A Culinary Love Affair
Anticipating a trip to Paris? Some cultures eat to live, others live to eat. Here are some basic things you should know about the French and their relationship with food.
Mealtimes are quasi-sacred to the French. Schoolchildren have the option of going home for their hour-and-a-half lunch break or eating a multi-course meal in the school cafeteria. Many mothers (and sometimes dads, too) arrange their schedules so they are at home with their kids at lunch.
Meals are served in courses: the first course is the entrée, which Americans would call an appetizer or starter course; the second or main course is called plat de résistance and is usually accompanied by vegetables or other side dishes. The main course is followed by a cheese or yogurt course, then by dessert or fruit. Fresh bread is served with every meal.
While Americans often drink coffee with their meal, French diners drink theirs with, or after, dessert. Here’s another notable dining difference: no ice in beverage glasses! To order ice, just tell the waiter “Avec glaçons, s’il vous plait” (“With ice, please”) with your order.
Free refills are not a French concept. You pay for every drink you order.
The concept of proper service in restaurants differs greatly between the U.S. and France. In many restaurants in the United States, the wait staff receives only a crash course before beginning to serve customers. To the French, waiting tables is an art that requires the most rigorous training: professional French waiters must go to school for several years, pass difficult exams, and participate in challenging competitions before entering into full time service.
The French waiter is trained to be as discreet as possible and anticipate diners’ needs in the most unobtrusive manner. The American way of serving usually centers on relationship building (“My name is Megan and I’ll be your server this evening”). To the French, such familiarity can be offensive. The French tend to see the American waiting style as overbearing (“Is everything okay? Can I get you anything?”).
Often in America the wait staff performs duties with a good tip in mind. French servers are salaried and do not expect to be tipped. They are paid to perform their duties then disappear into the background in order to allow patrons to enjoy their dining experience.
There is much to love about Paris—the romance, joie de vivre, art museums, architecture—but each visitor will leave with a unique impression of the City of Light based on individual experience. Knowing as much as you can about Paris before you go will increase your chances for good experiences and pleasant memories. Bon voyage!