5 Tips for Breaking Bread in Paris

Abby Melton is a student at the University of Alabama and an ISA Featured Blogger. Abby is currently studying abroad with ISA in Paris, France.

I live in an apartment, so I miss out on some home-stay-specific activities, specifically family meals. Although I studied abroad in France a few summers ago, my French had gotten rusty since then, and so have my table manners. However, there are a few things I’ve remembered and learned while dining with my friend’s host family this time around.

photo 1
Cookie tasting in Loire Valley near Chambord

1) Knife is right, fork is left. You’ll see diners everywhere eating like this, even while eating salad. It’s also common to eat certain foods, like peas, off of a knife.

photo 3
Small differences: most pasta comes with a big spoon instead of a fork

2) Elbows sur la table. I’d always been taught, “No elbows on the table,” but here it’s very normal and, in certain contexts, odd if you keep them in your lap.

photo 2
Most French food is markedly fresh, sometimes simple but flavorful.

3) Ask questions, even if they’re oddly worded or about “taboo” topics. Right now in France, there are a lot measures being discussed (marriage equality and taxes, to name a few). Dinner conversation topics include everything under the sun, and almost nothing is off-limits. You may even want to ask what you’re eating (if you aren’t sure). Once I was unknowingly served veal, and then on another occasion, cow tongue. Never hurts to ask, really, especially if you have dietary restrictions.

photo 5
Tasting of Sainte-Maure de Touraine cheese.

4) If you’re just dining for the first time with your host family, or with a friend’s family, the verb, “se tutoyer” is pretty handy. This basically means that you can address the family informally. So, you might hear something along the lines of this (from the family): “On peut se tutoyer” (We can speak informally now).  This is a welcoming sign, and it means that you don’t have to address them in the same manner as you would a stranger, your professor, etc.

Another tasting with pastries, taken about five minutes after the desserts were served
Another tasting with pastries, taken about five minutes after the desserts were served

5) Get ready for a ton of courses. The food’s delicious and you get to eat for around two hours. Scores all around.

Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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