Show Notes for Episode 209: Do's and Don'ts at Restaurants in France

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How this Episode Came About

This episode (and the one I will air next week) were inspired by an exchange I had with a Facebook group member who had a terrible time in France and wanted to vent about it. Unfortunately, as soon as she spoke up many people piled on against her as happens on the internet. It  would be better if people just said “Sorry you had a bad time, I’ve been lucky myself”, but that’s not what happened.

Managing the Facebook Group

Because I live in France and most of my listeners do not, I was asleep when this whole thing happened. So I woke up to dozens of comments and exchanges that I didn’t think I could do much about because feathers had been ruffled already. But I should have used the delete button on a lot of those comments. Hindsight is everything, isn’t it?

I want people to be able to vent on the group without being snapped at. If there are lessons to teach about France, let me do that. After all I am French born and raised, I live in France full time, and I have a podcast dedicated to that.

I Will Delete If It Doesn’t Fit My Vision for the Group

Going forward, be warned, I will use the delete button a lot more on the Facebook group. If your post gets deleted and you get put on moderation, you’ve probably posted something that rubbed me wrong. Not necessarily offensive or terrible, but something that doesn’t fit my vision for the group.

Don’t take it personally. I have a good idea of what the group should be about and I want to keep it to that strictly going forward. I’ve not been decisive enough in the past.

And I cannot take the time to explain myself to each person either because I have work to do other than babysitting the Facebook group! I used explain by messaging people, but half the time they just called me names because they were upset I didn’t let them run the group.

The Purpose of the Group Is Personal Experience in France

Please exercise self-restraint in what you post or comment. Remember: the purpose of the group is to discuss personal experiences in France (good or bad) and ask questions about an upcoming trip to France. That’s all. If I don’t think that your post or comment fits that purpose, I will delete and I may put you on moderation. It may feel a little arbitrary, but it’s only temporary and will make my life a lot easier.

Managing a large Facebook group is a ton of work for no pay. I’d rather keep 100 great members than 10,000 that I need to babysit on an hourly basis. I’m just being French a very direct here. That’s a French trait right there!

Watch Out if You “Love” France Before You Arrive

At any rate, I’m not sure how many of the episodes this person had listened to. Many group members don’t listen to the show, they join the group because Facebook suggested it.

BTW, I don’t advertise the group, Facebook loves groups like that with a lot of engagement, that’s why they keep sending new people. But then it’s hard to convince people who don’t listen to podcasts that they should, which is why I keep posting links to episodes.

But I digress again! This person felt confident she was well prepared because she had taken French at school. She also felt confident because she loved France so much before she ever visited. That’s a bad sign actually. If you “love” a place you’ve never been to, your emotions are probably too involved.

It’s a little bit like you expected to see the sunflower fields in full bloom, but you misunderstood that you can only see them under certain conditions. Come at the right time and they are glorious, the rest of the year, they are not so nice!

Being On a Tight Budget Is Tricky

She and her husband are young and they were on a tight budget, which I think played a role in this as well. Not matter what the particulars of her situation were, I put this episode together in order to show you how to avoid “rude” restaurant service in France. It’s not a fatality, only a cultural misunderstanding!

Some People Are Jerks, Even in France

Having said that, some people are jerks. There’s not getting around that fact in any country. So, even if you do everything just right, you may run into somebody who is plain rude. But if it happens every day, you may ask yourself, is it me or is it them?

French Dining Etiquette: Do’s and Don’ts

Every time I open the show I say we’ll talk about France’s quirks, and we do have a lot of them, especially when it comes to food. Let’s go down the list. Feel free to add more in the comments, I’m sure I missed some!

Do’s

#1 Bonjour

Do start every interaction with “bonjour“.

#2 Use All the French You Know!

Even if you don’t speak French, try to say it in French “Je ne parle pas français“. Be mindful of the fact that your waiter may be embarrassed by his/her English and praise them for trying!

#3 When Dealing with Waiters Who Speak Good English

If your waiter can speak good English and you’d like to use your French, ask them if that’s OK. They are not your French teacher, they are there to do a job, and using English will probably be faster for them.

#4 For People Who Have Allergies

If you’re allergic to certain foods, show them the names of the foods in writing and in French before you sit down. If the waiter is going to be a jerk about it, move on. Some restaurants in France are surprisingly helpful when it comes to food allergies, others are not. Download and print this Allergy card in French to show the waiter as soon as you arrive.

#5 Vegetarians and Vegans

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, make sure they have something you can eat before you sit down. Restaurants in France must display a menu with prices outside of the restaurant. It may not be the most recent menu, but if it shows nothing you can eat, move along to another restaurant.

I think it’s awful that more French restaurateurs are not aware of vegetarians and vegans. Things are changing slowly. You can help by walking off and telling them why.

