French eating habits: a guide to eating like a local | Expatica
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Last update on February 02, 2021
Written by Morgane Croissant

À table! You wouldn’t dare serve a meal without bread and are well-aware that nothing shows disdain more than paper napkins on the dining table. Here’s a guide to French eating habits every newcomer needs to know.

How French are your eating habits? Take it from a French native – dining always involves baguettes and Fridays are strictly apéro nights. Here are 12 signs to know when you’ve adopted the French way to eat.


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1. You know there’s always bread on the table

You always need bread during a French meal. Be it for pâté, cheese, soaking up some delicious sauce from your plate or for nibbling between courses, there’s no way you can start eating without it. I cannot count the times I’ve had to run to the bakery just before closing time to get the last baguette, or, when really late, whatever’s left (usually a big pain de campagne or some strange granary concoction) just to make sure dinner would not be pain-free. The disappointment of a meal without bread can only be explained by the growling noise your stomach makes when you had – heavens forbid – cereal for breakfast.

2. You know the difference between une ficelle, une tradition and une ordinaire

Yes, they’re all baguettes. No, they’re all different.

3. Eating crêpes for breakfast isn’t a French eating habit

The only time you’ve eaten crêpes for breakfast was when there were some left over from dinner. And no, they were not last night’s dessert either; you can fill these tasty guys with whatever you like so they can constitute a wholesome and healthy meal. You also know that there’s nothing weird about melting a little butter and spreading some sugar inside one of them. If it’s good enough for the Bretons, it’s good enough for you!

4. You know something about cheese the rest of the world ignores

The stinkier, the better!

5. French eating habits shun knives

In France, when you set the table, everyone gets a fork (on the left of the plate), a spoon (at the top, between your glass and your plate), and a knife (on the right). Contrary to what goes on in North America, in France knives are not only useful for cutting into a steak, they’re here (mostly, but not only) for pushing the food from your plate onto your fork. There’s nothing more awkward than trying to get a few grains of rice or eat some long green beans than with just the use of a fork. Cutting a slice of cheese at the end of the meal and spreading on a piece of bread is not optional, so neither is the knife.

6. You know that butter is always salted ­­­and stays in the fridge

You also know that the real deal is Paysan Breton; the kind that has large salt chunks in it.

7. French eating habits avoid paper napkins

I can still picture my mother watching the French version of Come dine with me and yelling at the screen, “Why on earth would you use paper napkins?! Why?” Not only are they an environmental disaster, but, in France, nothing says ‘I can’t be bothered’ like a paper napkin. You always use the cloth kind and put a ring around it to differentiate yours from other people’s. You must have 200 of them in the linen closet and they all have a matching table cloth.

8. You know that the word ‘dessert’ does not deliver on its promise

Although France is famous for its delicious pastries, you never expect an éclair au chocolat, a choux à la crème, or a Paris-Brest at the end of every lunch. Instead you know you could be disappointed with fruit, yogurt or even applesauce.

9. Vegetarianism isn’t a French eating habit

And those who dared adopt a cruelty-free diet have left the country – you can’t blame them.

10. You know that Friday night is apéro night

Although you wish you could have one every evening after a long day of work, l’apéro is usually a Friday night special. You get the mini-pizzas, mini-sausages, the apéricubes and the mini-Boursins out and pour yourself the first of a series of good, refreshing kirs.

11. You know who makes the best saucisson

Justin Bridou, that’s who!

12. You always have a box of hot chocolate handy

When you want to feel like a child again, you put two tablespoons of hot chocolate at the bottom of a breakfast bowl, heat up some milk on the stove and remove the cream layer that looks like wrinkled skin before mixing both. That’s what you had for breakfast for the first 15 years of your life and nothing beats a comforting hot cocoa.