10 Common Ordering Mistakes People Make in Paris

steak, "Tuscan-style"

The other night I was sitting at Le Garde Robe, minding my own business, trying to get down a glass of natural wine. Being seven o’clock, naturally, in addition to being thirsty, I was starving, too.

And the lack of food (and sulfides) must have started affecting my brain because I started thinking about how I often hear tales from visitors, such as when they told a Parisian waiter they didn’t eat meat and shortly afterward, were presented with a plate of lamb. Or they ordered a salad, that was supposed to come with the sandwich, and was actually just a single leaf of lettuce. Hoo-boy, and yes, I’ve made a few gaffes of my own, too: I once ordered a glass of Lillet (pronounced le lait, which isn’t well-known around Paris) and the perplexed café waiter brought me out a long, slender glass of le lait (milk), presented with great panache, on a silver dish with a nice doily. Of course, everyone was staring at the grown man who ordered a tall glass of milk. And I don’t think it was because of the starched doily.

Anyhow, I was scanning the chalkboard at Le Garde Robe, looking at the various charcuterie and cheese on offer, and noticed filet mignon, and thought, “A steak is a funny thing for a wine bar to serve, especially one that doesn’t serve hot food.” Until I remembered what it is in French. And if everyone wasn’t already staring at the idiot at the wine bar, nursing a stemmed glass of milk, I would’ve kicked myself for thinking that’s a big, juicy steak. Which it’s not, in France.

1. Mixing Up the Mignons

Mignon in French means “cute”. And to my pork-loving friends and readers, that can only mean one thing: pigs. French people think cows are attractive.

So much so, that they’ve even issued stamps with various cow breeds depicted on them. But in this case, a filet mignon is pork tenderloin, not the lean, thick-cut steak that you might be used to.

Which doesn’t explain why Le Garde Robe, which doesn’t have a kitchen, had filet mignon on the menu. Which means I have to go back to the wine bar. Oh well…all in the name of research. Of course.

2. Don’t Order an Apéritif in a Restaurant

Apparently, no one orders a kir anymore. (Update: Or maybe so?) A refreshing drink made with aligoté white wine and a dapple of cassis, before I found out I’m not supposed to drink them anymore (the memo must’ve blown off my porch, or something..) a kir makes a nice apéritif on a warm spring or summer evening—at a café. Because I was recently informed that they are no longer in fashion, I suppose it’d be best to cut them out entirely. (And yes, that means the sparkly kir royal, made with Champagne, too. Merde!)

Which brings me to ordering an apéro in a restaurant, which is something you very rarely see in Paris. Most people go to a nearby café for one, perhaps to sit on the terrace, before heading to a restaurant. So when the waiter asks, “Vous desirez un apéritif?”, you don’t have to feel obligated and say, “Bien sûr!”, especially since a round of four will set you back at least €25 ($36 at today’s exchange rate), and a round of kir royals is likely to set you back a whole lot more than that. And there’s likely a fairly good bottle of wine you could get for the same price. Like Sancerre. Sancerre rocks, and if I could only drink one wine for the rest of my life, it would be Sancerre.

3. Drink in only the sights on the Champs-Elysées

It boggles my mind when people come to Paris, and have a soda at a café on the Champs-Elysées, then go wild when they get the check. Image going to the most expensive hotel in New York City or Los Angeles and ordering a Coke. You’re standing on some of the most expensive real estate in the world on that street and you’re going to pay for that privilege if you choose to park your backside in one of those chairs.

If you want to sit there and enjoy the view, fine, order that €8 Coke, and suck it up. (Watch your belongings!) But I advise skipping a drink on that boulevard (and really, you should be drinking wine, like Sancerre, instead of soda in France anyways..), unless you’re really, really thirsty. In which case, hit the supermarket at the end of the street, number #52, to be precise, and grab a beverage there.

4. Stop Fishing for Scallops

I fell for this once, a long time ago in Switzerland, and ordered the escalopes, thinking I was going to be tucking in some fork-tender, round nuggets of under-the-sea goodness. Hardly. Instead, I was presented with a few thinly-pounded pieces of leathery veal. It wasn’t all that bad, in a chewy-meat kind of way, but I was definitely not getting misted with that dewy, salty spray of the sea.

In French, escalope refers to any kind of boneless meat or poultry (and fish, although rarely) that is thinly-sliced and usually pan-fried. If you want those sweet scallops, order the Coquilles Saint-Jacques, a moniker which has been commandeered by Americans as a dish with scallops served in their shell, with a bunch of other stuff mixed in to fluff it up a bit.

In France, though, the term just means the fresh scallops, sold in their shells, which can be prepared in a variety of ways. Just ask your friendly waiter. Without the shells, they’re called Saint-Jacques or sometimes noix de Saint-Jacques, even though they don’t have any noix (nuts) in them. Perhaps you have to go to a triperie, or a place that specializes in offal to find scallop nuts.

5. Ban the Butter, or Be Breton

I love French butter. Especially the amazing salted butter from Normandy and Brittany. But you’ll never find it served with bread, except in upscale restaurants, in Paris. Bread is meant to be an accompaniment to a meal, not a before-the-first-course course, grabbing for the rolls as soon as the bread basket hits the table. And the French don’t pick up a slice of bread and yank a wad off with their teeth. Bread is meant to be eaten by pulling off a mouth-sized piece, and placing it between your lips. Your teeth should not be showing in public when you eat bread. Which is why, as soon as I get in the elevator of my building alone with a fresh baguette, I rip my incisors into it like a savage beast.

Butter isn’t normally spread on bread except in three instances: 1) Salted butter goes on rye bread, eaten with oysters from Brittany or elsewhere, 2) At breakfast, bread is spread liberally with butter, because it’s from the day before and needs it, and 3) With sausage or cheese, especially bleu cheese. It’s good. Try it!

