. I belong to that group. My personal specialty: boil water for tea.You must as well respect some decorum in exchange for our sharing humanist tendencies. When you’re invited for dinner, you should always remember to arrive late. Being on time is rude, being early is unforgivable. The appropriate lateness is about half an hour after the appointed time. Don’t be later than that, though. It’s rude. Just be ‘fashionably late’.

Once you have reached your friends’ place, you’ll suffer hell. But since you already know how to drink wine, you should be able to survive the toughest aspects of being a good guest.I have a few tricks that may help you.First rule: never bring any food to your mouth before your hostess does. No one will say anything if you do. But you’ll get the evil eye and will confirm why we mostly believe americans to be uneducated. Maybe the hostess will maim you with a voodoo doll. You can never be too careful.

Second rule: when you have more than one set of silverware, start by the ones that are further from your plate. But your hosts won’t dress such a complicated table unless they want to see you squirm. So if you see more than one set, you know where you are. If you can pull it off and look natural, they’ll respect you.

Third rule: never get up from the table during the meal, unless it’s to help the hostess serving the dishes. I have actually seen people in America going to the bathroom during a course. Hold it in! And while we’re at it, you must keep your hands on the table at all times, and your elbows off of the table. It takes years of practice to put your arms in the right place.

Maybe I should add that I get the urge to hit people who don’t respect those three rules. And I know I’m not the only one. If you get a constipated smile, then you’re doing something wrong.

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