Let’s take a small look at what it’s like to dine with the French. The French start their morning with le petit dejeuner (breakfast): which consists of a hot drink, such as coffee, tea, or hot chocolate. Then you have cereal, baguette, and croissants which is served with butter, jam and honey. Between 12 pm and 2 pm they have le dejeuner (lunch). Lunch is either eaten at home, a cafeteria, bistro, or restaurant. A normal lunch consists of three courses, hors-d’œuvre or entrée, plat principal (main course), and dessert. For a more fancy lunch or dinner on the weekend with friends, the meal always starts with L’aperitif, (hors-d’oeuvre) main course, cheese course, dessert, and coffee/tea. A formal meal can last up to 5 hours or more. The French love spending time at the table.
When someone invites you over for dinner, you should bring a small gift for the host and make sure you are 15 minutes late as a common courtesy. Also, when your guest is getting ready to leave, it takes about 30 to 40 minutes to say goodbye. It is normal to stand by the door with your coats in your hands and talk some more before you leave.
My first week in France my host family was invited to a friend’s house. They left at 7:30 and they didn’t get back until 1:00 in the morning. Here I was thinking 2hrs and ½ was plenty of time to have dinner with a friend but apparently in France that is hardly enough time. In the US we eat everything at once but in France every course is very well enjoyed. I was still confused as to why it took them 5 and ½ hours.
I was then invited to join them for lunch one day, for a formal meal. I remember sitting at the dinner table playing with my hair and at the same time trying to understand what was going on. For the first few months, I had a hard time following a conversation in French. I felt isolated and alone. I couldn’t ask everyone to explain things all the time, so I tried to follow as much as I could. We spent about one hour taking our time eating the L’aperitif and two hours and half to eat the rest of the meal. We were finally done with the main course and then six different types of cheese were set on the table. Unfortunately, I was asked to start. I was being polite and I took a small piece of each of the cheeses and passed it around. My host family friend smiled and told me that, as a rule of etiquette, you always start with the first three cheeses that are less flavored and then when everyone is done, you have the last three that are more flavored. For example, if you have brie and blue cheese, you start with the brie and then you move on to the blue cheese. I was bewildered and said, how am I supposed to know the difference between the cheeses? He looked at me and said, it’s a French thing. That explained everything I needed to know. After the dessert we moved to the living room to enjoy a cup of coffee as the conversation carried on and I said to myself, that’s why a dinner lasts so long.
I then hosted a dinner one day that lasted 6 hours. If you were to tell me that a year ago, I would be like no way, everyone must be out by 9:30. God has used my time in France to change me in this area of my life. I was the one who was always in a hurry to leave because my time is precious. Yes, time is precious. Spend it with your family and friends talking, laughing, and making memories.
Until next time