Waiters are semi-used to being asked for butter by my compatriots, so if you want it and they give you a snarl, tell them you’re from Brittany, a region filled with French people that aren’t as enamored with cheese as they are with butter. So just tell the waiter J’ai besoin d’amann, which is butter, in Breton. I don’t know how to say “I need…” in Breton, so anyone out there who speaks that mystical language is welcome to enlighten me.

6. Don’t Turn Off the Tap

People. The French Middle Ages are long-past. They haven’t sent anyone to the guillotine since 1977 (er…) and people don’t use rags to clean the streets anymore. (er….) and yes, the tap water in Paris is fine to drink. It truly is and live to tell you about it.

Just like there is a movement in other places to stop drinking water in plastic bottles, it’s time to cut down on this folly, which is a huge waste of money and resources. (Disclaimer: I buy water only for my espresso machine and for traveling. But to balance it out, I don’t always flush when I go #1, and sometimes resort to other water-saving measures.)

Even though by now you’ve probably lost your appetite, by law, in a restaurant in France, if you ask for tap water, they have to give it to you. Sometimes it takes a few times for it to sink in that you’re not buying water, and to get the free stuff, but don’t be bullied. And you know those waiters who you don’t want to think you’re a cheapskate order tap water when they go out to eat, too. (Just like those queens with the perfect stubble and 28″ waists at Gucci who sneer at you because you can’t afford that €385 shirt. I never feel bad because if they didn’t work there, they wouldn’t be wearing a €385 shirt either.)

Never feel intimidated into ordering a bottle of water, either just because you’re in Europe and you think you’re supposed to, or because you’re afraid of French water. Just say “Non” to bottled water, in any language.

iced rosé

7. Bring On the Rosé

For some unknown reason, some visitors think it’s very downscale to drink rosé. But much of the rosé in France is pretty good, especially in the summer. And in fact, rosé has overtaken white wine in France and I’m proud to say I’ve done my part to help tip those scales.

Unlike those sugary pink wines from, well, you-know-where, you will rarely come across a sweet rosé in Paris: few people here like drinking sweet wine. So you can order rosé with impunity and not feel like a cheapskate or a dolt. Heck, I even put an ice cube in mine. Just like they do in Marseille. And Parisians know better than to mess with les Marseillais.

But just in case, I included a picture of a carafe that was served to me in Marseilles last summer, which you’re welcome to print out and carry around with you, like I do in case anyone gives me a hard time about putting ice in mine.

salad at le nemrod

8. When is a salade Not a Salad?

I read on one of those travel bulletin board where everybody whines and complains (I’m always, like, “Dude, get a blog. It’s awesome!”), from a furious hotel guest in Paris who ordered a hamburger which the menu said came with salade, and…damn those cheese-eaters!…there was only one leaf of lettuce on his or her plate.

In French, the word salade on its own means lettuce, as in either a head of lettuce, or by-the-leaf. Usually a meal-sized salad is called something like salade Parisienne and can have all sorts of wonderful things on it. Like the salade œuf mollet, above, with bacon, crisp croûtons, and a warm poached egg from Le Nemrod, which I couldn’t resist showing you. (You don’t have to print it out if you go there. They know it already.)

If you want a green salad, ask for a salade verte, a simple “green” salad. Which goes ecologically well with that “green”-minded tap water you’ve ordered, I might add.

9. Hold the Veggies

Some veg head friends of mine came to Paris and went to a vegetarian restaurant up near Montmarte. The next day, they told me how stunned they were that there weren’t any vegetables on the menu. Yes, being a vegetarian can pose a challenge in Paris, although I’ve seen more and more vegetarian restaurants coming across the radar lately, and cafés and other casual places often feature vegetarian dishes, too.

However in regular restos, some non-meat eaters are surprised when they tell the waiter they don’t eat meat, then are presented with a salad…oops, I mean asalade, piled high with ham or bacon. France has an interesting way of categorizing things (and if you don’t believe me, let me tell you about my last appointment at city hall) and at a butcher shop, you’ll find beef and lamb, and sometimes pork. Chicken is at the volailler, although in butcher shops, too. But at a charcuterie, you’ll find pork products and fresh pork, but you won’t find fresh beef or lamb, and not chicken. And if you’re looking for horse to eat, you’ll have to go to a chevaline.

So if you say you don’t eat ‘meat’, that can be translated in a variety of ways. But just to be safe, I’ve memorized how to say that I don’t eat horse in every conceivable language. (Except in Breton. But I think I’m safe.)

Hey, where’s Number 10? Oops, I guess I just made a mistake, too. Okay, so I told you some of my foibles and mishaps in Paris restaurants and cafés. Got any of yours to share, or any to add to this list?

222 comments

  • I love these posts!

    I quite like Parisian tap water. =)

  • is garde robe a french word? here in germany, garderobe means coat rack.

  • In my earlier days here, I had convinced myself that the french word for tea is effectively “thé”. Hoping to achieve a delicious and soothing mint tea, out came a violently black tea with mint à la North African, complete with about 9 tablespoons of sugar and poured at such an altitude that I managed a hairwash and pore cleansing in the process. If you want mint tea, make sure you ask for tisane à la menthe.

  • Great post! I am quickly learning several of these as I am getting used to life on the French-speaking side of Suisse. Too funny about horse, apparently here in Vaud it is also very common on menus. Learning to say “I don’t eat horse” was one of the first phrases I quickly taught myself in French! I don’t know why but I just cannot bring myself to try it.

  • My nummer ten proposition: Don’t order a bottle of water, go for une carafe ;) (I don’t know how the tap water is in Paris, but in southern Alsace it is very good)

  • The filet mignon at Le Garde Robe is fumé — smoked — and served in chunks that look disconcertingly like fresh, raw pork. It’s not bad, though. Just had it last night.

    Years ago I confused “rognons” with “mignon” and I remain eternally grateful to the serveuse who asked me if I was sure I wanted kidneys because I most definitely did not.

