Every travel experience offers the opportunity to try some delicious new foods, which means you will likely find yourself navigating culinary customs different than your own. On a recent trip to Paris, I took note of some of the etiquette rules that, after continued travel to France, have become familiar to me but that might not be apparent for first-time travelers.
Here are 9 tips to remember when dining out in France, particularly in the café setting.
1. It is completely acceptable to sit yourself down at a terrace café table if it isn’t unoccupied, but if you intend only to have drinks, sit at a place without silverware. Tables with place settings are intended for customers ordering food.
2. Keep yourself from spreading out. It may tempting, especially in a café with fewer people around, but draping your bags and limbs across multiple chairs and table sets is viewed as bad form.
3. When addressing wait staff, do not ever use the term garçon! Years of watching American movies may have taught you that it is as synonym for waiter, but the French consider it a derogatory expression (the literal translation is young boy).
4. Lower the volume: Even in a busy dining setting, the French as a rule do not speak as loudly as Americans. That doesn’t mean you need to whisper but try to keep your conversation from echoing down the rue!
5. Take your time. The cafe experience is meant to be leisurely and waiters may not take kindly to being rushed! Similarly, don’t feel rushed if waiters bring the bill out with your order. In the United States that can often serve as a cue to scoot, but in France, it’s meant as a helpful gesture. The waiters will update the bill as you order more.
6. Avoid altering the menu if you can. While customization is normal stateside, the French take particular pride in their culinary craft and believe the chef knows best. Of course, this doesn’t apply if you have an allergy, but picky eaters beware!
7. Rather than an appetizer, bread is an accompaniment to the meal, perfect for soaking up the delicious sauces. To avoid faux pas, don’t dig into the baguette basket the second it’s set down on the table.
8. Also worthy of note in bread-iquette: It is acceptable to place your baguette slice directly on the table. That crusty exterior is as useful as it is delicious.
9. It’s true that the salaries of French waitstaff aren’t primarily based on tipping, and while this means you don’t have to leave a 20% tip for every meal, it is still polite to leave a few Euros behind to say thank you for the service!
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