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Jmahl

“In France, ‘Bon appétit’ is not proper” bathrooms

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A recent New York Times article says “In France, ‘Bon appétit’ is not proper,” NYT

According to the article, in France if you have any manners, you NEVER say "bon appetit", a lady never leaves the table during a meal, she never fills her own wine glass and you never comment on the food at the conclusion of the meal.

So, do the French know what they are doing?

Regards from the Border were we say "provecho" before a meal - are we using bad manners?

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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this is being discussed on a few forums and like me, the French say balderdash.

Now with the French that live in Chateaus and have a wine celler, that's a different story :)


Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly....MFK Fisher

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Yes, this seems like one of those etiquette rules that nobody knows about, which means it's not a rule or even relevant. It's just an interesting, weird historical factoid. In addition, it makes no sense. It doesn't serve to make people more comfortable or anything like that. It doesn't even have a coherent symbolic interpretation: "The rule is rooted in 19th-century beliefs that anything suggesting the body or bodily functions is improper conversation for the dinner table." If there's anybody left in France who's offended by talk of food, so be it -- be sure not to say bon appetit to that person, in fact I suggest you never talk to that person at all. Maybe there some rarefied aristocratic subculture where if you say bon appetit you're pegged as a rube, but servers in the best restaurants in France have said it to me plenty of times, and I really don't think they were being rude, as in "Bon appetit, stupid American, and may you have terrible gas tonight." It has seemed much friendlier than that. I somehow don't think Ducasse would allow his servers to say it at the Plaza Athenee if it violated an aristocratic etiquette custom. Maybe this is one of those pranks like the tribes play on anthropologists all the time.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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My first French teacher in Paris drilled it into to us never to say 'bon appetit', and explained that this is something a waiter says and that you should simply answer 'merci'. It's kind of like saying 'enjoy your dinner', normally a waiter says this, not the people dining.

After reading the NY Times article a friend asked me if it was proper to say 'bon appetit' since her French boyfriend said it was perfectly good manners. I decided to ask an American collegue who is married to a French diplomat and she said that it was not considered very polite but admitted that is was a very old fashionned rule not followed by most.

I have definitely heard that women don't pour wine (although I do :smile:) but have never heard anything about not discussing the food after a meal.


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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Think the BA stuff is BS. Do believe in the old days it when I first started coming to France it was said more by waiters and not much 'en famille', but now I hear it everywhere.

At table a lady should never HAVE to pour her own wine. The nearest gentlemen about should do it for her. Unless, that is we're being really formal and have a servant/sommelier to do it for everyone in which case nobody pours their own.

Discuss away so long as its favourable. Criticism comes in the car on the way home.

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At table a lady should never HAVE to pour her own wine.

This thread is an incredible coincidence; just a week ago, while milling about sipping wine and gorging on rillettes before dinner, my wife Colette asked a 22 yo friend of a FR-UK couple to help herself to some wine, to which she replied - "I don't like to pour my own wine." First time we'd ever (in all our years) had this happen. Learn something every day!

As for "Bon Appetit," I would never think of saying it, because it would come out as such a pale imitation of what Julia Child used to chirp so uniquely at the end of each program, I'd feel like a fraud.


John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Do French men have a fear that their womenfolk will drink too much if they are in charge of their own portions or do these women just not trust themselves? :biggrin:


Edited by menon1971 (log)

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Like Fat Guy, I have had many a French server wish me "bon appetite"as the food was sent down and -- perhaps because I can usually only afford mid-level establishments where servers are family or even la patronne -- it almost always sounds non-perfunctory. Maybe, like almost everybody else, they are pleased to see strangers enjoying their hospitality.

The wine thing makes a certain amount of sense, in an "open the door for the lady" kind of way. Not that far different from other places I've been, where one does not pour one's own wine without filling all the other glasses before.

While we're on the subject of French etiquette, I have heard that one does not use the WC at a dinner party in another's home, regardless of how much wine one has poured (or, for les dammes, had poured for them). True?


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Like Fat Guy, I have had many a French server wish me "bon appetite"as the food was sent down and -- perhaps because I can usually only afford mid-level establishments where servers are family or even la patronne -- it almost always sounds non-perfunctory.  Maybe, like almost everybody else, they are pleased to see strangers enjoying their hospitality.

It's always perfectly okay for the waiter to say it and French waiters do say this all of the time, what is being questioned is whether it is polite to say it at the table to those you are dining with or whether this will have you labled a plouc :smile:

While we're on the subject of French etiquette, I have heard that one does not use the WC at a dinner party in another's home, regardless of how much wine one has poured (or, for les dammes, had poured for them).  True?

