French Culture: the Rules for Getting by at the Dinner Table
In order to integrate, it’s important to understand these essential French table manners in order to be respectful.
Although this is not a list of every unwritten rule in French society, here are some of the most important; if you know these, you should be fine!
General Rules of Thumb
- First of all, how we sit at the table. We sit up straight and well positioned in our chair; don’t lean back on your chair. It may seem simple, but it’s important nonetheless.
2. We bring our fork to our mouth, not our mouth to our fork. It’s best to avoid leaning forward towards your plate or curving your back in order to be closer to your plate. If something is difficult to eat, it’s best to take small, manageable mouthfuls.
3. We don’t put our elbows on the table (as the man in the blue shirt is doing). In France, doing this conveys laziness and makes you seem limp, it also allows you to lower your head towards your plate (rule 2).
4. Make sure to use your cutlery correctly at the table. Your fork should be held in your left hand, and your knife in the right. When you have finished eating, you should put your cutlery together pointing towards the upper left hand side of your plate. In a restaurant setting, this indicates to the staff that you have finished your meal and are ready for the next course.
5. Try not to make any noise. With your mouth when eating, that is. Close your mouth when you’re eating so that other diners can’t hear the sound of you chewing, don’t slurp on your soup and definitely don’t burp at the table! This is essential.
6. Don’t spit your food out. If there is anything you don’t like, move it to the side at the top of your plate, so that it is further away from you.
7. Don’t speak with your mouth full. It’s important to wait until you have finished your mouthful before eating or replying to someone.
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Etiquette : French table manners
8. Don’t put your hands underneath the table or on your lap. In France, it is common practice to rest your hands on the table when they are not holding cutlery.
9. Don’t reach across anyone; to get the salt, the bread etc. You need to ask people further along the table to pass you what you’d like.
10. Normally we clear our plate. Try to finish as much food as you can and leave what you can’t finish in the corner of your plate with a little piece of bread. This will help whoever clears your plate to wipe it clean, it’s seen as respectful.
Top tip: never tell a host that you don’t like the food they have made, you can thank them for cooking for you and smile without commenting on the food if it wasn’t what you’d prefer!
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Essential French Table Manners