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


Jmahl
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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.

IMO that pretty well sums up what one needs to know about the current subject. The best advice I can give to non-French visiting France is: relax.

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

Did you mean "more polite" by any chance? Though (again) there's really nothing wrong with using someone's toilet, peeing in their driveway sounds truly appalling. Is there a place in the world where it wouldn't? This is not a rhetorical question.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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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.

Polly Platt got many, many things wrong, including those. I often wonder why, because she sounds like a keen observer. Maybe it's from the somewhat limited and "internationalized" portion of the population she has had to deal with, but even then I find her descriptions very weird indeed. I sometimes got the definite feeling that she mistook for French manners some behaviors that were designed especially for her by her French acquaintances on certain situations. She may have counted as "manners" some relative, isolated acts. Sometimes I also suspect some played pranks on her and she wrote them down seriously.

It is definitely not a faux pas to use the bathroom at someone's place. Even during a meal, now that the 17th-18th century are over. Nobody will label you as bad-mannered for that. When you need to go, you go. Never forget that the French are extremely open-minded to the physical necessities of life. They're facts, not things to be ashamed of. If it ever was different, it's been forgotten for ages.

Since you're mentioning the "orange juice" thing — it just doesn't exist. I've never heard of this anywhere and never experienced anything of the sort. I don't know where she got that.

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I have a decent sized branch of my family that lives in Torcy just outside of Paris and whenever I see them, here or there and we sit for a meal, no matter how small they always say Bon Appetit.

As far as a Lady's wine glass is concerned, I'm with Dave, that is just plain ol good manners.

-Mike

-Mike & Andrea

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This not using the toilet thing has my interest somewhat piqued.

Is it possible that when water is not drunk with a meal, and when wine is consumed in anything other than copious quantities, it simply may not be necessary to visit the small room? I'm guessing here, but against that backdrop, the "rule" might not be so unusual.

Si

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  • 3 months later...

Here's a slightly different question. My husband and I are on the verge of heading off to live in France for a year. Naturally, we would like to get to know and make friends with as many French people as possible. Here, when I meet someone I like and want to know better, I usually invite them over for dinner, even if I don't know them well yet. I like to cook for people, and find the dinner table to be a great way to further an aquaintance.

Would this be considered normal in France, for an American one doesn't know well to extend a dinner invitation? And if not, what would be more appropriate?

Unless no one in France will ever speak to me because I'm definitely going to pee at least once during every social occasion.

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Here's a slightly different question.  My husband and I are on the verge of heading off to live in France for a year.  Naturally, we would like to get to know and make friends with as many French people as possible.  Here, when I meet someone I like and want to know better, I usually invite them over for dinner, even if I don't know them well yet.  I like to cook for people, and find the dinner table to be a great way to further an aquaintance.

Would this be considered normal in France, for an American one doesn't know well to extend a dinner invitation?  And if not, what would be more appropriate?

Unless no one in France will ever speak to me because I'm definitely going to pee at least once during every social occasion.

In France — which is, I recall, a not very formal country —, even things that are not, strictly speaking, "considered normal" are welcome when they're pleasant to everyone. Having people over for dinner is a good way to get acquainted, that is what it's meant for; if you wait until you know them better, you may never decide to ask them over. It's a vicious circle. So I'd say, jump in.

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Here's a slightly different question.  My husband and I are on the verge of heading off to live in France for a year.  Naturally, we would like to get to know and make friends with as many French people as possible.  Here, when I meet someone I like and want to know better, I usually invite them over for dinner, even if I don't know them well yet.  I like to cook for people, and find the dinner table to be a great way to further an aquaintance.

Would this be considered normal in France, for an American one doesn't know well to extend a dinner invitation?  And if not, what would be more appropriate?

Unless no one in France will ever speak to me because I'm definitely going to pee at least once during every social occasion.

Abra, what a wonderful experience for you! I know that you're going to have a wonderful experience there. In what part of France will you be living?