    But tell me: What is that onion ring topped dish and where can I get it???

  • This is great – and so true, love it. I remember many a fumble back in 1999 when I first lived in Paris. Culinary curiosity had me ordering the AAAA andouillette – look at all those A’s! The waiter actually talked me out of it. Then there was learning that fromage de tête is not in fact cheese. Nor is ris de veau rice. Oh there must be so many fun ones – will have to check back and see all the funny comments you get on this post for sure ! :)

  • Barbra: I once ordered a cassolette (of tripeaux) thinking I was going to get cassoulet, the Gascon dish with beans, sausage, and duck confit. Boy, was I surprised (and a bit horrified) when presented with a steaming mound of tripe!

    The source of the anchovy-covered onion rings (and baked potato!) I’ll save for another story…

    Nathalie: I’ve figured that one out early on. Mint tea isn’t infusion or tisane because they actually put green tea in it (haven’t seen it with black tea, but it must exist if you got it), and that’s thé à la menthe.

    Joan: You mean you don’t have any of your own gaffes? ; )

  • Tapwater may be fine in Paris, but it does vary from region to region, and even establishment to establishment. I find it can be very hit-or-miss in Languedoc restaurants and bistros. Sometimes it’s perfect, at other times it tastes like a swimming pool.

    Spot on about the rosé though!

  • This is a wonderful wrap up of common mistakes, but just to add my own experiences of having studied French and having lived in France with French families:
    1) The pronunciations of “lillet” and ” le lait” are actually not the same; they are distinct.. the “li” and the “le” parts involve different vowel pronunciations.
    2) The other very common use of butter slathered on bread in France is when fresh radishes are served. The practice is to put some of that delicious butter from Normandy on a piece of baguette and then put a fresh radish on top (or consume immediately thereafter). I still do it this way in the US, and love the flavor combination.

  • Ah… mystery solved! We’ve been living in Belgium for almost six months now and have been ordering petite salade with our meals. We always get weird looks and usually end up with a nice lettuce leaf which annoys my veggie loving kids. Occassionally we actually get a real salad on the side and practically jump for joy. For now on it’s salade vert all the way. Merci David.

  • When I spent a couple of months at school in France, they got me with the “thé”-”tisane” thing, too. But I’m fine with the Maghreb style tea, so that was no problem. ;)

    Luckily my exchange parents prepared me quite well for the French peculiarities one encounters in restaurants. I miss the 3 course meals! ;)

    @becky
    I’d loosely tranlsate the French “garde robe” with “garment watcher”/”Kleiderhüter”. That’s what a German “Garderobe” does. ;)

  • Love this – makes me think back to my first trip to Paris with my high school class. We all went for dinner in the Latin quarter and while my table specified “L’eau du robinet” (tap water), our neighboring table of classmates did not, and ended up racking up a 16 euro charge just for water ( a fortune to sixteen year-olds of course). This was a particularly memorable meal, because a man walked past us down the street with his cat sitting on his shoulder like it was no big deal, and it was my first time trying frog’s legs. (I think they taste like chicken!)

    For all that je parle français, I totally would have mixed up the Mignons.

    My favorite salad has to be the Salad Papa at Chez Papa which in any other country would most definitely NOT qualify as a salad. I think it would fall under the “keep paramedics on standbye / artery clogging excuse for a salad” column of my culinary experiences.

    I would add a tenth, being that people don’t necessarily know how to order foie gras their first time. Cold = gross in my opinion. Made this mistake that first trip. Eighteen euros for nasty cold toast spread with fat. Maybe it takes some getting used to.

    … but Hot/ Fried foie gras? Heaven in my mouth.

  • Wonderful post. I remember the first day I arrived in Belgium as a 17 year old exchange student and I was taken to a restaurant where they had something called an “américain” on the menu and my host dad described it to me – sounded like ground beef. Uh-huh. RAW ground beef. With mayo and a raw egg…

  • I have effectively become a butter addict since I bought butter from a fromagerie one holiday when the supermarket was closed- what a revelation! And I LOVE when they serve you buerre echire in the fancy restaurants, but David, your post does make me ask myself- do I look like a caveman when I put the butter on my bread?!! Admittedly, I couldn’t resist eating it even if I tried, but I’m still curious to know your opinion on this.

  • I almost forgot to add my number 10. Be very careful that when you order fish, it specifies a filet, otherwise you are likely to end up with a fish head on your plate. I remember going to Chartier years ago, a poor fille au pair with no cash to spare on uneaten meals, and learning this lesson the hard way. Oh the horror!

  • Excellent ! and lvoed the comment about water and being cheapskate. It’s true in those shops they couldn t look down on you if they didn t work there !!!!

  • les marseillais, not “les marseilles”, I think ;) .

    About the salad, I think that no-one in france would put on the pricelist “salad” and that’s all, if it’s not the single leaf as a supplement, so it can be a good mnemotechnical way not to be mistaken : salad alone means a leaf of salad alone :). Any other type of composed salad would be announced with other ingredients or a title. What I find funny and what could confuse a customer even more, is that any other ingredient than salad (lettuce, batavia etc) could be combined and served with vinaigrette as a dish, then called “a salad (of this or that)” . For example the lentils with goat cheese and red radishes. No salad in there, but it is a salade for sure :D. I know this is the same in english, but I’m sure that the two definitions are not completely overlapping, which means that’s a source for other mistakes :D.

    Here’s a little game : a list of “real” salads served as a meal exept one which is the single leaf deceiving thing : salade composée – salade niçoise – salade de maïs – salade de la mer – piémontaise – salade de lentilles au chèvre chaud – galette complète salade – salade de pommes de terre – frisée aux lardons – haricots en salade – carottes au cumin.

