This is not until my French-born daughter entered preschool that she learned that Yum Yum was the French Miam Miam. Of course she taught me this new expression, too.
This summer she’s going to Paris, and as she and I went through the very small and yet significant differences between France and the US, I realized that many were related to eating out rituals.
While most young French waiters and waitresses, especially in Paris and large French cities, speak enough English to make things easier than ever for American visitors, a few things never translate.
- Although the French never say “Bonjour” to strangers in the street, they always address waiters and waitresses with the polite, “Bonjour, Madame, Bonjour, Monsieur,” and also thank them in a more formal way than we do in the States. “Merci, Madame, Merci, Monsieur,” is expected.
- Bread and flat water, served in a carafe without ice cubes, are free and will always be brought upon your arrival. Don’t ask for more as your waiter/waitress will always replenish the breadbasket and refill the carafe.
- Servings are smaller in France than in the US, so don’t share your meal with your friends or family. Order une entrée (an appetizer), un plat principal (an entrée) and un dessert (a dessert). You can skip dessert for un café (one coffee). If you order dessert and still want coffee, order it after your dessert.
- Don’t rack your brains to calculate tax and tips. Since the Euro currency, they are included.
- The French don’t split l’addition (the check) the way we do in the States. If you are a party of six, don’t ask for six separate checks but for l’addition, s’il vous plait.
- If you are looking for the restrooms, don’t ask for the “Salle de Bains,” which is the Bathroom, but for Les toilettes, s’il vous plait.
- The French live in anticipation or in the memory of a good meal. Food is a pleasure, not a drag. French waiters and waitresses won’t ask you if you are still “working” on your plate or if you are “done” and want a “doggie bag.” Chance is you’ll eat most of your plate since food is served in smaller quantity and really delicious in France. You won’t be rushed through your meal, so plan accordingly if you are going to the movies or a play, for example. Or go to a café and order le Plat du Jour.
- If you travel with young children, don’t expect booster seats, high chairs and children’s menus everywhere. Children, though, are welcome everywhere, traited like real people, expected to sit for the duration of a meal, eat regular food and behave properly. Everyone will be nice to them, but they won’t receive royal treatment.
- If you speak just a few words of French, go ahead. Everyone likes it when Americans don’t assume that the entire world speaks English. And of course a smile remains universal.
My daughter, of course, knew every single one of my small tips. After all, she reminded me, I was born there.