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Do I talk about food a lot? And if yes, do you have a problem with that? No? Good!

Here are some French food habits I’ve picked up over the years. As always with my cultural comparison pieces, I write from my own experience and from a place of love. Enjoy!

1. Taking Time to Eat

Americans are trained early on to rush through meals, especially lunch. Students at the middle school where I used to work had 15 minutes to eat, which included getting their food from the cafeteria line and finding a place to sit. When I taught in France with the Teaching Assistant Program, all of the teachers in the school met in the faculty lunchroom and had an actual break that lasted half an hour. Compared to the 10-15 minutes I spent at my desk eating and working or worse yet, spent standing up during cafeteria duty, half an hour felt luxurious.

In France, multitasking and eating don’t go together. This is not to say that there aren’t French people who end up working through their lunch. Simply put, I think that meals are more often regarded as a pause and a convivial moment to enjoy with others, rather than something to check off the to-do list. This has been a hard habit for me to develop, but an enjoyable one.

2. Cutlery Etiquette

As you likely already know, a knife is obligatory at every meal in France, not only for cutting food but also for pushing your food onto your fork. French people tend to hold their fork in their left hand and their knife in their right hand throughout the meal, even if they’re a leftie!

eating with fork in left hand, knife in right hand
Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

On the other hand (sorry, pun could not be avoided), Americans tend to hold their fork with their dominant hand throughout the meal. When cutting something, they put the knife in their dominant hand, cut a few pieces, put the knife down, and switch back to the fork. If you want a visual comparison of the American and European styles of dining etiquette, check out this video (starting around 55 seconds in). I have obviously adapted the European style, because it is a far more efficient way of eating.

3. Entrée Plat Dessert

I will be the last person to complain about a stack of pancakes bigger than my face, but you know what is also nice? Actually enjoying one or two courses because the portion sizes aren’t ridiculously big. In the States, when dining out, you have to plan your meals wisely if you’d like an appetizer and/or a dessert in addition to the main course. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said, “I’m going to bring the rest of this 10 pound steak home so that I can save room for the caramel cheesecake brownie sundae delight.” (or something along those lines)

In France, you can often finish what’s on your plate without feeling like you forced yourself. Interestingly, a law recently went into effect in France requiring restaurants to supply you with un doggy bag if you request one. Although uncommon to see people ask for this, it can be done—I tried!

4. Meal Times

In general, lunch is eaten around noon and dinner is eaten late, around 8pm. Given how long the sun stays up, I have no trouble adapting to this late dinner time. On one occasion, we met up with friends at a restaurant for a 10pm reservation. That was admittedly a little rough for me.

I like to eat regularly, which is why it will come as no surprise that I have fully accepted le goûter, also known as le quatre-heures—4pm snack time! Truthfully, it can happen anytime between 4pm and 6pm, and it’s mostly for kids when they are done with school. It’s also for adults who get hangry, like me! I usually have something sweet, and I think of it as a mini meal to tide me over during the longggg afternoon.

5. “Dessert” After Lunch

What do you think of when I say dessert? In France, a common dessert, especially after lunch, consists of fruit or yogurt. While I’m still not sure I qualify these items as dessert, I have embraced this habit. It’s a refreshing way to end a meal. Sometimes I’ll have applesauce, with cinnamon of course. Jonathan regularly likes to finish off his meals with some cheese, the stinkier, the better. I’m not at that level yet.

Speaking of stinky cheese, we recently purchased this Tefal cave à fromage (cheese cellar) to keep our cheese fresh. It has charcoal filter inserts at the top to soak up all the stink, and it really works! I thought Jonathan was being silly for buying this, but honestly, I can’t imagine not having one. Have you ever seen one of these?

Tefal cheese cave
5 French Food Habits I’ve Embraced
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8 thoughts on “5 French Food Habits I’ve Embraced

  • May 23, 2020 at 10:30 am

    I miss the French food and eating habits, that’s for sure. In particular the variety of meats, charcuterie,
    cheeses, dairy products, deserts, etc. Such a larger repertoire in the stores and supermarkets

    • May 25, 2020 at 11:17 am

      I agree! It’s so easy to get quality cheese and charcuterie from the regular grocery store, never mind the heaven that is walking into an actual fromagerie. At least once a week, we have an apéro that becomes an apéro dînatoire… Speaking of which, I think you forgot to mention the wine!

  • May 25, 2020 at 5:30 pm

    I was also surprised when eating dinner in French homes at the consistency of habits, even on a weeknight. I really enjoyed the different small courses ending with a taste (really just a taste) of stinky cheese. And I am one to skip dessert, so I was surprised to learn that I like including something small, even a plain (full fat, of course) yogurt at the end of the meal. There is a beauty to retaining traditions and courses in meals, in my opinion. But maybe that is why I love the French culture.

    How common is it to end the meal with a cigarette these days in France? Has that tradition disappeared? Has it even become something that others dislike, as it has in the US?

    And the reason I love to read your blog is because you do talk about food! Keep it coming!

    • May 26, 2020 at 7:37 am

      Yes, I love that. A meal, even during the week, feels more like an event. Maybe “event” isn’t the right word, but it’s a time to take a break and just enjoy. I feel more “in the moment” when eating here, than in the States, where I felt like I only really took the time to enjoy meals on the weekend, if that!

      Hardly any of our friends here smoke, but there is definitely still a lot of smoking in France. E-cigarettes are pretty common now, too. I’ve seen people leave the table in between courses and indulge in a cigarette after the meal as well.

  • May 27, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    I just love everything about your blog…keep it coming!!! I’m Italian so I love stinky cheese…. not quite sure I’ve ever seen the contraption that you have posted here but I can certainly appreciate it!!! Being Italian I’m also a fan of any time to eat between four and 6 o’clock – fruit cheese applesauce nuts…I’m all about it – Especially while cooking and preparing the evening meal – which by the way you’d be surprised in this farmhouse on Dunbar Hill Road in Hamden – dinner time hits between 730 and 8 o’clock!

    • May 31, 2020 at 7:08 am

      Hi Denise! Thank you so much for checking out my blog. I am not surprised that you eat a bit on the later side. Got to make use of all those daylight hours on the farm! I heard you guys have been doing curbside pickup. I hope that’s going well! 🙂

  • November 17, 2020 at 4:41 pm

    The other half of the French way to dine – adopted by my family – that I most appreciate: all topics of conversation are ‘off the table’ except food; we might focus on the meal itself, or reminisce about that fabulous dinner we had by Anne-Sophie Pic in Valence, or anticipate the fresh vegetables that will soon be in season. But we never debate politics, we never pause for a quick fact check on Google – it is relaxed and enjoyable. Vive la France!

    • November 18, 2020 at 12:35 pm

      Yes, I love that time at the table and the conviviality that goes along with it and I agree: there certainly are topics that are off-limits!


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