Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

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


Jmahl
 Share

Recommended Posts

sigh... is chivalry truly dead?

sadly, it often is.

though, I confess to true surprise when the lunch menu I received at Le Cinq had no prices on it.

It took a bit for the penny to drop, and eventually I leaned over to my husband and whispered "does your menu have prices on it?". He looked at me like I had two heads. I guess the app that I was blithely chattering on about was a mere E120 :-0!

k!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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 believe that it was "French or Foe?" by Polly Platt.

"Some ladies smoke too much and some ladies drink too much and some ladies pray too much, but all ladies think that they weigh too much."

From a poem by Ogden Nash - Curl Up and Diet

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

That pretty much sums up the whole book. One of the most surreal readings I ever had.

Fortunately, it was translated into French for the object of the study to enjoy. I hope they didn't expurgate that part. It would have been a pity to spare French readers the mental image of Polly's male acquaintances peeing all over the streets (which is far beyond what you call bad manners) for fear of breaking a taboo that doesn't exist.

And there's also the hilarious "late night orange juice" which I won't recall here. After reading the book, I thought there should be a label on such acculturation handbooks, reading "Approved by a team of locals from all social levels who do not spend all their time with prank-loving members of the haute bourgeoisie."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Well at least it is better to try not to leave the table until the cheese course or dessert, though there is no real obligation. But — how do you notice that kind of thing? :biggrin:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm most amused.. I wondered for a while whether I had pickd a truly dreadful specimen of a Frenchman to marry, but thank god for ptipois.

However, re leaving the table in the middle of a meal to go to the loo - this would be undesirable in most circles that I'm familiar with, I'm surprised to think it might be ok in the US & other places. Surely you wait until after the meal is over or you're at the coffee stage? Perhaps I've misunderstood.

Re responding to eye contact, I'd give a polite nod and smile, or say hello or whatever appropriate greeting.... "bonsoir" sounds good/correct to me. Unless it's lunchtime!

(I see ptipois has got in there before me again...)

Edited by Catriona (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm most amused.. I wondered for a while whether I had pickd a truly dreadful specimen of a Frenchman to marry, but thank god for ptipois.

However, re leaving the table in the middle of a meal to go to the loo - this would be undesirable in most circles that I'm familiar with, I'm surprised to think it might be ok in the US & other places.  Surely you wait until after the meal is over or you're at the coffee stage?  Perhaps I've misunderstood.[...]

Maybe. It depends on how long the meal lasts. Of course it's preferable to stay at the table and continue to be involved in the conversation, but hey, if you gotta go, you gotta go. We don't stand on ceremony in my circles.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

This idiocy explains a lot about why well trained and qualified female sommelieres don't get the job when some twenty something year old twinkie in a suit with a hyphenated name always does. :angry:

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don’t you think these cultural variances are what makes life interesting? Do we want to live in a world that is totally culturally homogenized? That is part of the fantastic humor of the movie Borat. He points up these exaggerated cultural “rules” and its hysterical.

So too belong, learn the rules – You will be accepted.

Jmahl

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

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I worked at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the southwest of France, at staff meal the "Bon Appetits" were flying. There would be close to 30 of us in the dining room, and every time a chef came in, young or old, he or she would belt out a "Bon Appetit!" or a "Bon Appetit monsieurs/dames!". You couldn't eat a bite without having to answer with a "merci!"

Everyone there was French and they all said it. It wasn't an upper class crowd, but rather a bunch of terrific chefs who never ate a bite without saying "Bon Appetit." Even if there were only two of us at the table, someone would say "Bon Appetit" before breaking the brioche.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

In the 18th century ladies brought a small porcelein thingy, so she did not have to leave the table during the meal. I think I saw it on Antiques Roadshow. I would rather the lady leave the table to pee. :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

There weren't any loos in the 18th century. The ladies would have had nowhere to go to anyway. The little china device was merely an miniature version of the portable chairs which were widely used in households (another solution was to reach for the garden or, at night and in later times, to use removable devices placed in private cabinets). Nobody minded at the time. "Private" functions were not privatized until the 19th century.

If there ever were a reason for that long-defunct rule of not leaving the table until the meal is over, it would be that one precisely, rather than any notion of physical decency. The fact that many rules of good manners are originally based on practical reasons rather than on moral reasons is much overlooked.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

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.

Well, John, this one is indeed in the "go figure" category. (But the word is always a noun. In "eau de toilette" you have a noun (toilette) with a partitive (de).)

