Drink Magazine

The Savoir Faire of Drinking and Eating in France

By Nancykerschen

man with a beret drinking wine at a table with bottle of wine glass of wine cheese and baguette in front of open fire, Frankreich, France, Franzose, frenchHave you ever met someone who has said, ‘I forgot to eat,’ or ‘Oh, I wish there was a pill I could take so I wouldn’t have to eat?’ I’ve heard both before, and to set the record straight, that’s whack.  I am willing to bet my dirty dishes that the same people are fairweather friends with wine, if at all.  I get there are times when you’re very busy/anxious/sleeping and you’re not thinking about what you’re going to eat for dinner, let alone drink with dinner. But according to a survey, 100% of participants agree that in an unrushed and calm setting, it’s impossible for one to like wine if one doesn’t love food.*

Luckily, I live in a country and am immersed in a culture where both wine and cuisine share the spotlight and get along famously, rather than undermining one another. In France, most of my time socializing is spent around the table, so I’ve had ample opportunities to observe, critique and adapt to the habits and unwritten table rules here. Some might be more surprising than others, what are your thoughts?

(*study based on a poll of 1 person)

Cheese is always served  with bread, always after dinner, and almost always with wine.  Wine, cheese, and bread are affectionately referred to as the Holy Trinity, so refrain from stuffing your face with bread before dinner, you’ll need it later.

During a meal, bread for scooping and sopping is treated as an edible dining utensil and kept directly on the table, rather than on the plate.

Dinner is usually lighter than lunch, and during winter, soup is often served beforehand. French kids are actually ordered  ‘Eat your soup!’ like Americans are told  ‘Drink your milk!’

Although it might sound high fallootin’, an apéro, short for apéritif, just means a before dinner drink usually served with finger foods.

There are many different ways to cut the cheese. Take that as you will.

If served an apéritif, wait until the host toasts before getting that wine down your gullet.

As a guest in a semi-formal or formal setting, it’s considered rude to pour your own wine at the dinner table. Let the host serve you, like the queen or king you are.

As a guest in a casual setting (i.e. among friends and close family) make sure you offer wine to everyone else at the table before topping off your own glass. Don’t expect a tip.

Adding an ice cube to inexpensive wine isn’t necessarily poor form. Ice in rosé is served at cafés in the summer and even has a name, un rosé piscine.

Pizza, hamburgers, and french fries are eaten using a fork and knife, like a civilized person.

Sitting down for an apéritif where there are small bites placed in front of you buffet style, wait until either the host begins passing the food around, or says ‘help yourself’ before helping yourself. Unless they’re in the kitchen getting the wine from the fridge, then you have time to sneak a few crackers or even olives without choking.

It’s not ok to keep your hands in your lap at the table, and it’s not okay to put your elbows on the table. Resting your hands and wrists on the table is ok, however… like you’re Beethoven waiting for your cue.

Soft drinks are never drunk with meals. It’s either water or wine…choose your poison.

Meal times are heavily adhered to, and snacking in between is frowned upon. I prefer eating lightly throughout the day, and therefore, I don’t ‘respect’ the rules, according to my roommate/husband/meal warden.

Finally, the most important unspoken rule while dining in France is that you’ve got to have strong opinions about food and wine. If it doesn’t come naturally, even more, if you’re the type who ‘forgets to eat’ but you want to fit in, just speak more loudly and use more hand gestures all while swirling your glass like a boss. It’ll work on savviest oeno-gastronomique aficianado (bonus points for employing the aforementioned term.)

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