How to be a good dinner guest in France

My dad lived the high life in Europe for a good chunk of his adult life, and as a Commanding Officer for the Royal Canadian Air Forces, he was treated to many fine dinners at many fine establishments. So you can imagine the lectures I got when I put my elbows on the table or, heaven forbid, asked for ketchup for my food. “If you ask for ketchup in Paris, you’d get kicked out of the restaurant,” he’d say as I rolled my eyes.

As painful as it was when I was a surly teenager, I’m kind of glad for the etiquette lessons of my youth because I it gives me the chance to escape being labelled a stereotypically rude North American when travelling. Still, it can’t hurt to brush up on table manners. Here are some tips for being a good dinner guest in France from MSNBC:

  • Don’t arrive exactly on time for a dinner party. Come about 15 minutes to half an hour late
  • Don’t bring wine — it implies that you don’t trust the host’s selection. Bring sweets or flowers — but not chrysanthemums (they signify death) and not yellow ones (they signify an unfaithful husband)
  • Men should wear nice jackets to dinner and women should wear high heels
  • Always keep your hands on the table, but not the elbows.
  • When greeting, women can kiss women and women can kiss men, but two men should never kiss so save yourself the embarrassment of leaning in (cringe!) If you’re in Alsace or Brittany, be prepared for up to three kisses but don’t initiate them yourself.
  • Never pour your own wine at a restaurant. Want water? You’ll have to ask.
  • Eat asparagus with your fingers and use your digits to get shellfish out of the shell, but otherwise use your utensils.
  • Always eat with your fork in the left hand, knife in the right. And hold your fork properly — it’s not a shovel!
  • If it’s a five-course meal, the only course you can refuse is the fourth one (aka, the Cheese course.) If you have dietary restrictions, let them know beforehand because it’s uncouth to refuse anything.
  • Don’t cut your salad — roll it with your fork.