Americans visiting France are often puzzled when they walk into a French restaurant and are immediately greeted in English. "How do they know I'm American?" is a popular refrain. If this bothers you and you would like to fit in more with the locals, here are a few tips that may help in that department and some other hopefully useful information that will make your repas more enjoyable.
|Don't show up at a nice restaurant like this dude sporting NB's and black socks.|
Dress - Nothing gives your origin away faster than your clothing. While you may think you look quite natty in khakis, white running shoes and a ball cap, you may as well be wearing a large neon sign that says "I'm an American". Leave your Dockers and your New Balance at home. While you're at it, ditch the fanny pack you wear on your waist. If you must carry stuff, man up and buy a man purse, it's guaranteed to give you that euro look.
|For the complete Euro look, get a man purse like this gent|
Noise - Americans are a gregarious people and enjoy having a good time but in the tight confines of most French restaurants, it is often easy to spot, actually hear, a group from the US :)
Café étiquette - Café culture is deeply engrained in French society. In smaller towns and villages it may be the central meeting place for all the locals, here you catch up on the local gossip and events of the town. You can go up to the bar and order a coffee and drink it there or sit at a table. Drinking at the bar will always be less expensive.
|Cafés are a great place to meet, drink and hang out.|
Don't be in a rush - The good news is that once you have your reservation, your table is yours for as long as you want it. Lunch and dinner are leisurely affairs here and should be enjoyed and savored. The restaurants do not expect to turn over tables at lunch or dinner so there is never a wait when you get to the restaurant, your table will always be ready for you. American restaurant owners might cringe at the potential loss of revenue but I think it's brilliant! Also service will be laid back and slow compared to the US, enjoy it, talk to your dining companions, people watch, have another glass of wine and soak it all in. Oh yes and don't call the waiter/waitress a garçon unless he really is a little boy :)
The check - When you want to leave, you must ask for the l'addition, your waitperson will not bring it to you until you ask. Checks always include the tip but if you want, you can leave a few extra coins if the service has been good.
Breakfast - unlike lunch and dinner, breakfast is not the time to experience the gastronomic marvels of French cuisine. As in most of Europe, the French typically have a very simple breakfast, normally just coffee and a pastry or piece of baguette with butter and jam. If you are staying in a hotel there will most probably be a buffet that includes yoghurt, ham, cheese, fruit, cereal etc. But honestly, why stay in your boring hotel, go to a café and watch the world go by and save your appetite for lunch!! One other tip, many cafés do not have food and it is quite normal to stop at a Boulangerie/Patisserie and pick up bread/croissants and take them to the café. Also there are no such things as free refills in France, so if you want another coffee you will have to order and pay for one. If you normally have your coffee with half and half, order a café crème. This will be an expresso coffee with hot steamed milk, it's delicious! If you have to, in many places you can order a Café Americain but why give the game away? :)
In part 2 we will explore the delights of lunch!!
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