Learning about another country’s culture and customs is all part of the fun—but not knowing can make you an “Ugly American.” What is appropriate here in the states may be strange or even against the law. “I didn’t know,” only works sometimes. Here are a few cultural norms that would be strange and unknown by Americans. Being a Savvy Traveler by observing your surroundings and using good common sense will help you avoid an embarrassing moment.
Over the years I have heard how unfriendly the French are. I have never found that to be true. What I have found are tourists who do not understand nor care to appreciate the way of life that is found in France and other European countries.
1. Don’t ask for a bread plate. Bread is sacred in France.
• Bread plates aren’t provided at restaurants. It is perfectly acceptable to keep your bread on the table. Butter is not usually provided as a bread spread, except perhaps at breakfast.
• Break off little bite-sized pieces to place in your mouth as you eat your meal.
2. Don’t expect the waiter to bring you the bill.
• There’s no pressure to turn tables here. You can nurse a glass of wine or a cup of coffee and spend all day here.
• The waiter won’t present your bill unless you specifically ask for it.
• They’re not ignoring you, neglecting you, or providing poor service; they’re just happy to have you linger.
3 Don’t order coffee, tea or soft drinks with your meal!
• In many countries, it’s okay to have a cup of joe, sip soda or drink a flavored beverage throughout a casual meal – and keep the refills coming. Not so in France.
• Water or wine are the accepted drinks to accompany food. Sure, you can order a Coke or juice or whatever you like, but you’ll be going against the grain here.
• A glass of wine is usually cheaper than a soda, and tap water is free.
4. Don’t expect your salad before your meal.
• In France, and much of Europe, a salad is considered a palate cleanser and digestion aid. It is to be enjoyed after the main course has been consumed, and before the cheese or dessert has arrived.
• The fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating. Do not cut salad with a knife and fork. Fold the lettuce onto your fork.
• If you have not finished eating, cross your knife and fork on your plate with the fork over the knife.
5. Don’t ask for a doggie bag.
• Taking leftovers home is considered gauche in France. Portions are much smaller, so chances are, you can clean your plate.
• Leaving scraps on your plate is perceived as disrespectful to the cook and asking to slop it into a take-out box is an insult.
6. Take time to learn a bit about French cuisine.
• Dinner is usually not served until 8 pm and is considered a social event and can last hours.
• Do not order a steak tartare (raw meat) well done.
• The vichyssoise (soup) is served cold, and escalope is not seafood.
• Food Is small portion and everything is made fresh so do expect to spend a few hours enjoying y our meal.
• Finish everything on your plate.
I know that someone will email me and say that they were able to drink coke, eat bread and eat dinner before 8 pm. Yes, there are cafes in tourist area especially ports that are for tourists who are not interested in having an authentic French cuisine experience. There are tourists and savvy travelers. Which one are you?