Posted by: vlibrizzi | February 5, 2009

French table manners

As C. and I get used to our new lives as ex-pats here in France, we have started to pick up on some of the local habits and customs…leisurely eating, acting less rushed overall, expecting things (actually, everything!) to take at least double the amount of time that you expected it to take, and my favorite, French mealtime manners. Here are some of our findings regarding French eating etiquette:

First, when seated at a table, French people do not automatically put their napkin on their laps. At some point in the meal, the napkins magically appear on French laps, but I’m not exactly sure of the precise moment. I try to observe French couples at restaurant tables to solve the napkin-lap quandary, but in fear of being a bit too intrusive, I often avert my eyes at the exact wrong moment…and loose my opportunity to find out the secret. If any of you know the answer, please, please enlighten me. 🙂

Then there’s the holding of one’s utensils here in France. The French hold their fork in the left hand, facing down throughout the meal, and use the right hand to cut their food with their knife. There’s a particular way to cut everything…from steak to french fries. Can you believe they have a particular way to cut and eat french fries? And, get this? They use a fork and a knife to do it. 

And finally, there’s my favorite French table rule….what to do with one’s left hand. In the U.S. we often eat with our right hand, alternating between knife and fork, and leave the left hand to lay calmly on our laps. But in France, oh no no! Here one must have one’s hands on the table at all times…both hands! Even elbows, if one so chooses!

So, take that all you moms and dads out there who insist that children should never have their elbows on the table. Here in France, it’s not only accepted, but downright required.

And the reason for it? You’ll never guess. Apparently in the past, the French were afraid that their dinner guests might be concealing a knife or another deadly weapon in their left hand under the table while eating and then surprise attack their hosts mid-meal. And, never wanting to end a meal abruptly, the French made it customary to keep one’s hands (and elbows too, if you wish) visible at all times. img_2051

We find this particular custom so appealing that some friends and I created a club called “Elbows on the table” to celebrate all things French…wine, cheese, bread, and, of course, table manners! In the photo to the right you can see photographic evidence of last night’s gathering of the “Elbows on the Table” club, and one my my friends with her…elbow on the table. 

There are still many French customs that we need to learn so as to look less like tourists, and more like the locals….but I think we’re off to a pretty good start…although we do have a long way to go (ahem…learning to speak the language) before we could actually pass as French country bumpkins or even (gasp!) Parisians.



  1. i want to be there–everything on that table looks delicious!!! and i’ll tell my mom to stop nagging me about the elbows. 🙂 miss you guys!

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