I have read this one as well and have asked French friends who looked at me like I was crazy. However, while we were on the subject I asked the French diplomat's wife and she laughed and said you NEVER ask to use the bathroom.

So, obviously in certain circles these things are done and in others they are not.


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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Do French men have a fear that their womenfolk will drink too much if they are in charge of their own portions or do these women just not trust themselves?  :biggrin:

sigh... is chivalry truly dead?

Wasn't/ isn't just in France. Just plain good manners. Busboy has the right idea.

These days given liberation & all it probably doesn't apply. A wider interesting topic might be how manners are evolving, or not, in this day & age.

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Do French men have a fear that their womenfolk will drink too much if they are in charge of their own portions or do these women just not trust themselves?  :biggrin:

sigh... is chivalry truly dead?

Wasn't/ isn't just in France. Just plain good manners. Busboy has the right idea.

These days given liberation & all it probably doesn't apply. A wider interesting topic might be how manners are evolving, or not, in this day & age.

I would suggest that it is good manners for a host to pour libations when possible, but I am not sure that should be a gender based decision.

Lest we get into a discussion about patriarchy...........


Edited by menon1971 (log)

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A recent New York Times article says “In France, ‘Bon appétit’ is not proper,” NYT

Cool, another one of those articles that makes you keep wondering where they got their info! It's been a long time. :biggrin:

According to the article, in France if you have any manners, you NEVER say "bon appetit",

That's right, you say "bon app'". :cool:

a lady never leaves the table during a meal,

The NYT must have used sources from 150 years ago.

she never fills her own wine glass

This one at least has some truth to it. Though there is no obligation, it's always a nice touch if the man pours the wine for the woman, and that tradition is still respected because it is part of the ever-present seduction game (which goes on even when there is no real seduction involved). I suppose the origin (with manners, it often leads to the same one) was that, in brothels, drinks were poured to the clients by the prostitutes. So a proper lady should be served, she should not serve.

and you never comment on the food at the conclusion of the meal.

Right on spot; you comment on it straight from the beginning.

(Seriously: this one is from the days when meals were cooked by servants only. You were not supposed to praise them.)

So, do the French know what they are doing?

I sort of thought they did, but as usual the NYT knows better.


Edited by Ptipois (log)

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While we're on the subject of French etiquette, I have heard that one does not use the WC at a dinner party in another's home, regardless of how much wine one has poured (or, for les dammes, had poured for them).  True?

No, and that would be barbaric.

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It's always perfectly okay for the waiter to say it and French waiters do say this all of the time, what is being questioned is whether it is polite to say it at the table to those you are dining with or whether this will have you labled a plouc :smile:

A question with nuanced answers.

"Bon appétit" is often heard at table (most frequently at restaurants), from one of the diners, and the others repeat it or just nod. It is a friendly instant. You hear it much more often at small tables than at large ones. At a more or less formal dinner party, you never hear it, because in that case the rule is that nobody touches their plate until the lady of the house has touched hers. Then people start eating without any word added.

However, what waiters tell you before you start eating, "bon appétit" or "bonne continuation" or anything else, has nothing to do with manners, only with the way the waiters have been trained by the restaurant owner. You can hear the most diverse things. In Brest there is a fish restaurant I will keep secret, where they serve you day-old langoustines while live ones swim in the tanks, and all the waiters wear blue-and-white striped t-shirts, and after bringing you the plates they tell you: "have a safe crossing".

I have read this one as well and have asked French friends who looked at me like I was crazy.  However, while we were on the subject I asked the French diplomat's wife and she laughed and said you NEVER ask to use the bathroom.

So, obviously in certain circles these things are done and in others they are not.

In fact I don't think she was perfectly honest. Of course you ask to use the bathroom when you need it. But it has to be done as discreetly as possible. Or perhaps she meant, diplomatically (much likelier), that you never ASK for it. You just look for it.

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That's right, the Fat Guy reminded me, in France the waiters do say B A. So is it good manners?

Thanks for comments.

Jmahl


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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We have often had people sitting next to us say BA or BC as appropriate as well has hearing it from people being guided to a seat who happen to catch our eye. To my thinking, it is more a matter of goodwill rather than good or bad manners.

Let me pose another question. We have been taught that if someone being seated next to you catches your eye, or if you are being seated in close proximity to someone and you make eye contact, you should greet them with a "Bonsoir". We always do. Right or wrong?


Edited by Margaret Pilgrim (log)

eGullet member #80.

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You must acknowledge eye contact. A "Bonsoir" is the prefered greeting, as its use is akin to a simple "Hello", and does not indicate one needs to start a conversation.

