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Table Manners in France: Posh, Respectful, and Very Formal

Priya Johnson Apr 17, 2019
Since table manners in France are quite different and more formal than in the US, people heading to France need to be well-versed with the different French table manners in order to avoid raised eyebrows or hurting the host's sentiments.
Just as culture differs from one country to another, table manners also differ from one culture or country to another. What is considered appropriate and polite in one country may be considered impolite in another.
So, before going on a holiday, it's important to be well-versed with the culture of that particular place. This will prevent you from hurting the sentiments of your hosts. Here, we will focus on proper table manners in France, which will help prepare you for meals with your French hosts.

Dinner Etiquette

Before we head to learning about some French table manners, let's quickly look at the dinner etiquette in this country.

Gift Etiquette

If you are invited for a French dinner, take a gift along for the hostess. Flowers or a bottle of wine make great gifts. However, if you are getting flowers, make sure you give them in odd numbers, except the number 13, which is considered as a bad omen.
Moreover, avoid white lilies or chrysanthemums, as they are considered to be funeral flowers. Red carnations should also be avoided since they stand for bad will. If you plan to gift a bottle of wine, make sure the wine is of a high quality. The French cherish their wines and you certainly won't make a good impression by gifting an inexpensive one.

Arrive on Time

Do not arrive earlier than the appointment time. Moreover, arrive on time for dinner. If you going to be late, call and let your hostess know about it. Not informing your host about the delay is considered impolite.
If you have been invited for a large dinner party make sure you have flowers delivered to the party site or the respective house, the morning before the party, so that they can be used for decorating the party hall.

Two - Three Hour Meals

The French believe in thoroughly enjoying and savoring their meals, thus, you will encounter delays in serving the next course, which is done to give people time to talk to each other for a while before heading on to the next meal.
All this delay pushes the time duration for a meal to about 2 or 3 hours. Don't be surprised if dinner takes a while to finish!

Table Etiquette

  • The seating sequence in French dinners is man-woman-man-woman. So make sure you follow the sequence.
  • In France, one is to keep his or her hands gently on the table all the time. It is considered rude and impolite to keep your hands under the table on your lap or on your sides. However, keeping your elbows on the table is considered impolite. This is one of the most important table manners in France, which if not followed can raise eyebrows.
  • Wait till your hostess finishes placing her napkin on her lap before you place yours on your lap. Moreover, wait for the hostess to give the toast and clink glasses with every guest seated at the table, ensuring that you make eye contact with each of them. Begin eating your meal only after the hostess has begun eating.
  • Bread, wine, and mineral water are provided all throughout the meal.
  • Bread is mostly placed on a table-napkin. Sometimes a bread plate will be provided for the bread. While eating the bread, make sure you break the bread into bite-size pieces before eating. It's considered impolite to bite from the whole bread.
  • Wine is provided with every meal and the glasses are filled three-quarters of the way.
  • Hold the fork in the left hand and knife in the right and rest the cutlery while you are not actively eating, at 8 o'clock and 4 o'clock to show you are not done with a meal.
  • Do not eat too much of the first course and do not rush through your meal. Pay attention to the pace of others dining at the table as well.
  • Salad should not be cut with knife and fork, but is to be gently folded onto the fork and eaten.
  • Avoid left-overs on your plate. Moreover, it is considered proper manners to wipe your plate clean of sauce after every course with a piece of bread (if different plates are not offered after every course). However, do this gently with the piece of bread skewered to the end of your fork. Never push the bread around the plate with your fingers.
  • If you want more wine, simply finish what you have in your wine glass and you will be served more. If you do not wish to have more wine, leave your wine glass almost full.
  • While talking during a meal, make sure you refrain from bringing up topics like religion or money.
  • The French do not hesitate to eat seafood with their hands, thus, pick oysters or mussels from their shells instead of cutting them. Eat them with your hands.
  • Once finished, place the fork and knife parallel to each other at the center of the plate indicating you are done with your meal. Never place knives in crossed position, because it stands for conflict.
If you ever get confused about any of the table manners, just follow your hostess. Table manners in France are definitely more formal than the table manners and etiquette in the US.
Having a good meal in France is considered serious business, thus, before heading to the French Riviera for your vacation, make sure you hone your table manner skills and tune them in line with those of the French. One thing's for sure; you will enjoy your meals in France.