John DePaula
formerly of DePaula Confections
Hand-crafted artisanal chocolates & gourmet confections - …Because Pleasure Matters…
--------------------
When asked “What are the secrets of good cooking? Escoffier replied, “There are three: butter, butter and butter.”

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I just discovered this interesting thread (though the NYT link no longer works for non-subscribers...).

I hate to say it, but I think traditions are more present than most people want to admit. My ex-boyfriend of 6 years would have choked if I served myself wine, and the expression "bon app" would have raised eyebrows amongst him and his circle of friends.

My current boyfriend, who's a lot less stuffy, I suppose, says "bon appétit" when we start eating (it still makes me do a little double-take).

This may be a generational or cultural thing. It's the stuffiness factor. Laid-back people really don't give a toss if you go to the bathroom, say "bon app" or serve yourself wine; stuffy people get their knickers in a twist.

The worst faux-pas I made when at a supremely stuffy friend of my ex-boyfriend's was when the whole salmon was served at the table. Because I was the woman who was considered most important (it was the first time I'd come to their house), I was supposed to serve myself first. I didn't know to take only from the upper filet and not having anyone else to show the way, took a chunk from top and bottom. Of course everyone else took a piece from the top filet and then the salmon was turned over and the rest of the people served themselves from the bottom part. La honte!

Questions of tradition and so forth are interesting. These can be pieces of knowledge, but adhering to them too strictly can be somewhat nonsensical. Still, I like the coded behaviors. I like knowing to keep my wrists on the table edge and not my hands in my lap, etc.

Why does any etiquette exist?

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In France...even things that are not, strictly speaking, "considered normal" are welcome when they're pleasant to everyone....

We have made many friends in France. We are often told that we are "charming" which I have decided is a French aphorism for "slightly outside the norm of expected behavior". We make every effort to express our pleasure over people's generous acts and try to reciprocate in personal or unusual ways.

We find the French "roll overs" for sincere displays of appreciation. So have fun! It sounds like you are off on the right foot even before you arrive.

eGullet member #80.

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I hate to say it, but I think traditions are more present than most people want to admit. My ex-boyfriend of 6 years would have choked if I served myself wine, and the expression "bon app" would have raised eyebrows amongst him and his circle of friends.

(...)

This may be a generational or cultural thing. It's the stuffiness factor. Laid-back people really don't give a toss if you go to the bathroom, say "bon app" or serve yourself wine; stuffy people get their knickers in a twist.

Generational, cultural, I do not think so. Stuffiness, more likely. It is, ultimately, a social matter. Whatever stuffy people are left in France (and there certainly are some) do not usually mix with unstuffy people. Social layers do not mix, actually I think they mix much less now than they used to back in the 70s. Society has tightened up quite a bit during the last 20 years.

As an example: I think I know quite a few people in, say, Paris. However I do not know one stuffy person. No one ever was in my family and when I was younger I got to meet a few stuffy people but they appeared like outdated curiosities. And I think most of my friends are in a similar situation. People who do not belong together do not stick together and do not usually exchange their lifestyles. Which explains why, whenever someone brings up some "rules" like not peeing at someone else's place, most French people will say "why, never heard of that" and there might be a small minority who knows about it. Stuffiness still exists in France but it is by no means a feature of the majority, and I do not think visitors should ponder about its idiosyncrasies as if they were likely to be confronted to them any day.

It is important not to confuse culture with marks of social belonging. I still insist that the vast majority of French people are not formal, at any rate they are much less formal than they are believed to be. If some rules are kept alive, it's because they allow the French to showcase a piece of their culture that they like. For instance the wine-pouring tradition — because it showcases "galanterie", which is a cultural thing the French are still attached to, even though it no longer is more than a symbol.

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  • 2 weeks later...
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.

I love teasing Felice and I recall the old dictim made famous by the Kaplan or Sylvan Learning folks I suppose - that whenever you see always or never in a MCQ, it's incorrect.

Anecdote: (I know, scientists mistrust n's of 1); today while eating at a Chez in the deepest 17th, the waiter delivered the dishes to the couple, about my age, from Marne La Vallée, beside me, and said "Bon Appetit" and they simultaneously said to each other - you got it. It was retro certainly, improper perhaps, but so spontaneous, it was charming (and not as Margaret defined it).

