Living in Paris is a dream come true for many expats.
But fantasizing about moving and making a life in France are two different things.
Aside from dealing with a foreign language, there are many cultural quirks to get used to.
And, while the love of French cuisine is universal, there are a few things about the French and food that you might not know.
And this starts with:
1. Room temperature – no ice.
Don’t be surprised if your drink is served lukewarm in a restaurant.
If you prefer it to be cold and the glass sweating with moisture, you’ll have to ask the server for ice, and you may get a funny look or shrug before they fulfill your request.
2. Kids eat adult food, too.
Back home, you may be used to giving your little ones a different meal from what you normally eat as a grown up.
But in France, you’ll find many parents feeding their children bits and pieces of adult food.
I guess the love and appreciation of French cuisine start young, yes?
3. Wine, wine everywhere.
Wine is a “thing” in France. It’s one of the 13 Basic Daily Consumer Products/Goods Most Parisians Love.
You can buy it in a fancy specialty shop or at the corner store; have it with lunch and dinner; sip on it while talking with friends.
It’s seamlessly woven into French culture and you will soon find yourself buying a bottle on regular basis, just to fit in.
4. Bread is a thing.
Yeah, you’ve seen your French neighbors with the classic baguette under an arm or in a basket as they ride by on a bicycle. There’s even an annual competition for the best baguette!
France loves bread, and you will quickly fall in line.
It doesn’t hurt that the smells coming from the bakeries that seem to be on every corner in Paris draw you in.
You really won’t be able to help yourself.
5. Cheese? Yes, please.
Can you imagine a country whose citizens consume up to 25 kg of cheese per person?
Yup, France is the place.
The French make hundreds of cheese varieties, and it’s often served with bread, or as part of a traditional French meal, toward the end, right before dessert.
6. Coffee, anyone?
Well, this may or may not be a surprise to you, but the French love coffee.
Day or night, Parisians can be seen at cafés or restaurants guzzling down that rich, dark brew while arguing amicably with their companions.
If you’re not a coffee drinker, being in France might change your mind.
You will find that water is very “chic” in Paris.
Many restaurants and cafes push bottled water, though you can get a glass of the stuff for free.
There are also public drinking Wallace fountains throughout the city.
We’ve talked about baguettes, but quality, delicious pastry is a French art and can be found everywhere from the grocery store to elegant patisseries.
Follow your nose and let your tummy do the talking.
9. Breakfast is NOT the most important meal of the day.
Perhaps you’re used to bacon, sausage and eggs with buttered toast and jam, or a hearty bowl of oatmeal with fruit and pancakes for breakfast.
In France, many people typically have coffee with a bit of pastry to start the day.
Things get heavier for lunch and dinner.
10. No loud talkers at meals, please.
You will stand out in a restaurant or at dinner with friends if you are a loud talker. Conversations are held in subdued tones. Raised voices are considered gauche.
11. Take time to savor.
Perhaps, back home, you're used to running into a dining establishment, ordering your food, gulping it down in mere minutes, and then leaving.
In France, it is expected that the diner should spend a couple of hours over the meal to savor the experience.
Your stomach will thank you.
So will your palate.
12. Unusual food offerings.
Escargots à la Bourguignonne (courtesy of Saveur)
Every country has its own unique brand of cuisine.
France is no different.
"Escargots à la bourguignonne," or snails in garlic parsley butter; “cuisses de grenouille” or frog’s legs; "lapin a la moutarde," or rabbit stew with mustard; and steak tartare are among the inimitable offerings.
Try it, just once.
You might surprise yourself.
A service charge is built into the bill, but tips are customary and appreciated.
14. Meals at a friend’s home (casual or formal).
There are certain things to keep in mind when invited to dinner because even a casual meal at a friend’s house can be serious business.
Bring a small gift for your host—don’t show up empty-handed!
Wait until the host says it’s okay to dive into your sumptuous meal before you do so.
Send a “thank you” note the next day.
15. Traditional French meal.
Having a traditional French meal is like dining at a five-star restaurant.
There are many parts to it, and laid out in elegant, sumptuous detail:
● Hors d'oeuvres – an appetizer. Can be served with an aperitif.
● First Course – served between the appetizer and main course. May have something tart afterward to cleanse the palate.
● Main Course – meat, with vegetables on the side or afterward.
● Salad – comes after the main course with a light dressing.
● Cheese Plate – a variety of cheeses will be served, perhaps with fruit.
● Dessert – selections abound; coffee is served as a digestif.
Wine and bread are served throughout the meal.
16. World Heritage List.
French cuisine was granted a spot in 2010 on UNESCO's World Heritage List. According to the New York Times: “Unesco officials…enshrined the gastronomic meal of the French as part of the intangible cultural heritage of humanity...cooks have done a lot for the cultural radiance” of France. Francis Chevrier led the effort.
17. Types of French Cuisine.
Haute cuisine is elegant and all about presentation and sophistication; with nouvelle cuisine—the food is not as heavy or complicated; and cuisine du terroir is based on whatever is available in that particular region of the country and follows the local tradition.
18. Dress well, no matter where you eat.
You may be used to pulling on well-worn pants, an old T-shirt and flip-flops to pop around the corner to the store.
You might even dress that way to have a casual meal at a restaurant or with friends.
But such behavior would cause consternation for your French brethren.
Even if you wear jeans to dinner, they need to be high quality.
The way you dress and conduct yourself is important to the French, who always put their best foot forward, no matter the occasion.
19. Walk and Talk while you eat? Nope.
Really! The French prefer to have their meals sitting down with friends and family, good conversation, and lots of time for the food to digest.
No TV either, while you eat.
All focus is on the food and company.
In some parts of the country, takeout is a foreign concept.
And depending on where you live in France, you might not be able to get meals outside of specific times of the day, and places may close early.
20. Three Meals a Day.
Sorry, no snacking.
There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For many French citizens, eating outside of those time periods is a strange concept.
Perhaps it’s in their DNA? Still, when in France…
Over to you!
Thanks for reading!
Did you enjoy this article?
Let me know! Leave a comment below and tell us about those French eating habits you learned that you either love or hate.
Latest from Michael Bahati
- Expatriation: When your mental health starts declining & What to do about it.
- Paris-based Expat Influencers Reveal The Podcasts That Make Them Smarter
- Champs-Élysées Film Festival: 6 of the greatest cinematic works
- 30 Life Lessons Expats Learn But Keep Forgetting
- When renting an apartment in Paris becomes affordable and easier