Social Occasions: Etiquette à Table

Coucou !

When invited for a meal in France, don’t expect to be received in a Versailles dining room with silver cutlery and porcelain plates.
Nope. We are normal people.
BUT we have plenty of unwritten rules for the table. We call all these rules “l’étiquette”.

How to behave in France at the table, that’s what we’ll be looking at in this video.

Click to watch « Social occasions: L’étiquette à table »:




Et toi ?

Did you know about these rules of etiquette?
Let me know, in French, one anecdote about table etiquette you’ve experienced in France.

The comment section is the best area to start discussions and ask questions!

Want more?
Here is a sketchnote I made to help you remember these expressions.
l'étiquette à table (Click to see it bigger)

« A tout de suite » in the comments,

Géraldine

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  • Salut Geraldine,
    I was just wondering WHY must you keep your hands on the table – what do people think you’re doing with them if they’re not there…?! 😉 Katie.

    • Bonjour Katie,

      I think you know what they’re imagining you could do with your neighbour, Katie. 😉

  • Hello!
    I really like your videos and appreciate the effort that you’re doing!
    But, during my stay in France, I noticed that French people are very serious about these manners, which made my stay uncomfortable.
    Since I come from a different culture, I have different traditions, different ways of eating, sitting at a table, interact with my host… None were welcome by my hosts in France.
    I noticed in this video also the same thing and it bothered me (having to abide to all the unwritten rules or else you’ll be frown upon).
    What you’re doing is really nice, and really great. But people, especially French people, need to know that if someone doesn’t know the rules it’s not the end of the world, and being different is okay; and for the most part, being different is beautiful.
    Have a lovely day!

  • Bonjour à tous!

    Je me souviens de ma première soirée avec quelques choristes en France. Etant une américaine bien élevée (ah ah), les mains n’étaient sûrement pas sur la table! Un homme en face de moi m’a dit (comme Alice), “montrez les mains! Les mains sur la table!” Il a vu que j’étais perplexe et a ajouté “sinon… on veut savoir ce que vous faites (avec les mains) en dessus de la table ! (Accompagné d’un regard qui signalait quelque chose un peu olé olé se passait en dessus de la table!!!!) J’ai bien rougi, mais j’ai bien appris la leçon! Donc… hands on the table so they know there is no monkey-business going on under the table!!

    • Bonjour JB!
      Tout à fait. En principe, on doit garder les mains sur la table pour montrer qu’on ne fait pas des choses en cachette avec ses voisins !

    • Bien vu ! Suite à la redécoration, il ne trouvait plus sa place dans le décor.
      Il est maintenant dans mon bureau. 🙂

  • Bonsoir Géraldine !
    Est-il vrai de pouvoir demander gratuitement une carafe d’eau (du robinet) dans le restaurant en France ? C’est la conclusion que ma grand-mère et moi avons tirée lorsque nous étions à Nice et je cherche à la confirmer. Une fois, après avoir commandé de la “socca” (un plat régional qui était dégoûtant d’ailleurs) et n’ayant plus rien à dépenser, nous regardions les gens étancher leur soif sans avoir une seule goutte qui aurait pu nous aider à avaler la “délice”. 😉

    • Bonjour Madeleine,

      En principe oui. On peut demander de l’eau gratuitement.
      Mais certains restaurants rechignent parfois à la donner si on consomme très peu par exemple.

  • I was an ,au pair in Paris in 1976. At the end of one of the meals Madame T. offered me more food. With my limited French I replied, Non, merci je suis pleine (meaning to say I can’t eat any more because I am full). The family started laughing and told me that I had just said I was pregnant (horse?)…it was a moment I shall never forget. Merci

  • I remember being told to fold the lettuce leaves rather than cut them. It was hard to do, but I became well-skilled at pushing the lettuce between the tines of the fork. 🙂

  • It’s so sad to have food allergies, (mine is gluten), and it gives anxiety to wonderful invitations to a meal by a kind host(/ess)in France, because I hate adding the complication to what is a lovely ritual in France. I want to participate! I don’t want to be a burden to the host. eugh. Having said that, I ate every lunch (4 courses), each day, in a fantastic cafe in la Manche. The chef came out to explain the ingredients and was very cheerful about it. What fun to have a dietary issue turned into a discussion of the nuances of taste with such pride in each dish! I was so happy! Ok, no bread, no croissant. (I found gluten free bread for tasting cheese quite easily in a local supermarket, though). Who cares! I was in a cafe in France! In fact, I think that, where in the UK/USA there is often a lot of filler/flour added, as food tends to be more processed, in France they insist on genuine, simple ingredients and know what is in their food.

    • Bonjour Kirsty,

      Thanks for sharing your love of French food.
      Unfortunately, there are more and more people with food allergies like you. So (fortunately) there are more and more shops and supermarket department “Gluten Free” in France. And restaurant as well, just as what you’ve discovered in La Manche.

  • Demain, je vais montre cette vidéo à mes élèves de “French 1” au lycée. Ceci est parfaite pour notre classe!

  • I’ve been told that when you make a toast with your drinks (“Salut!”) one must make eye contact with each person as you clink your glasses. Otherwise, it is rude. C’est vrai?

    • Bonjour Robin,

      Yes, we make eye contact when we toast and we say “Santé !” (health) and not “Salut” (Hi).
      (Even if this is what you hear in movie “about” France sometimes)

  • I was told that is proper to etiquette to put your piece of bread on the table, rather than on your plate.

    • Bonjour Sandra,
      Yes, we usually put the bread on the table.
      But at home, it’s no big deal if you put it in your plate (less crumbs on the tablecloth!).

