People have made the “rude French waiter” into a cliché. I don’t really understand why. Every single person who waited on us in France was kinder and more personable than the next. That being said, there are some things that you should know in order to, well, order.
1. Do not call your server, “Garçon!” That’s a derogatory title much like, “Hey, boy.” Call him “monsieur” or if it’s a woman, “mademoiselle” or “madame” depending on her age.
2. Do not ask for extra condiments. The chef prepared the meal for you and it’s seasoned the way it’s meant to be. It’s like a lead balloon asking for salt. It’s an insult.
3. Your server will not return. When they bring you your meal, that’s going to be it. You know how in America you get your food and then three minutes later when you have a mouthful they’ll ask you, “How is everything tasting?” Doesn’t. Happen. In. France. Their culture dictates that it’s rude and too intimate to speak to strangers as they eat.
4. Don’t be in a rush. Paris, especially, is a people watching kind of place. The cafe chairs are set up outside in theater style. You don’t even face your companion. People like to sit and watch the world go by. With the purchase of your meal (or your kir royal,) you are entitled to all the dinner theater you can imagine. They won’t rush you and you certainly won’t get your main course while you’re still eating your salad. You’ll have to ask them for the bill, (Le Cheque.) They feel that angling sideways up to the table as they put the bill on it, even if they say, “I’ll take that whenever you’re ready” is the same as, “Here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”
5. Knock, knock. Who’s there? Olive. Olive who? Olive France. Rather, France loves olives. Everywhere you go to eat, when they bring you your cocktails, they also bring a bowl of olives. Both green and black, the only utensil you’ll receive is a toothpick.
6. Don’t tip. In France, most of the servers, waiters, bartenders, etc. are grown men. You’ll nary find a teenager with his phone in his back pocket. It’s a life long career here, not a stepping stone for unemployed actors or college kids. They take exceptional pride in their work. The bill has a 20% gratuity built right in, it’s called “Le pourboire.” It’s a respectable profession and it’s insulting to leave a tip. That being said, if you leave just a few coins, (under a euro or so) that’s just a little “thank you.”
7. Secondhand smoke comes free with every meal. I’m sorry, but it’s true, especially if you eat outside. I tell myself that smoke inhaled on holidays doesn’t count much in the same way as calories consumed on vacation. If you make a big stink about it, you’ll be the one led to the door. Ask to sit inside to help alleviate it. You’ll be the only one in there.
8. A Rosé by any other name…Especially in the summer, the French drink rosé wine. It’s not that super sweet bubbly rosé we drink here. Rather, it’s a bit more dry and it’s served cold. Everyone drinks it. If they aren’t drinking this, they’re having a Kir that consists of white wine with a splash of fruit liquor in it. (So it’s a homemade rosé.) You could go crazy and ask for Kir Royal so they switch out the white wine for champagne. The point here is, folks, they drink simple wine based drinks.
9. Keep your elbows on the table. Yes, you read that correctly. At least, keep your forearms firmly planted on the table ledge so your hands are visible. The French get funny if your hands are in your lap. They want to see what you’re up to. I’m serious.
10. Bread goes on the table. Well, duh. I’m not talking about the bread basket, I mean the actual bread. You won’t get a bread plate. You’re expected to rip the bread with your hands and then you leave it on the tabletop. This works closely in alignment with #9…keep your hands where I can see ’em.