    ˙ɥsıp ǝpıs ɐ sɐ ‘oʇɐɯoʇ llɐɯs ɐ ɟlɐɥ puɐ sǝʌɐǝl pɐlɐs oʍʇ ɹo ǝuo ɥʇıʍ ‘ƃƃǝ puɐ ɯɐɥ ‘ǝsǝǝɥɔ ɥʇıʍ pǝllıɟ ǝʇʇǝlɐƃ ʇɐǝɥʍʞɔnq ɐ pǝʌɹǝs ǝq ll,noʎ suɐǝɯ ɥɔıɥʍ ‘ǝpɐlɐs ǝʇǝldɯoɔ ǝʇʇǝlɐƃ sı ɹǝʍsuɐ ǝɥʇ

  • On our last (only) trip to Paris, we had such fun trying new things. One of those experiences was your super fun market tour, David, and another was an afternoon tasting wine at O Chateau. After the tasting was over, we asked Olivier for a restaurant recommendation and ended up and a bistro right down the street.

    The speciality of the house was pied de cochon. The look on the waiter’s face when he valiantly tried to explain that it “leeetle piggy feets” while pointing at his foot was priceless. Also fun was watching the entire bistro’s staff swing by our table to check on us while we ate it. We ate as much as we could of it (sooo rich) and scored a few points for the non-ugly-American tourist team.

  • I’ve long discovered that ordering a Croque Monsieur without ham (but say with salmon) is a mistake, a bad move.. It will be denied and I won’t be offered an alternative -I think it’s because it’s a ‘faux pas’ to alter anything on the menu, it’s as is or something else. So, I’ve since then also learned the other croque names ;) Ordering a Croque Norvegien goes smoothly!

  • Mardi> what you saw on the menu is called a filet américain and this is not exactly raw beef : the meat is cooked by the acids of vinegar and lemon juice in the well seasonned sauce mixed in. It’s very tasty and do NOT taste like simple raw meat. Sometimes it is served the same way than le steack tartare (which is raw meat too but with more dry seasonnings, shallots and câpres), with an egg yolk in the center. however the filet américain isn’t traditionnally served with the egg yolk, since it already has a lot of sauce.

    It’s different from what is called un américain especially in the north of france : a sandwitch made with la baguette and some spiced, recomposed fried meat, served opened, covered with french fries and a slab of sauce (mayonnaise for example, or samouraï pepper sauce) .

    michmom> I leave just 15mn away from belgium in france, and I’ve noticed that belgium restaurants are the worst for the salad, you’re right ! it’s not at all in their culture to serve raw greeneries as a side dish. One or twice in belgium I’ve ordered my hamburger “with salad” , and even if I was hoping to get only the french style “three leaves of salad and half a tomato side dish”, all I got was ONE leave of lettuce inside the sandwitch :[. I was really dissappointed.

  • Just want to say I’m so glad I found your blog through smitten kitchen – it is a treasure trove of French tidbits. A great source of information as I plan my first trip to Paris in April.

  • I’m definitely in the camp that says, ‘Une carafe d’eau, s’il vous plait.’

  • Number 10 could surely be the common mistake of ordering cafe au lait which, as you have explained in previous posts, is only consumed at home with breakfast. I made this blunder, and the waiter discreetly corrected me and brought a cafe creme.

    Nicole, a fish head on your plate is a challenge worth taking on. My husband insists that cooking the whole fish gives it more flavour, and I agree. I’ve had to learn to eat fish off the bone like the locals, but it is worth it.

  • On mistake #2, I’m going rogue and ordering a Kir Royal.

  • nicole – the fish head is there for two reasons. Firstly, so you can see that the fish is fresh (stare that bugger in the eye). Secondly, so that you can eat the cheek.

    David – do you have to use bleu instead of blue when referring to cheese. With the French pronunciation it sounds like blurg cheese and with many Americans’ attitude to blue cheese that is not good.

  • I really enjoy your blog David! Many Anglo-Saxon people write about France and are too often ‘juste à côté de la plaque’ (just slightly off center): I’m French so, of course, it annoys me but you know how to hit the target full on!
    You’re right about resisting the sale of bottled water although ‘Non, merci’ works far better than a simple ‘non’. The more polite and pleasant you are with the waiters the better they’ll look after you, so if you want to ‘les mettre dans votre poche’ (get them on your side) ask them for their advice about an item on the menu…it (nearly) always work!

  • Davvvveeeeeedddd! I clicked through from my blogroll to print your CBS recette and – merde! – page not found. Quelle horreur! I loved this article, too, bien sur, but is there something incorrect with the CBS recipe? Otherwise I will copy by hand and attempt this weekend. Merci mille fois…

  • #7: Oui, Oui.
    But could you send some exporters to Calgary to explore new markets? Our Rose selection truly est la mer%e.

  • This post made me laugh, roll my eyes more than once and almost cry. On my recent trip, a friend of mine ordered a “passion” in a restaurant – it was a blended fruit juice offered on their drinks menu. The waiter then steps out and places a pint in front of him. He had heard “pression”. Luckily, he was lovely and replaced it with the juice in seconds. And as a vegetarian, I can’t tell you how many sighs of sympathy and gasps of horror were thrown at me – Tu es vegetarienne? Oui mais tu mange le poisson? No? D’accord mais tu mange le poulet? Or, one guy even asked me “Mais tu mange le foie gras? Tu ne veux pas essayer?”. Huh. A girl even tried to convince me that because I didn’t eat fish or chicken, I was “vegetalienne”, not “vegetarienne”. I still can’t figure out what she meant. It’s not just the French though – a friend of mine who grew up in Ghana recently asked me if I ate offal. Apparently she only considers the muscle to be meat.