Toilette, basically, means ablution, washing oneself, freshening up (the old-fashioned way, using a jug and basin, as in the days when there weren't any bathrooms). Ancestors of bathrooms were called "cabinets de toilette". Later when water pipes became more common in households, it went to include a sink and sometimes a bidet, but when it started wearing tiles and including showers and bath tubs, it was plainly a "salle de bains".

Toilettes (plural), that is the bathroom (US acception)/loo.

Eau de toilette (singular) is a kind of perfume, weaker than parfum. The name is from the days when one used the cabinet de toilette to freshen up in the morning.

But (and that's what makes the word even trickier) "toilettes" also mean a lady's fancy clothes and best dresses; as in "elle a de belles toilettes" (she wears very nice clothes). Definitely old-fashioned but still in use. It can be singular or plural : "elle est en toilette d'été" : she's wearing Summer attire.

And that's not over. "Toiletter un chien" means grooming a dog, trimming the poodle.

Toilette is also, finally, a section of beef or veal tripe and then I think it's over, I also think it's enough.

Sorry for straying away from food subjects, though tripe drove us back to them.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Ptipois

I found your post quite facinating, amazing how we get from Bon App to toilet discussions. Not wanting to be too "anal" about this :unsure: excuse the pun, my house in Burgundy with six bedrooms has only one toilet yet has sinks and bidets in each room. The toilet door is marked "Abort" carved in the oak door is this a derivative of ablutions you mentioned?

Sorry to be so off topic

Link to comment
Share on other sites

the wine thing is true. I told my wife (who is from Chattanooga, TN) she should never pour her own glass of wine at a social dinner. Living in Napa Valley we often find ourselves in this situation. The man's "responsiblity" is to watch the glass and fill as needed. If I (we) are hosting, then it is MY responsibility to survey ALL glasses, but friends will sometimes beat me to get refills. Well heeled and mannered women in France would simply not refill their own glasses OR if they refill their glass they essentially embarass their spouse/date and can even embarass themselves. Depends on the woman and the formality of the meal.

I never thought that the woman I lived with in France looked very "charmante" will refilling her own glass.

Note: sometimes when someone is "too serious" when discussing a subject "a table" then they can be "teased" by a filling of their glass. It's a way of saying "life's not that serious, let's relax and laugh..." I could pontentially see a woman getting away with that action, but that's stretching it.

good thread btw, and I remember enjoying that book by Polly Pratt years ago.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

the wine thing is true. I told my wife (who is from Chattanooga, TN) she should never pour her own glass of wine at a social dinner. Living in Napa Valley we often find ourselves in this situation. The man's "responsiblity" is to watch the glass and fill as needed. If I (we) are hosting, then it is MY responsibility to survey ALL glasses, but friends will sometimes beat me to get refills. Well heeled and mannered women in France would simply not refill their own glasses OR if they refill their glass they essentially embarass their spouse/date and can even embarass themselves. Depends on the woman and the formality of the meal.

I never thought that the woman I lived with in France looked very "charmante" will refilling her own glass. 

Note: sometimes when someone is "too serious" when discussing a subject "a table" then they can be "teased" by a filling of their glass. It's a way of saying "life's not that serious, let's relax and laugh..."  I could pontentially see a woman getting away with that action, but that's stretching it.

good thread btw, and I remember enjoying that book by Polly Pratt years ago.

Well put! And spot on.

My wife (who is English) Also says that a lady whose wine glass is being 'neglected' can quietly signal this fact by gently lifting her glass slightly then putting it back down.

Another wine signal at least in Europe is that one is not supposed to drink all of the wine in your glass. A small amount should be left. This applies to both genders.

Drinking your glass to the last drop implies that your host is either very slow or stingy with the wine.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Note: sometimes when someone is "too serious" when discussing a subject "a table" then they can be "teased" by a filling of their glass. It's a way of saying "life's not that serious, let's relax and laugh..."  I could pontentially see a woman getting away with that action, but that's stretching it.

I know that gesture. It is generally used to embarrass someone so much that he or she drops the subject. It is quite efficient but absolutely infuriating because of its hypocrisy. Personally I find it rude and patronizing, but it is sometimes done. Actually it is not manners but social strategy; true manners would consist in pretending not to notice that the person is "too serious" about the conversation.

I also think a woman not only would not get away with it, she'd get away with it much less than a man, since she's not supposed to pour wine in the first place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems that the French Tourist Board is interested in French manners too:

The guide says: "You don't need to be French to understand Parisians. Use the gestures the next time you're in Paris. People will start mistaking you for a native in no time...."

The guide to gestures is part of a £700,000 advertising campaign aimed at Britons that tries to portray the city as energetic, youthful and trendy. "Paris isn't a stuffy museum city,...