  • Bon moi! je me souviens quand j’étais petite en Haïti ma tante m’a toujours dit que çi vous mettiez le coude sur la table c’est vraiment imprope. Vous êtes d’accord ou pas?

  • In the US, proper etiquette has hands or hand in the lap. I remember being chastised when, as a teen, I lived with a family in Belgium for a summer. “Alice, les mains SUR la table!” It was a hard habit to break! However, I now know that on the continent, one set of rules applies, in the States, another!

    • I agree, it’s a hard habit to break about hands on lap vs table. I have to remind myself to keep hands on table in France and sometimes I will notice my hands just end up on my lap…I hope I haven’t been judged too harshly.

      • Bonjour Jackie,

        Don’t worry. It’s more of a habit than anything offensive. You haven’t offended anyone, I’m sure of it!

    • Bonjour Alice,
      That’s right! It changes from one country to the other.
      Thanks for sharing your experience, you must have learned A LOT, while living in a Belgian family as a teen, for a full summer!

    • I heard of this too – for cheeses with rinds especially you are supposed to cut from the back corner so that everyone will be able to have some and no one will get stuck with just the rind left.

  • Lol – n’hésitez pas à corriger mon français pauvres!

    J’ai un ami qui est un pair du royaume – il a été élevé en France jusqu’à ce qu’il avait 8 ans quand ils ont déménagé au Royaume-Uni. Dîner avec lui dans de bons restaurants français qu’il appelle toujours «du beurre», comme il aime le beurre avec son pain – est-ce un non-non? Je ne peux pas imaginer jamais avoir besoin de demander pour les sauces ou marinades à un repas français que ce soit à la maison de quelqu’un, un étal de marché ou un restaurant chic – la nourriture est tout simplement trop délicieux! J’adore le foie gras – je vais manger n’importe qui quoi ne l’aime pas!

    • Bonjour Chris!

      Demander du beurre au restaurant n’est pas très commun mais pourquoi pas.
      Ce n’est pas particulièrement malpoli en tout cas.

  • Pire que le ketchup avec de la choucroute? Et, oui. Un couple Canadien invité chez moi qui demandait du moutard lorsque j’ai servi le foie gras fait maison. Même, moi, Américaine … je ne le ferais jamais. Mais, une bonne anecdote rigolade à répéter pour des années à venir!
    J’ajoute…L’hôtesse demande toujours si on veut resservir. Si vous ne voulez pas encore, ne dites pas ‘non’ ou ‘non, merci’, mais simplement un ‘merci’ avec sourire. Puis ajouté ‘c’était délicieuse’.

    • Oui ! C’est une super anecdote à raconter Judy. Il vaut mieux en rire !
      Merci pour tes suggestions également, c’est excellent.
      (Comme ton français est très bon, je me permets de te signaler : on dit “C’était délicieux”)

    • Bonjour Geraldine

      Why is it considered rude to say “non merci” when you do not want any more food ? I can’t quite understand this. Thankyou.
      Bon weekend.

      • Bonjour Yvonne,

        It is not rude to say “Non merci”. 🙂 It is just a more “local” way to express it.

  • Hi!
    It is always good to remember that there exist rules to keep at table, however I must say that “etiquette” rules there are not French but international, even if there are many places where they do not know them at all. Regarding french habitudes what amazed me most at the beginning of being with my colleagues eating in the canteen is that nobody left anything in their dishes, they finish absolutely all they took, what for me was quite surprising since I am used to leftovers either because the dish is not of your taste (other in such places) of because is just too much food. Here people just rarely leave “leftovers” of their dishes and clean them up until anything eatable is left., one could almost put back the dish on the shelf after 😉

    • Bonjour Ana,
      Excellent remark! Yes, it is important NOT to throw (or waste) food in France.
      So people usually eat everything.
      It is not very well seen to see leftovers going to the bin (In a restaurant for example, it would show that they don’t know how to size the portions properly)

  • Je me rappellerai toujours de la visite de ma cousine anglaise en France il y a quelques années. Notre voisine avait très gentiment préparé une choucroûte pour elle. Ma cousine, qui ne connaissait pas ce plat typique et délicieux, a demandé le ketchup. Quel embarras ! On en parle encore aujourd’hui !

    • Bonjour Pat,

      Aïe aïe aïe ! Du ketchup avec de la choucroute…
      Effectivement, ça a dû surprendre ta voisine.

  • Quand j’étais étudiant en France en 1969, je dînais régulièrement dans un restaurant étudiant—incroyablement bon marché, mais dont la bouffe était également incroyablement révoltante [normalement un ragoût anonyme, consistence de goudron, et d’un goût vaguement rappelant le fumier]. Mais, tant pis, nous étions tous affamés, prêts a n’importe quel défi gastronomique. A chaque table il y avait huit étudiant[e]s; au bout de la table on mettait un creuset plein du susmentionné ‘mélange adultère de tout.’ L’étudiant[e] à côté très soigneusement prend sa part, observé fanatiquement par le reste de la table; puis, tour à tour, on passe le creuset jusqu’au bout de la ligne…et, hop, telle etait l’exactitude de l’observation des règles de partage, que le dernier venant avait exactement le même volume du ragoût que le premier—et le creuset était vide…
    Etiquette? Peut-etre pas; mais, dans les circonstances, ca marchait assez bien. Et, je suis toujours vivant.

  • Hi, thanks for these. I am vegetarian and always tell people at the invite time if I am asked for dinner. Also some French friends told us 2 more table etiquettes, 1. Do not drink from your glass until your host has started theirs & 2. Do not start eating until the host has started their food first. They seem common etiquette but it’s worth noting.

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