  • I studied in Brussels for a semester and while I didn’t have any unpleasant surprises, it was definitely an awakening to cultural differences. I was vegetarian at the time and when our American group ate meals together, they were preordered and a vegetarian option was arranged for us. What I didn’t anticipate was, on more than one occasion, a plate of arranged steamed vegetables presented as the entire entree. It was always artfully arranged with several different veggies and always with a tomato topped with breadcrumbs in the middle, but it certainly wasn’t satisfying! I had excellent luck in grocery shopping, however. Soy products were plentiful, as was Quorn, a brand I certainly didn’t expect to find. Thus, I fully agree that while you can be vegetarian and eat out in Europe, don’t expect tofu, beans, or a legume-grain combination unless visiting an ethnic restaurant from a culture with some history of vegetarianism.

  • I loved this post! Being French living in the US, it makes me laugh (and reflect).
    Regarding salades, I think that one of the other oddities of French menu is that a salade de crudites (raw vegetables) comes to encompass cooked vegetables as well (beets, artichokes, etc.)…
    The other thing I have seen many of my Anglo-Saxon friends have trouble with is ordering a “steak tartare”, thinking they will get a steak with Tartare Sauce… when it’s really a raw piece of meat (beef nowadays but it used to be horse) with one raw egg and spices.
    Also, not to confuse l’entree (the appetizer) and le plat principal (the entree)…
    Voila! Bon Appetit!

  • Do they really wrap baked potatoes in foil en France? It reduces the nice crispy skin to mush.

  • Well, being very new at French and still a bit uncertain of my grammar, I ordered “du cafe” which I meant as “some coffee.” Well, the waiter came back and gladly served me “deux cafes,” and I felt very silly sitting there drinking two cups of espresso.

    Thanks so much for sharing your tips! It made me smile and reminded me of how much I miss living in France!

  • “Noix”, apart from meaning “nut”, sometimes refers to the heart or core or inside of something, and thus the inside of the scallop (inside the shell).

    Thanks for the great tips! So many pitfalls in France…

  • “Noix”, apart from meaning “nut”, sometimes refers to the heart or core or inside of something, and thus the inside of the scallop (inside the shell).

    Thanks for the great tips! So many pitfalls in France…

  • This is too funny. The bit about what is considered meat reminds me of the year I spent in Spain. I have a deadly fish allergy, which the host family I lived with knew about. One morning, I come into the kitchen and my host Senor has newspapers everywhere and is butchering an absolutely enormous tuna on the table. His fingers are covered in fish bits and he’s got this giant knife in hand. He looks up and gestures at me (said fish bits of death flying in my direction) “Se puede comerlo, no?” (You can eat this, right). I tell him “I can’t eat fish.” His response is what really gets at the different food categories in other countries: “But, it’s such a meaty fish.” What he said might better translate to “meat-like fish” but in his head this tuna was closer to meat than fish. Needless to say I did not partake in any “meat-like fish” but my host sister told me it was delicious.

  • I live in Geneva, Switzerland and have had some amusing mistakes speaking french with an Australian accent (somehow i got a glass of milk when ordering Thé de menthe…). We spend a lot of time in the mountains and they have a perchant for sprinkling pork products on absolutely everything including soup, salads, cheese, the list goes on. I have fallen in to the habit of ordering everything “sans porc”, i sometimes forget and do it in geneva and get some very odd looks from the waiters.

  • We’ve thankfully managed to avoid too many faux pas’ in Paris, but the worst was definitely when we went to a restaurant and ordered raclette. This was my fault – when I was younger, I had a book about dishes from around the world which included raclette – the illustration, of cheese smothered potatoes, was enough to stay with me for life. What I didn’t realise is that eating it in a restaurant involves them bringing almost a whole round of cheese to you, propped up in a contraption above a flame, and with potatoes and meat served on an additional plate. After ten minutes of feeling awkward and frantically looking around to see what other people were doing (which was useless because they’d all been sensible and ordered fondue), the waiter indulged us and showed us what we were meant to do. By which point everyone was staring at the strange English people with bright red cheeks. Needless to say, we’ve stuck with more easy to eat options on subsequent visits!

  • I once ordered Un Salad in a Paris restaurant and was presented with a pile of fried Liver!!
    The waiter who with a sneer denied speaking English came back later and asked me in perfect English “Didn’t you like your salad?” Beeotch!

  • To find horse meat, you’ll have trouble finding a “chevalier” (a knight ?!), but will have more luck looking for a “boucherie chevaline” (horse butcher ?), which serves horse meat exclusively.

    végétarien = vegetarian
    végétalien = vegan, I think (no products derived from animals, like eggs or cheese)

    There is some funny names for tap water, like
    in Paris : “Chateau Delanoe” (Castle Delanoe, like Castle Laffite), Delanoe being the current mayor of Paris (it was “Chateau Chirac” before)
    “Chateau la Pompe” (Castle the Pump)
    Asking for “une carafe” is asking for tap water.
    In the same cheap way, it’s common for a restaurant (not high end) to have both wine bottles and wine “pichets”. if you order “un pichet de rouge” (pee shay), you’ll get 0.5 l of red wine in a carafe, at a low price.
    A classic morning collation around “marchés” is “6 huitres et un quart de blanc” which are 6 oysters and 0.25l of dry white wine.

    @ameea asking for a salad without bacon is tolerated, but asking to remove the ham from the Croque Monsieur, which is close to a national institution, is not a good idea :)

    There is two types of “salades” on a menu.
    “salades composées” (composed salades) which are “une entrée” (an appetizer), often with meat or fish (price = 4-8 EUR). There are some without lettuce at all.
    “salade verte” or “bol de salade” (green salad / salad bowl), price = 1-3 EUR which is just lettuce in a bowl with dressing, to serve side of “un plat” (an entree).

    Fromage de tete is a charcuterie (pork terrine)
    Ris de veau is an offal, which are quite rare since ESB crisis (it’s the veal thymus)

  • I wish I had printed this entire post (or had at least read it!) when I went to Paris last fall… would have saved me a lot of shame/guilt about all the eye rolls I got from snobby waiters!

    Though, after reading this, I’m a little heartsick and want to go back immediately!!