In my village restaurant for example, they never have a single vegetarian or vegan option. But it’s a small village in the Toulouse countryside and they never get any tourists. Be mindful of that when traveling in France. Vegans especially need to plan what they’re going to eat fairly carefully. In large cities like Paris or Toulouse you’ll have many options, not in villages. I will do an episode about this with my daughter at some point. She’s vegan.

#6 What to Do to Get Quick Drink Service in France

If you want a quick coffee or Coke and a bathroom break, order at the counter instead of sitting down. Counter service is meant to be quick and efficient. Table service is not! If you go sit down they assume you want to take your time and watch the world go by, especially if you’re speaking English.

#7 Any Hesitation and the Waiter Leaves

When the waiter comes over to take your order, be ready. If you hesitate or keep scrutinizing the menu the waiter will go away and may not come back for 20 minutes. They don’t do that because they are rude, but because they have other things to do and they don’t want to rush you.

#8 Tell Your Waiter You’re in a Hurry!

If you’re in a hurry, tell your waiter as soon as you arrive (“Nous sommes pressés, pouvons-nous manger rapidement ?“). Sometimes they’ll say no problem, sometimes they’ll say we’re too busy today. Feel free to move on if you need to! Again, it’s best to ask before you sit down!

If you’re in a hurry, get the Plat du Jour. Most restaurants can serve you their daily special within 10 minutes of taking the order. But again, tell them you’re in a hurry or they will give you all the time in the world on purpose!

#9 French Waiters Will Accommodate Kids

French waiters are typically really friendly to children. If you ask they will warm up a baby bottle or bring bread and soda right away for the kids. Most places don’t have games for the kids, bring your own coloring book! They will not bring bread for the grown-ups right away, but they usually will for parties with kids.

#10 The Standard Kid’s Menu in France is Ground Beef Pattie and Fries

And speaking of kids, the standard kid’s menu in France is ground beef and French fries (“steak hâché frittes“). Most places can make that if it’s not on the menu. They may or may not have chicken nuggets and they won’t have quesadillas or Mac & Cheese which I know are a favorite of American kids.

They may be able to suggest spaghetti bolognese, but that has meat. See what I mean about vegetarian and vegans? We really have a long way to go about that in France.

#11 Orders the Drinks You Want, Even Soda!

You often read that in France you should only order wine or water to go with your food. That hasn’t been true for many years! French people don’t drink wine at lunch every day any more, many will order a soda instead. Order what you want and don’t worry!

#12 Tap Water Comes Free with Your Meal, But Not as Soon as You Arrive

You can ask for tap water to go with your meal (“une carafe d’eau s’il vous plaît“), but that will arrive at the same time as your meal, not as soon as you sit down. If you are dying of thirst order Perrier or a Coke while you’re looking over the menu.

Don’ts

#1 Don’t Use the Bathroom if You’re not a Customer

Don’t use the bathroom if you’re not a customer. But if you ate there an hour ago it’s fine to go in to use the bathroom again.

#2 Don’t Expect Ice Water

Don’t expect to get water and ice as soon as you sit down. Most French restaurants don’t have a big ice machine. Even if you ask for ice, they will bring you a few ice cubes only. That goes even in the middle of the summer when it’s hot. It’s not my favorite thing about France, I wish they would change that.

#3 Don’t Expect Bread and Butter While You Wait

Don’t expect to get bread and butter. French people only put butter on their bread for breakfast anyway. Bread is included in the meal, but it comes at the same time as your food or soon after your food. They will make an exception for kids if you ask (“On peut avoir un morceau de pain pour le petit s’il vous plaît ?“).

#4 Don’t Ask the Waiter to Split the Check

If you’re eating with a group and you want to split the check, don’t ask the waitress to split it, go to the cash register and sort it out there. They are used to doing it that way.

#5 Don’t Think You’ll Get Served Any Time the Restaurant Is Open

Sometimes a restaurant is open but they’re not serving food because the cook hasn’t arrived or is about to leave. French people eat at set times. Restaurants are open between Noon and 2 PM and then 7:30 PM until 9:00 PM. In smaller French cities and rural France showing up outside of those hours means you’ll be out of luck. In cities you will find places that serve non-stop (“Service continu“).

#6 Don’t Expect American Style Service in France

American waiters are super nice because they work for tips. French waiters would love a tip of a euro or two, but by now even Americans won’t give them that. So don’t expect the same level of service from someone you’re not going to tip.

And really, if you got good service, you should tip a euro or two. French people do! You don’t see it because it happens at the cash register where they have a piggy bank or something. French restaurants will not ask for a tip and you can’t add it on your credit card slip. But we do tip a euro or two (per person) for good service and you should too.

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France How To, French Culture