Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Table manners a la française

One of the most interesting parts of Cheryl MacLachlan's Bringing France Home is the section on table etiquette. MacLachlan argues that while western cultures may share the same traditional etiquette, the French continue to observe these traditions, even in contemporary life.

When it comes to seating and serving, it appears that the French and Americans do not differ so much; important guests are seated near the hosts, and women are always served before men. But that is where the similarities seem to end.

Did you know that in France, the guest never touches the wine bottle, and the wine glass is never filled to the top (maybe that's why the guest shouldn't touch the wine bottle)? C'est vrai! It is the role of the host to make sure all the wine glasses remain half full.

When the French dine, both hands are visible--never in the lap--with the wrists resting lightly on the edge of the table. MacLachlan points out that this custom dates back to earlier times when the fear of a concealed weapon was a reality.

As we know, bread is served at all French meals, but instead of slathering a slice with butter and eating it whole, the French prefer to break off a small piece of bread, sometimes using it to push food onto their fork. Much more civilized, n'est-ce pas?

Speaking of forks, in France the fork is held in the left hand, tines down, and it is never transferred to the right hand. The knife, which is held in the right hand, is used for cutting and for coaxing bits of food onto the renegade fork. Anyone who has tried this continental style of eating knows it takes some practice, but when mastered, one feels a great sense of accomplishment!

The knife and fork are also used to cut fruit into quarters, then each piece is peeled separately. I have often watched French brother-in-law expertly eat fruit this way and am always impressed with his ease and tidiness in the task.

And what do you do at the end of the meal? When the meal concludes, the fork and knife are placed on the plate, parallel to the table edge, with their handles resting at three o'clock, and the napkin is placed on the table, but not refolded.

MacLachlan continues with observations on table conversation, the art of inviting and receiving guests, and insistence that dinner guests experience only pleasure. The formula? Etiquette aside, pour a good wine, serve good food, and keep things simple.

Thoughts, svp?

26 comments:

  1. I do some of these things already (wrists resting on the table, fork tines down, breaking off the bread.) My knife stays in my left hand and the fork in my right though because I am left handed and can't cut food with my right hand. I never do the fruit thing though, I will have to give that a try. Good post.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I like the idea of using bread in place of a knife to scoot food onto the fork.

    To me, it always looks like such a mess when people butter an entire piece of bread at once, rather than just put a dab of butter on their plate and butter their bread one torn piece at a time. Glad to hear I've been "proper."

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  3. Fascinating post. I did know about the hands above the table rule/story. I also forget to find the fine line between hands in lap,and elbows on table (both which are considered incorrect)

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  4. I'm frustrated. I want to know more about you. Your blog is great and the picture you choose as your "statement/opener" is absolutely perfect.

    Having lived in France for many years I know all too well the many rules and nuances of table manners (and the rest). A woman never touches a wine bottle at table, though she can touch a carafe of water, but usually she asks to be served. At a large dinner party where it is impossible for the host to serve the wine all evening to all the guests and there are two or more bottles or carafes on the table the men on the other ends of the table serve.

    Another thing, one must never, ever wipe-up a sauce from the plate with a piece of bread in hand. If one wishes to finish the sauce, you break-off a piece of bread, place it on the plate and move it about with the fork.

    Honestly, it goes on and on, but at the end of the day it is so much fun, particularly one's obligation as a guest to make decent/interesting conversation.

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  5. French table manners and etiquette are real and even though some people may think they are boring, there are quite fun actually.

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