  • Elizabeth, there are some wonderful vegetarian restaurants in Europe – they are just rather specialized and not plentiful, so you have to do some research before you arrive. The Happy Cow website is a good source. David has entries on veggie places in Paris.

    We found great vegetarian food near Brussels, in Bruges and Leuven. And of course in Paris, where the falafal places are so amazing I could eat there every day.

  • hey Daveeed,
    CHEVALIER is a handsome prince riding a white horse (a knight), not a butcher OMG :-) CHEVALINE is the word for boucherie chevaline, I think, though I’m not used to shopping there ^^

    Oops! Thanks…
    : ) david

  • Excellent post! At the opposite, having made the migration to the anglophone world I find this incredibly funny, and i have had to go through similar episodes.
    Probably one of the most disappointing encounter in Britain is the battered rings: As a french person, I’d expected calamari rings to be inside, but ohhhhh no, onion rings they are systematically…
    I also had the similar issue of wanting to have a ‘salade’ and ending up with a salad!
    A long time ago for some reason i thought breased steak was charcoal grilled steak (‘braise’ in french means ember in English!), so i asked for the steak ‘blue’. The look of the waitress.. Indeed, braised steak is a stew (delicious by the way). Ooooops!…

  • Ah yes, the things you really only learn while living there… :)

    I must second the “une carafe” reference. If you make a point of asking for “UNE CARAFE d’eau” and look the waiter pointedly in the eye, you will not get bottled water and be charged. And if they bring you a super-dinky bud vase sized one (which we’ve had done), I immediately ask for 3 more. “Nous sommes américaines… nous buvons beaucoup d’eau. C’est normale. Nous sommes bien hydratées!” I don’t care if they think we’re weird–in the summer, I want a drink of water, not a sip. They are often doing that to make a point that we’re too cheap for bottled water. If so, I keep them running. I hate snotty waiters, and have enough skills to chew them out in French, and not enough humility to do so quietly. ;-)

    BTW, David, if you ever get to the 13th (say to go to l’Oisive-Thé), do bring a few empties and stop at the pool. The Bièvre fountain water is wonderful, artisian well water, and is free to fill up. You see people there all day long, filling bottle to take home. We lived 2 streets away, so our tap water was excellent.

    Oh, and next time I’m there maybe we should go out together. Being a woman, it’s rare for me to go to a resto and not be brought a free kir without even asking, with some for my husband, too. :) And I don’t refuse…

  • When I was in Paris on a boondoggle stopover for work at age 23, I took myself to lunch at the Plaza Athenee. Proud of my fluency with the language, I ordered a lovely salmon plat, and a demi-bouteille of what I believe was Chateau Climens. The waiter kindly but firmly suggested that my choice was inappropriate, as the wine I’d selected was a Sauternes, of which I was ignorant at the time. I suspect if my French had been worse and I hadn’t been a young American thing he’d have let me suffer in my ignorance.
    Also: the fish IS better with the head on, and the best part of eating fish in France is the fish knives.
    Finally, I have had luck bending the rules in Paris, but only in connection with feeding my charming moppets; there’s something about asking for a “p’tit pot de Bearnaise a cote” for my older daughter that completely charms every server to whom I’ve made the request.

  • Du beurre avec du from’? Jamais, mon dieu! A part, OK, pour un Normand ou un Breton, mais sinon, non. Avec du jambon, oui, apres tout, y a le fameux jambon-beurre mais pas avec du saucisson! Ah la la, les Parisiens… ;)

  • Very funny post.
    I order two things that French waiters seems to hate.
    1) I love Pastis and I see no reason why I can not drink it all night. In Aix a waiter refused to give me a Pastis after my meal.
    2) As I don’t drink black coffee I stick to café crème whenever I want the tast and effect of coffee. A café crème is also difficult to get from a French waiter after my evening meal.

  • My gaff on my first trip to Paris was to enter a salon, I believe in un grand magasin, and requestEd to have my horse washed and cut. They were very graciuos to immediately speak English to me. More recently I wasn’t sure about a menu item-it was pumpkin soup served in the mini pumpkin. My dilemma though was shared with the server. She and neighboring diners were delighted along with me when it was served. A genuinely pleasant memory. It reminded me of Thanksgiving in New England.

  • Nicole — I agree that the fish is better when it’s whole. So just order “une salade” on the side and cover that staring eye with that lone lettuce leaf—problem solved.
    And I’ll drink it in a café, but I’m not giving up my kir!

  • My biggest culinary mistake went as follows:
    1) Read with quiet scepticism the horror stories surrounding the fabled Andouillette, (intestine sausage) but heed the warnings, until…
    2) I try a little piece of a (French) friend’s Andouillette, find it delicious and wonder what all the fuss was about.
    3) Later on, I order it myself, to discover the true horror. The taste is sublime, but the eater is cloaked in a cloud of stench most indelicate; the result of cooked gastric juices. Every time the sausage is revisited to uncover more delicious intestines, a fresh wave of nausea passes over the lucky diner.

    The trick, so I’m told, is to smother the sausage in a protective layer of mustard: I might try it again one day.

  • I am so embarassed that I ordered a kir with our Parisian friends last summer! They’re my favourite aperitif, especially when we are eating out! Nobody said anything, but they probably thought “Oh la la, la Canadienne qui sait pas que les kirs sont plus a la mode….” I’m hiding my head in shame.

  • Don’t forget jambon-beurre sandwiches, which were one of the staples of every café 30-mumble years ago when I lived in Paris. And the canteen at the place I worked used to give you butter with your bread when it was Roquefort cheese, but not unless.

    And different cultures do have different pooh-traps-for-Heffalumps – I was most disappointed in the USA, ordering a side salad, to find that I was expected to eat it first, rather than alongside my main course, and that it was very dull iceberg lettuce with a couple of slices of cucumber and a couple of slices of tomato! What, no sweetcorn? No grated carrots? No grated celeriac? No beetroot…. (not that I like beetroot, but still).