And, I ditto the man serving the woman wine, the same throughout civilized Europe.

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While we're on the subject of French etiquette, I have heard that one does not use the WC at a dinner party in another's home, regardless of how much wine one has poured (or, for les dammes, had poured for them).  True?

Bien sur, monsieur-- zat is what zee potted plant in zee corner is for, non?

That cracks me up-- I've had French people go to the can at my house, for sure. I think somebody was maybe having a little joke at your expense...


Edited by Andrew Fenton (log)

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I've definitely noticed that, in France, there's a perceived virtue to being able to hold it in through an entire meal. Not drinking much water certainly helps with that. But it does seem to be a point of pride especially with a certain breed of well-heeled French matriarch.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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It's always perfectly okay for the waiter to

I have read this one as well and have asked French friends who looked at me like I was crazy.  However, while we were on the subject I asked the French diplomat's wife and she laughed and said you NEVER ask to use the bathroom.

So, obviously in certain circles these things are done and in others they are not.

In fact I don't think she was perfectly honest. Of course you ask to use the bathroom when you need it. But it has to be done as discreetly as possible. Or perhaps she meant, diplomatically (much likelier), that you never ASK for it. You just look for it.

Yes, this is exactly what she said. That of course you can use someone's bathroom when you need to, but it is done very discreetly.

Note: The link in Jmahl's original post did not go to the whole article for some reason so I have fixed it.


www.parisnotebook.wordpress.com

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Let me pose another question.  We have been taught that if  someone being seated next to you catches your eye, or if you are being seated in close proximity to someone and you make eye contact, you should greet them with a "Bonsoir".  We always do.  Right or wrong?

This is something that I think is age-related. People who have my color hair are more likely on entering a restaurant, butcher shop or even news dealer to give a general "Bonjour/bonsoir mesdames, m'sieurs" than young folk but I think this is reflective of their coming from a kinder, gentler time. Count the number of older folks vs adolescents listening to their iPods on Metro jump-seats leaping up when a cane or pregnant woman appears. I do not think this is a cultural but a generational difference equally applicable to the NYC subway.
I've definitely noticed that, in France, there's a perceived virtue to being able to hold it in through an entire meal.
Except that, several of my friends (French) who live in the suburbs, definately make a trip to the toilets before they set foot in their cars.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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Note: The link in Jmahl's original post did not go to the whole article for some reason so I have fixed it.
Thanks Felice. Interesting that the fact-checkers at the Times missed the misuse of "toilette" which (and I will bow to French first speakers on challenge) is only used in the singular in its possessive form (eg eau de...), not as a noun; which (and this gets us back on topic) is why in restaurants a man and woman going jointly toward the loo may be surprised to find that Les Toilettes only have one apparatus.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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All interesting.

We had lunch today with amongst others friends who have lived in France for over 30 years. Tom is a retired Professor of Sociology who is bilingual.

His take on the BA is that 'proper' or not most French use it with gusto! His opinion is that the French middle classes are very fond of making up very narrow social rules which only they know about. When 'someone' doesn't follow these they are 'out'.

Seems to me that I've met a lot of these same rule making people in the USA, UK, Germany & .... over a number of years.

Tom's best anecdote was, many years ago, having said 'Bon Appetite' to a very elderly gentleman he got the response: "Bon digestion!'

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While we're on the subject of French etiquette, I have heard that one does not use the WC at a dinner party in another's home, regardless of how much wine one has poured (or, for les dammes, had poured for them).  True?

Bien sur, monsieur-- zat is what zee potted plant in zee corner is for, non?

That cracks me up-- I've had French people go to the can at my house, for sure. I think somebody was maybe having a little joke at your expense...

I don't recall the title -- and I believe it's been roundly trashed elsewhere on eG-- but it was actually from a book by a woman who makes her living acculturating American executives to life in France.


I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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While we're on the subject of French etiquette, I have heard that one does not use the WC at a dinner party in another's home, regardless of how much wine one has poured (or, for les dammes, had poured for them).  True?

Bien sur, monsieur-- zat is what zee potted plant in zee corner is for, non?

That cracks me up-- I've had French people go to the can at my house, for sure. I think somebody was maybe having a little joke at your expense...

I don't recall the title -- and I believe it's been roundly trashed elsewhere on eG-- but it was actually from a book by a woman who makes her living acculturating American executives to life in France.

that was Polly Platt in French or Foe. She did indeed say it was poor manners to request use of the WC at a private home, going as far as to say her husband (and other men) typically a relieved themselves on the road just prior to pulling into the friend's area/driveway.


k!

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