French table manners are quite demanding. Here are my top 27 do’s and dont’s if you want to be polite at a French table.
The French are typically very strict when it comes to table manners.
Bad French Table Manners Are…
- To start drinking before everybody has a full glass in front of them (and someone has a chance to make a toast).
- To keep your hands under the table.
- If you are a man, to serve yourself before offering the food to the woman sitting next to you.
- If you are a woman and there are men at the table, to pour yourself some wine. (So if you are sitting next to me, you better watch my wine glass: it’s a full time job!)
- To eat with your mouth open or make a lot of noise when eating. No slurping allowed either. Absolutely no burping.
- To push your food around with your knife in a picky way, and only eat some morsels.
- To spread pâté or cheese on a big piece of bread as if you were making a sandwich.
- To mop up the sauce with bread (certainly not holding the bread with your finger. You are not even supposed to do it holding a piece of bread with your fork… don’t tell anyone but I do it all the time, especially with Olivier’s boeuf bourguignon !!)
- To touch your food with your fingers, in particular cheese. (More about cheese and French etiquette)
- To empty your glass in one gulp or finish your plate in 2 seconds.
- To say you don’t like it…
- To put your elbows on the table and rest your face in your hands.
- To not sit straight.
- To lick your knife or your fork.
- To make food spots around you.
- To pick your teeth at the table.
- To ask “où sont les toilettes ?” (where is the restroom in French) while at the table.
- To speak loudly in a restaurant, or burst out laughing.
- To call the waiter by snapping your fingers.
Good French Table Manners
Of course, everything that is not the above is already considered polite at the French table – but let’s see what will really get you some perfect host points.
- To pull a woman’s chair to help her to sit if you are a man.
- To wait to sit down until the hostess does, and to stand up when she gets up (although it’s really old-fashioned, and kind of a pain for the hostess if you ask me…)
- To comment positively and with wit on the smell and look of the food, on how pretty the table looks.
- To offer a toast to the hostess (if the occasion is not too formal).
- To delicately wipe your lips before and after each sip, without leaving any food or lipstick marks on the napkin.
- To use only your fork to eat salad, eggs, pastas, pâtés or foie gras, very tender meat or pastry.
- To know how to peel a peach or a shrimp with your fork and knife.
- To send flowers and a thank you note the day after the dinner.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also like how to Comment On Food in French
If you enjoy learning French language and culture in context, check out French Today’s downloadable French audiobooks: French Today’s bilingual novels are recorded at different speeds and enunciation, and focus on today’s modern glided French pronunciation.
Since food is so important in France, I made sure that many chapters take place in a restaurant, or sharing food with friends, going grocery shopping, going to the market, discussing food or preparing food!
Some French table manners may be the same as in your home country, but I’m sure some will differ as well: do leave a comment and explain what differs in France from your home country! I love to read comments.