    The thing to order in France when you’ve been eating out too much and are desperate for vegetables is a plate of crudités, raw veg, which are lovely (unless they have beetroot in them).

    And on the rare occasions I do want an apéro (there’s a resto we go to in Lille where at weekends your apéro, your wine, your coffee/tea/tisane AND your bottled water are all included in the very modest price) I order “une coupe”, which is a glass of champagne.

  • I am so embarassed that I ordered a kir with our Parisian friends last summer! They’re my favourite aperitif, especially when we are eating out! Nobody said anything, but they probably thought “Oh la la, la Canadienne qui sait pas que les kirs sont plus a la mode….” I’m hiding my head in shame.

  • Hi David,

    If you want to kick the rest of your bottled water habit, here’s a tip that worked for me. The slightly off taste of tap water is just chlorine. If you let the tap water rest, the chlorine will evaporate. Faster in a pitcher (a day?), slower in a plastic bottle with the cap on (one week?), but it will go away eventually.

    I keep two plastic bottles filled with tap water in my fridge. When the front one is empty, I refill it and put it at the back. That way I always have good tasting tap water on hand, without any need for filters. (Obviously, you don’t need to keep them in the fridge if you don’t like your water cold.)

  • Loved this entry and hope to use it to avoid embarrassment when I finally GET to Paris.
    Unrelated question – what happened to the salted butter caramels that Ruhlman referenced? Did a search and got the “Merde!” window. Ce qui se passe?

  • “Perhaps you have to go to a triperie, or a place that specializes in offal to find scallop nuts.”

    Hahahahahaha!

    Oh David, I love you. I’m so glad I found you. You crack me up.

    One of my biggest faux pas in Paris was ordering the assiette de fromage along with/ before our main course, instead of following for dessert. The waiter looked at us like we were a couple of banshees.

  • What! Here I have been thinking I was all cool knowing what apertif to order. I love love love a kir before dinner. I also love them at home with wine that’s been open a little too long. Did not get that memo for sure. So what do I order now instead? Please help.

  • I loved Paris! We heard horror stories about how the French hate Americans and that they will be completely rude to us. It turns out that is not the case, we found the Parisians to be very kind, friendly and helpful. I have to tell you I enjoyed our coke on the Champs-Elysées, we ate the best Panini sandwich with it (I mean the best, we still dream about that Panini years later). Their eggs are the only thing we didn’t really care for. They like their eggs a little on the wet and runny side for me. This is just me, but an omelet is suppose to be dry not sitting in egg liquid. We probably made lots of American faux pas, but it couldn’t be helped they really do have the best bread and butter! We always pulled the bread apart we didn’t eat it with our teeth, though. I hope that redeems us a little. We had some of the best Ahi tuna and pizza in Paris too!

  • I really am going to try and remember all this for my trip to Paris…….but I am still thinking about that fried foie gras I just read about in an above comment. This blog is so not good for my diet.

  • I once took a friend to Shakespeare and Company, where she emptied her water bottle. As you know, there’s a Wallace Fountain just outside. I suggested she refill her water bottle there. You would have thought I was offering her poison. I had to remind her that people have been using those fountains for a long, long time and, to my knowledge, no one has died.

  • Violet: J’oublie! C’est pas un sandwich sans le beurre….

    Christian: I have a Brita filter and while that doesn’t make the sparkly water that I like (there is a €200 device that does that, which I’m not ready to spring for…) it works well.

    Kristin: I’m not so sure I’m ready to give up on kirs, either. I kind of like them, even if they are passé. May need to do more research!

    Richard: That much be the same place I had the tripe : )

  • …and for those who asked about the caramel recipe, I wanted to test it again before posting. So look for it next week!

  • Hello David!!

    My #10 would be to ALWAYS greet your server – preferably in french. While in Paris, we had stopped at a small shop for our afternoon ice cream. When we entered the shop there were four Americans ahead of us who were just about to order. They started off by saying – very slowly, in English ” We want this one – while trying to point to the container of the flavor they wanted. No “bonjour” no “hello”, nothing. After the server dished up their ice cream they looked at their ice cream containers and said they needed spoons. The server replied that she did not have any spoons. This clearly annoyed these people who started complaining about the incompetence of the french as they walked off – wondering aloud how they were going to eat their small containers of ice cream without spoons!! My son, who was next, stepped up greeted the server in the most mangled french possible and politely made his request. The server happily scooped his ice cream and added a spoon to go with it!!!
    So the moral is if you want a spoon for your ice cream in Paris ask for it in french!!!

  • A few years ago in Lyon, I ordered something a bit randomly in a restaurant, and my friend leaned over and said, “You know, that’s brains.” I sort of gulped, but went with it. They arrived in their own little pot, in a little broth, and were all smooth and white and glimmering. They did not taste particularly brain-y, and their texture was firmer than I was expecting, but then they didn’t taste like much of anything at all.

    It wasn’t until I was in the market the next day that I realized what had happened: I’d ordered plain old ‘quenelles’ (fish dumpling thingies), and my friend had thought I’d ordered ‘cervelles’ (brains).

    I can’t believe I spent a whole dinner being faintly squeamish for no reason.

    (And the night after that, I ordered andouillette, thinking it was just some sort of normal sausage, and then choking down a nasty pee-flavored intestine sausage that not even huge spoonfuls of mustard could fix. I really felt wronged by the French at that dinner.)

  • About andouillette, which is a delicacy for some (including me) and a sack of sh.. for others (including some French ppl), the AAAAA Andouillette is a traditional andouillette certified by the
    Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique
    Friendly association of “authentic andouillette” amateurs

    Andouillette or Boudin, with roasted apples, garlic and parsley… mmm….

  • Oh, and I forgot to mention, it took me about a year to explain to my Belle Mere that I don’t eat meat. She kept making me chicken (volaille), rabbit (gibier) and seafood, none of which I eat. I think she finally gets it now, but they always try to convince me that I’d really like it (ummm, no I wouldn’t).

