Tuesday, January 12, 2010
6. Parisians dine leisurely. Don’t expect to get the same speed of service as at home. For the French, dinner is nearly a ritual. In its full-blown form, it begins with an apéritif. This is often accompanied by an amuse-gueule, a little snack of some sort. After this, you order an hors-d’oeuvre. Then comes an entrée, which is a first course – pâté or a composed salad, such as a salad with shrimp or hard-boiled eggs – and then the main course which will most likely be meat or fish. The main course is sometimes accompanied by or followed by a salad, but it is a simple green salad. After this, just when you think you’re going to explode and have secretly unbuckled your belt, the serveur arrives with selections from the cheese platter that are followed by dessert, and, finally, coffee. But if you do not want to follow the French protocol, don’t. Even if the waiter seems to disapprove, do what you like.
7. Don’t talk loudly. You will notice that the French speak softly, Americans don’t; we just can’t help it. But believe us: Those loud voices coupled with running shoes, backpacks, “fanny packs,” large, conspicuous guide books and cameras are like wearing a neon sign announcing that you are a tourist, an American tourist.
8. Stand your ground without being aggressive. In the years we’ve been traveling, it seems that waiters have become more relaxed about the rituals of eating, and will accommodate you if you insist on what you want – within reason, of course.
9. Visit a street vendor at least once in Paris. Whether it’s sandwiches, hot dogs or crêpes, Parisian street vendors sell delicious “food on the run.” Do yourself a favor, and sample some.
10. Always be courteous. Remember that you are a guest in their country. There are simple things that the French do that we don’t, like excusing yourself or saying please all the time.
S’il vous plaît (seel voo play) after nearly everything is a safe way to be very polite. Seriously. A polite Parisian ALWAYS finishes a greeting (such as bonjour – hello) or affirmation (such as oui – yes) with a title. Thus, bonjour is always bonjour, madame or m’sieur and yes or no is always oui, m’sieur or madame. And just so you know, you say bonjour, which is essentially hello, all day and night.
Bonsoir – good evening – is reserved for leaving and after 7:00 p.m., and bonne nuit – good night – is only used when you are actually on your way to bed.
1. Avoid eating in a restaurant that has a menu written in English. In case you haven’t gathered, we’re against them for a number of reasons. One good reason is that at one restaurant, we were automatically given the English menu (which is really irritating, since we hate being so obviously American) and we discovered as we walked out that it bore no relationship to the French menu which was more than twice as long.
2. Don’t be afraid. They can’t and won’t hurt you. They are not laughing at you, they don’t dislike you, they aren’t even thinking about you. Waiters in France are trained professionals whose job is to serve you. Despite what you’ve heard, they want you to have a good time. Sometimes they are just mystified by what we do.
3. Don’t ever call the waiter “garçon.” Though sometimes in bars a Parisian will use this word, travelers should never use it.
4. Try to make reservations. This isn’t as difficult as it seems; the words are similar in both languages and they’ll get the gist of what you’re trying to do. We often do a walk-by in the afternoon and stop in to make the reservation. When we go back that night they are almost always happy to see us again.
5. Return to a restaurant if you like it. If you have the luxury of time and can withstand the temptation to try other restaurants, you will always be treated better if they recognize you. Few travelers return to the same restaurant.