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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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

I'm sure these rules are not just French: in Holland also (as, I would assume, in many other countries), it is considered bad manners to say the equivalent of bon appetit, because it should go without saying that the food you are offered is good. Furthermore you do not leave the table to go to the loo (as that might be interpreted as a sign that you do not appreciate the food). It might be stuffy, but it is considerate.

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:shock: Heavens! Very old people, or diabetics, or people with Cystic Fibrosis, or with kidney problems, or pregnant women or anyone else who has issues with, um, needing the necessary more often than others, must have a FABULOUS time trying to eat out in France. What do they do? Just stay home? Good grief. :laugh:
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:shock: Heavens! Very old people, or diabetics, or people with Cystic Fibrosis, or with kidney problems, or pregnant women or anyone else who has issues with, um, needing the necessary more often than others, must have a FABULOUS time trying to eat out in France. What do they do? Just stay home?  Good grief. :laugh:

As I see the previous posts of this thread have not been read very carefully, since the initial question has been answered long ago, I would like to quote Forest's wise words (from this same thread):

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.

One important element to remember, or simply get aware of, is that the French do not have more or less of a manners system than Americans — they have a different attitude to manners. More relaxed, less obsessive, except for a few endangered species whom you're not likely to meet on a daily basis.

A good example of that is the fact that only in the US there could be a three-page thread on this tiny aspect of French manners. In France that would be unthinkable. I think that should settle the subject somehow.

There are nuances in everything and that probably is the trickiest part to learn about French life (and, while I am at it, this is certainly not particular to France); it requires putting your natural sensors to work instead of acting "according to the book". In France, when everyone is at table, if you do have an urgent need, you do not sit up like a jack-in-the-box and say out loud "excuse me, can I go to the loo?", now that is rude but I think it would be equally rude in the US or in China. You just excuse yourself discreetly (generally to the people sitting next to you) and slip out of the room quickly, and sit back just as discreetly. Nobody in their right mind would consider that rude. As a matter or fact, nobody notices.

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shelly59 @ Jun 1 2007, 08:07 PM)

Heavens! Very old people, or diabetics, or people with Cystic Fibrosis, or with kidney problems, or pregnant women or anyone else who has issues with, um, needing the necessary more often than others, must have a FABULOUS time trying to eat out in France. What do they do? Just stay home?  Good grief.

As I see the previous posts of this thread have not been read very carefully, since the initial question has been answered long ago, I would like to quote Forest's wise words (from this same thread):

:smile: Oops, sorry, I was kinda/sorta kidding. It all just seems so over-the-top I had to give a wee tweek. Sorry that didn't come across. Guess I need to learn to use emoticons more effectively :laugh:

BTW, my 14 year old nephew is leaving for his first ever trip outside of the US on June 5th and Paris is the 1st stop. He can't wait! I told him Parisians are nice people and not to believe a word to the contrary unless proven otherwise. :wink:

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One shouldn't go too far in either sense. There are daily life observations, ways people want their culture to be perceived, and then there are the classic etiquette rules of a country. People can ask if you're supposed to keep your hands in your lap and especially your elbows off the table in America: yes, that is the etiquette. Are there thousands of dinners of all types where people have their elbows on the table: yes. That's not the point.

Of course people who still wear white gloves, or the etiquette equivalent, should be pilloried. Ha ha.

Seriously, perhaps the backlash here is because the people who adhere to the (mostly defunct?) etiquette are seen as nazi-ish. Still, for me it's all knowledge, just like wondering, if you really had to know, if a bishop should be served before a town councillor or which fork should be used for asparagus. Etc.

No, France is not a museum society, but it is legitimate to wonder what is "supposed" to be done there, even if many people will be able to get by without knowing.

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A good example of that is the fact that only in the US there could be a three-page thread on this tiny aspect of French manners. In France that would be unthinkable. I think that should settle the subject somehow.

