Why French People Don’t Tend to Eat Like Tourists


Have you ever tried to grab a meal in France at 4 in the afternoon, and wondered why most restaurants are closed? Or maybe you’ve tried to make small talk with the waiter, and assumed they were being rude when they didn’t want to chat?

A lot of this comes down to French food habits, which are quite different than elsewhere in the world. In today’s video, I’ll tell you more about these differences, and explain why and how French people eat differently than tourists. And I’ll start with a presentation that’s entirely in French!

C’est parti.

1) The lesson in French

En France, dans les restaurants, les repas sont une affaire sérieuse.
In France, in restaurants, meals are a serious affair.

Ils ont lieu à des heures fixes, pas n’importe quand dès qu’on a faim.
They take place at fixed times, not just any time when you’re hungry.

Entre midi et quatorze heures pour le déjeuner, et entre dix-neuf heures et vingt-deux heures pour le dîner.
Between noon and two in the afternoon for lunch, and between seven and ten in the evening for dinner.

La plupart des restaurants sont fermés en dehors de ces heures, sauf des établissements comme les brasseries ou la restauration rapide, qui ont des heures de service plus étendues.
Most restaurants are closed outside of these hours, except for establishments like brasseries or fast food, which have extended service hours.

Certains Français ne vont au restaurant que pour des occasions spéciales, et préfèrent cuisiner chez eux de bons petits plats.
Some French people only go to restaurants for special occasions, and prefer to cook good meals at home.

D’autres Français vont régulièrement prendre un repas dans leur “cantine”, un endroit où ils vont souvent parce qu’ils aiment la nourriture et l’ambiance.
Other French people regularly eat at their “canteen,” a place they frequent because they enjoy the food and the atmosphere.

Dans tous les cas, le déjeuner ou le dîner sont des moments partagés, où on prend le temps d’apprécier les plats et la compagnie.
In any case, lunch or dinner are shared moments, where we take the time to appreciate the dishes and the company.

Si tu es intimidée par le menu, tu peux simplement commander le plat du jour.
If you are intimidated by the menu, you can simply order the dish of the day.

C’est souvent un bon choix, fait maison avec des ingrédients frais.
It’s often a good choice, homemade with fresh ingredients.

Tu peux l’accompagner avec, par exemple, un bon vin – ou une simple carafe d’eau plate.
You can accompany it with, for example, a good wine – or a simple carafe of flat water.

Sauf si tu préfères de l’eau gazeuse, en bouteille, comme du Perrier ou de la San Pellegrino.
Unless you prefer bottled sparkling water, like Perrier or San Pellegrino.

Dans un restaurant en France, les serveurs et serveuses ne sont pas vos amis ; ils ne partagent généralement pas leurs prénoms, et il n’y a pas vraiment de conversation en dehors de la commande.
In a French restaurant, waiters and waitresses are not your friends; they generally do not share their first names, and there isn’t really any conversation outside of the order.

Leur but est de vous apporter vos plats, et de vous laisser passer un bon moment avec les autres convives.
Their goal is to bring you your dishes, and to let you have a good time with your fellow diners.

Le service est inclus dans la commande ; mais si vous êtes satisfaits, vous pouvez laisser un pourboire autour de 5 à 10% de l’addition.
Service is included in the order; but if you are satisfied, you can leave a tip of around 5 to 10% of the bill.

Et pour terminer le repas, pourquoi ne pas essayer un “café gourmand”? C’est un petit café servi avec de petites pâtisseries délicieuses !
And to end the meal, why not try a “gourmet coffee”? It’s a small coffee served with delicious pastries!

2) Vocabulary

Une brasserie = a type of restaurant on city centers, especially in Paris, offering simple traditional meals in a relaxed atmosphere and often beautiful decoration.

La restauration rapide = fast food restaurants.
In France you’ll find some big American fast food chains like Burger King or McDonald’s. They’re popular, but don’t have great cultural cachet or anything.

Manger sur le pouce = an expression that means “to eat on your thumb”, to eat fast, simple and on the go.

Most French fast food restaurants are probably un kebab, serving food inspired by North-African and Middle-Eastern street food. These last few years, more and more “French tacos” restaurants opened as well. Though they don’t serve Mexican tacos, or French cuisine – but instead, a kebab in a wrap.

Une cantine = a canteen. Strictly speaking, “la cantine” is a French school restaurant, or the restaurant in the building of your company. But the word also expands for your regular workday restaurant, especially for a team of coworkers.

L’ambiance = “the atmosphere, the vibe of a place”, but also the general animation. For instance, “Ici, il y a de l’ambiance !” means “Here, it’s very animated in a great way!”

La carte (in a restaurant) = le menu = the menu.
Une formule (in a restaurant) = un menu = a set menu, like le menu enfant (the children’s menu.)
Le plat du jour = the daily special.
Fait maison = literally “homemade.”
You can order it with this simple script:
Je vais prendre le plat du jour, s’il vous plaît.” = I’ll have the daily special, please.

De l’eau (some water) = une carafe d’eau (a jug of water) = free carafe of flat tap water. If you insist on buying bottled water:

  • Évian / Volvic = brands of bottled tap water
  • Perrier / San Pellegrino = brands of bottled sparkling water (= de l’eau gazeuse = de l’eau pétillante). For instance you can order with:

Je voudrais un Perrier.
Je prendrais une “San Pé”, s’il vous plaît.” (= colloquial short for San Pellegrino)

Un serveur = a waiter, une serveuse = a waitress. They’ll bring you l’addition or la note, the bill or the check.
Un pourboire = a tip (literally a “for drinking”). It’s appreciated, but less socially mandatory as in North America.

Learn more : Why You Shouldn’t Use “Garçon” to Call a Waiter

Le café gourmand = a coffee served with small pastries.
Learn more: Understand Fast Spoken French: How to order coffee like a local

Keep on learning about French food culture, and practicing understanding spoken French, so you can enjoy your stay in France even more.

Click here to get your next lesson:

À tout de suite.
I’ll see you in the next video!

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Join the conversation!

  • Récemment, j’ai réservé un restaurant pour 18 h 30. La commande n’a été prise qu’à 19h00 !

    En Chamonix en hiver, tout le monde réservent les restaurants pour 19:00 heures: tout le monde, et arriver ensemble pour faire la queue.

  • Salut Géraldine
    In UK when we have finished eating we put our knife and fork together facing away from us, like a clock at 06h30.
    I have noticed my French friends in Bourgogne-Franche-Compté put their knife and fork separately like a clock at 2h 45. An Estonian friend puts hers together, like a clock at 09h-50!! Is this a regional or national thing I wonder. I never noticed it before in the Aveyron..

    • Bonsoir Brian,

      I am not sure whether they are regional specificities when it comes to indicating you are done eating. You may find the following article interesting: https://www.lemag.cd/gastronomie/2021/07/16/les-langages-des-couverts-apres-le-repas
      When you have finished eating, one can 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.

      I hope this helps.

      Comme Une Française Team

      • Interesting, the common, in BFC anyway, 2h 45 position isn’t shown.
        Must apply to Parisian or gourmet posh restos… In many restos I eat in,at lunchtime, we keep our knives and forks after the entrée 🙂

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