Edited by John Talbott with Corinna Dunne's permission to conform to copyright law in the US.

Edited by John Talbott (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

It seems that the French Tourist Board is interested in French manners too:
Aware that it can do very little to change the stereotype of the arrogant Frenchman, it wants to help discerning visitors blend in by using the same body language.

C'est So Paris, produced by the Ile-de-France regional committee of tourism, lists the gestures under the colloquial title "Cop the Parisian Attitude".

They are specially designed for British visitors who have traditionally been made to feel uncomfortable by rude waiters, couldn't-care-less taxi drivers or sulky beauties sitting outside cafés on the Champs-Elysées.

And....

The guide says: "You don't need to be French to understand Parisians. Use the gestures the next time you're in Paris. People will start mistaking you for a native in no time."

Britons account for one in five visitors to Paris, but their numbers dropped nearly one per cent last year, to 3.2 million people. This has prompted the French capital to rethink the way it packages itself, and to try to laugh at some of its more stuffy stereotypes.

The guide to gestures is part of a £700,000 advertising campaign aimed at Britons that tries to portray the city as energetic, youthful and trendy. "It is to show that Paris isn't a stuffy museum city, but a vibrant destination worth visiting regularly," said the spokesman.

So.... Paris is not France & the question of manners is more European than merely French. The French IMHO are better than most when it comes to manners & politeness.

Parisians are no better or worse than Londoners, New Yorkers or Romans when it comes to manners when confronted with a foreign tourist. The question is really concerning the difference where applicable in manners at private functions amongst supposedly polite adults.

One nations correctness is anthers rudeness in some cases.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've also heard "bon appétit" used many times by French people. As a matter of fact, it was just used in a French movie that we watched at home last night. ("Ce jour-la").

As far as the use of les "toilettes", Polly Platt, author of books devoted to an American understanding of French culture ("Savoir Flair" and others) has mentioned the French disinclination to get up in the middle of the meal to use them.

The French must have terrific bladder control in their genes! :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

When I’m eating a meal with friends here (French or expat) I always say ‘bon app’ or bon appétit because I personally think it’s nice to acknowledge we’re all here to enjoy a nice meal together instead of just immediately chomping away at our food. No one has ever said it was inappropriate or looked at me funny.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m all about doing your best to observe the culture & customs of new places you want to experience. But, I wonder, sometimes, if visitors to France get too worried about archaic/obscure social etiquette that they should be following that they might forget to relax and have a nice meal. I think, if you’re not dining in an extremely formal setting with diplomats or I don’t know what, common sense and a normal level of politeness would apply. But, then again, maybe I’m completely uncouth because I also don’t see anything wrong with simply asking a fellow diner discretely what the appropriate thing might be in a situation I’m uncertain about. My personal feeling is that if someone thinks it’s impolite to have a sincere curiosity to learn more about and adapt to a culture I wasn’t born into and raised on, well, then that’s not very classy on their part. (this is not to say that I’m not finding this discussion interesting or pertinent – just that I think it’s a small part of a wide range of enjoying dining in France)

As for the bathroom thing – I had actually read this post a while ago and not thought much about it until I went to dinner at a French friend’s a few nights ago. There were nine of us and after about three hours of drinking and eating I noticed that not one person had gotten up to go to the toilettes. I don’t know if it was coincidence or they were intentionally doing it. But, I myself did because I can’t think of a worse way to spoil a nice meal eating and drinking with friends than sitting there holding it for hours.

I also can’t understand how peeing in someone’s driveway could be more polite than using someone’s toilet.

[Edited to fix wording error, kindly caught by Ptipois!]

Edited by Forest (log)

52 martinis blog

@52martinis

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I've also heard "bon appétit" used many times by French people.  As a matter of fact, it was just used in a French movie that we watched at home last night.  ("Ce jour-la"). 

As far as the use of les "toilettes", Polly Platt, author of books devoted to an American understanding of French culture ("Savoir Flair" and others) has mentioned the French disinclination to get up in the middle of the meal to use them. 

The French must have terrific bladder control in their genes!  :)

Re: the Platt book, what caught my eye was not that one didn't get up during the meal, but -- as I recall -- that it was a bit of a faux pas to visit the WC during the entire course of the evening, from apero to the infamous orange juice. Indeed, I believe that she says at some point that when straightening for guests, the French don't even worry about the loo, as no guests will see it.

On the broader subject of manners, I've always found the French -- like pretty much everyone else -- are pretty happy with anyone who smiles, makes an effort to be polite and doesn't insist on things being done the way they are "back home."

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...