I'd like to draw another lesson from this exercise. Or two.

Perhaps the three pages reflect genuine interest/curiosity/respect for others and their traditions/customs/and yes "etiquette." While we're aware that we're too PC about a lot of things, when visiting a new country or region, I do try to do some rudimentary self-education so as not to put either myself or my hosts in an uncomfortable position. And, yes, I like it when people tell me my kids and/or grandkids are such good visitors.

The second point is that the significance of the length of threads on eGullet and number of hits is totally baffling to me; who, no, I, would never have guessed that ice cubes could generate such interest or that there's so little on cooking regional food, techniques, and the sort of thing that the Italy Forum revels in.

John Talbott

blog John Talbott's Paris

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I'm sure these rules are not just French: in Holland also (as, I would assume, in many other countries), it is considered bad manners to say the equivalent of bon appetit, because it should go without saying that the food you are offered is good. Furthermore you do not leave the table to go to the loo (as that might be interpreted as a sign that you do not appreciate the food). It might be stuffy, but it is considerate.

(emphasis mine)

I must have hung out with the wrong crowd my entire life.

I´ve said eet smakelijk (which is the Dutch equivalent of bon appetit) at every single dinner I´ve eaten.

And people go the bathroom all the time. That is not considered rude except maybe when you´re having dinner with the Queen or something!

Edited by Chufi (log)
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One shouldn't go too far in either sense. There are daily life observations, ways people want their culture to be perceived, and then there are the classic etiquette rules of a country. People can ask if you're supposed to keep your hands in your lap and especially your elbows off the table in America: yes, that is the etiquette. Are there thousands of dinners of all types where people have their elbows on the table: yes. That's not the point.

Of course people who still wear white gloves, or the etiquette equivalent, should be pilloried. Ha ha.

Seriously, perhaps the backlash here is because the people who adhere to the (mostly defunct?) etiquette are seen as nazi-ish. Still, for me it's all knowledge, just like wondering, if you really had to know, if a bishop should be served before a town councillor or which fork should be used for asparagus. Etc.

No, France is not a museum society, but it is legitimate to wonder what is "supposed" to be done there, even if many people will be able to get by without knowing.

In case that was not clear from what I wrote, this topic was revolving around two main points: 1) a rule of etiquette about the saying of "bon appétit" and 2) later on, another rule of etiquette about going to the bathroom while a) seated at a table and/or b) simply visiting someone's home.

Those were the so-called rules I focused on, I wrote what I thought of both, and I was not mentioning good manners in general, or their principle, or their validity. Of course there are common manners and etiquette in France, and most people observe them, some do not — but this is not the point. The point was the bon appétit/bathroom thing. And in that very case it seemed to me that the "rules" were either nonexistent, or of little significance, or a bit silly, or too old-fashioned to be of any pertinence in today's context. If the topic had revolved around elbows on the table or not singing at table, which are still very alive as everyday etiquette rules, my reaction would have been different.

I left that particular field to enter a larger and more general discourse only to recall that it might not be necessary, or even advisable, to bother too much about manners in France when, in real life, French people do not always agree about what they are and how important each one is. It may vary dramatically according to the social or cultural background, let alone the regional location.

I do put stress on "advisable": as I wrote, the French are less obsessive about manners, not that they have less of them, but they are ideally to be mingled with the gestures of everyday life and mentioned as little as possible. Stating that something is good or bad manners can even be considered rude (I know I am not making things any easier). It is probably because the ideal of tolerance is more important that the ideal of conformity. So what if someone tells a visitor something is bad manners when actually it isn't? They might end up suffering for nothing or putting themselves in a position nobody expects anyone to be in. So, in some cases, it might do more harm than good.

Which is why I am not questioning the "genuine interest" and attention to others expressed through this thread, but as a French person the only truly French thing I can say to potential visitors is: if you really ask for our opinion, we do not expect good manners from you as much as we expect spontaneity and openness. What is really painful is seeing you trying too hard, even though we appreciate the attention. I think that is a very French feeling, which you should know about.

Edited by Ptipois (log)
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Perhaps the three pages reflect genuine interest/curiosity/respect for others and their traditions/customs/and yes "etiquette."  While we're aware that we're too PC about a lot of things, when visiting a new country or region, I do try to do some rudimentary self-education so as not to put either myself or my hosts in an uncomfortable position.  And, yes, I like it when people tell me my kids and/or grandkids are such good visitors.

Rudimentary self-education, yes of course. Even non-rudimentary self-education, sure, why not? But when a wrong idea of the etiquette system is likely to be spread around (as in that New York Times article or the Polly Platt-orange juice cas d'école), it is also good that someone points out there is a risk of hovering around false problems.

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Perhaps the reason we drivel on about expected or not expected customs while leaving cooking discussion to the Italians is that it is not easy to find such knowledgeable and sympathetic natives with whom to discuss elementary cultural questions while it is rather easy to find a respectable recipe for boeuf bourguignon or several hundred for cassoulet. :wink:

Thanks, Pti.

eGullet member #80.

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Perhaps the reason we drivel on about expected or not expected customs while leaving cooking discussion to the Italians is that it is not easy to find such knowledgeable and sympathetic natives with whom to discuss elementary cultural questions while it is rather easy to find a respectable recipe for boeuf bourguignon or several hundred for cassoulet.  :wink:

Thanks, Pti.

Thanks, Margaret. But I think that French cooking is actually no less mysterious than French manners and that there are terrific cooking discussions still snoring in the dark. But this is how I feel from inside the system, I have to grant that.

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In case that was not clear from what I wrote, this topic was revolving around two main points: 1) a rule of etiquette about the saying of "bon appétit" and 2) later on, another rule of etiquette about going to the bathroom while a) seated at a table and/or b) simply visiting someone's home.

Those were the so-called rules I focused on, I wrote what I thought of both, and I was not mentioning good manners in general, or their principle, or their validity. Of course there are common manners and etiquette in France, and most people observe them, some do not — but this is not the point. The point was the bon appétit/bathroom thing. And in that very case it seemed to me that the "rules" were either nonexistent, or of little significance, or a bit silly, or too old-fashioned to be of any pertinence in today's context. If the topic had revolved around elbows on the table or not singing at table, which are still very alive as everyday etiquette rules, my reaction would have been different.

I left that particular field to enter a larger and more general discourse only to recall that it might not be necessary, or even advisable, to bother too much about manners in France when, in real life, French people do not always agree about what they are and how important each one is. It may vary dramatically according to the social or cultural background, let alone the regional location.

I do put stress on "advisable": as I wrote, the French are less obsessive about manners, not that they have less of them, but they are ideally to be mingled with the gestures of everyday life and mentioned as little as possible. Stating that something is good or bad manners can even be considered rude (I know I am not making things any easier). It is probably because the ideal of tolerance is more important that the ideal of conformity. So what if someone tells a visitor something is bad manners when actually it isn't? They might end up suffering for nothing or putting themselves in a position nobody expects anyone to be in. So, in some cases, it might do more harm than good.

Which is why I am not questioning the "genuine interest" and attention to others expressed through this thread, but as a French person the only truly French thing I can say to potential visitors is: if you really ask for our opinion, we do not expect good manners from you as much as we expect spontaneity and openness. What is really painful is seeing you trying too hard, even though we appreciate the attention. I think that is a very French feeling, which you should know about.

I'm sorry, but I still can't agree! I think the French are obsessive about manners, and that French society is still very coded.

As I said in an earlier post, there are still many people who care if you do things the right or wrong way, and who think it's vulgar to do or say certain things (including saying "bon appétit"). I don't know that you can speak sweepingly for all French people when you say that the people you know don't do that, or that the stuffy people who do can somehow be discounted. (Why? They exist; they're French; they're living their lives.)

A Latin-American friend of mine once got resoundingly criticized by a hostess for cutting a leaf of salad.

French people (some types of French people) take pride in their stuffy old rules.

There may be openness, but there's also a lot of closedness.

Edited by sharonb (log)
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