    And I concur on the roquefort and butter. When I was beginning my love of bleu they showed me how to mash it together with butter with the tines of my fork and spread it on a piece of baguette. It’s delish and I think the best way to start appreciating strong cheese.

  • My memorable restaurant incident was when my husband ordered andouille in Reims. The waiter said “AH, you know andouille!” My husband, instantly suspicious because he does but it’s American andouille. After the waiter explained it was a white sausage my husband ordered it only to find out when it arrived that it is nothing like American style andouille – it is filled with lungs, intestines, and various organs. Extremely strong flavored. Not something your average American would like.

    Years later I ordered it myself (long story why) and my waitress said “ah, you know andouille?” I nodded and she said, “Pas pour moi!” It turned out to be very different from the original andouille cut with duck and served with a strong mustard it was very good.

  • Thanks for the tip about ordering a kir in Paris. When I learned French in an intensive/immersion type course in college the study course we used was a video course called “French in Action” wherein the lovely French mademoiselle Mireille, who wouldn’t have known a “soutien-gorge” if one hit her in the head, meets hapless American Robert at the Jardin du Luxembourg and then proceeds to spend the next 25 lessons ordering kir royales at every cafe in Paris and arguing with her little sister. I saw one on public television the other night and nearly bust a gut laughing at it. But I know the urge to order a kir in Paris when we go next year would’ve been too overwhelming to resist, so thanks for saving me!

  • I bake my own bread with starter I have had longer than my current partner (which is a long time, actually, even for me). Slathering fresh butter from my local dairy guys at the farmers’ market onto my fresh bread may not be very French, but DAMN it’s good. Poor Frenchies!

  • I easily have a #10 for your list.

    Don’t ask for a doggie bag or any other sort of mechanism to take what’s left over from your meal home with you!

  • This summer we found many people ordering kir in Dijon, but perhaps it is seen differently there than in Paris.

  • Thank you for showing the carafe of rose with ice in it. I got hooked on rose from Provence a couple of summers ago (not always easy to find here in D.C.) and always put a cube or two in my glass. Now I don’t feel like such a yahoo.

  • I avoid the Lillet confusion by specifying which type I would like. Lillet blonde or Lillet rouge. That prevents any confusion with lait. Or, at least, will get a confused look from the barman instead of having the wrong beverage poured.

  • hmm…how about: yes, steak tartare is indeed RAW BEEF. and yes, you are meant to eat it.

    (still giggling over your milk on a doily).

  • hmm…how about: yes, steak tartare is indeed RAW BEEF. and yes, you are meant to eat it.

    (still giggling over your milk on a doily).

  • I have twice (separated by about 10 years) accidentally ordered rognons de veau, which for some reason looked to me like it ought to me veal cut in small rounds, rather than kidneys (and my French is actually pretty good, I swear!). I think I’ve finally learned the word this time…

  • When DH and I went to Paris some years ago for our honeymoon, we went to lunch at Le Grand Vefour so that we could have that real “three star” experience.

    After persuing the prix fixe options (and lusting after for the unaffordable pigeon Price Rainer that a party a few tables away was having), I ordered tete de veau as my plat. Our waiter immediately conferred with the maitre d’ about our order and the maitre d’ came over and inquired in a thick Parisian accent

    “Madame ‘as ordaired ze tete de veau?”

    I replied:

    “Oui, yes.”

    Quite alarmed, the maitre d’ proceeded on, he gestured to the proper anatomical parts while speaking

    “Does madame realize dat ze tete de veau eez ze braihns ahnd ze chicks of ze veau?”

    I replied:

    “Oui, yes. I am told that they are tres delicieuse.”

    The maitre d’s face cleared somewhat as he explained (again, with the hand gestures)”

    “Ze Americaines usually do not like ze braihns and ze chicks of ze veau when zey come to ze table mais they air vraiment delicieuse. I weel ‘have ze chef prepare zem for you especiallment.”

    When my plat came, the maitre d’, the waiter, the back waiter, and the sommelier all huddled anxiously. They were very happy when I announced that the veal cheeks were so tender that one only needed a fork to cut them and that the brains were indeed, delicious.

    Clearly, the staff had dealt with quite a few Americans who did not realize that offal is not awful! Good thing I did not tell them how I really felt about the fried frisee that was the side . . .

  • Yes, a big thanks for that lovely picture of Rose’. I have dreams of going to Paris one day soon, but in the meantime, I can buy a lovely French Rose(just seasonally) at Costco—yes Costco liquor department. I stock up whenever I see it, usually stacked at the end of an aisle. I can’t remember the name, but it’s a nice un-sweet rose’, very reasonably priced too.

  • Do French wines have sulfites added? All the wine sold here in the US have sulfites added except two that I have found. I can only drink organic wine with no sulfites added because sulfites give me horrendous migraines. In the US, I can only drink a wine from S. Africa called Stellar and another one called Frey — not as good as Stellar. Whole Foods and Central Market sells them in the US, but restaurants don’t.
    So I always have to drink water when I go out to a restaurant and everyone is drinking wine or whatever — bummer. It seems like when I was in Italy that the wine didn’t have sulfites added — is that a US thing?

  • ah, well, what would a visit to Paris be without a linguistic or culinary gaff?

    My husband was a vegetarian at the time of our visit, and, while out at a restaurant in Montmartre he attempted to order “spaghetti” (or something like it) without meat sauce. The waiter brought him a plate of boiled pasta and a bottle of catsup!

    As for me, mine was of a linguistic nature. If I remember correctly, many Paris pubs serve food early in the day, but stop serving in the evening. After a long walk down Champs Élysées, we stopped in a pub sort of place to see if we could get some food still or if they had stopped serving food. I tried to ask the barman (who was very old, and missing a good many teeth) if we could “have dinner still?” but accidentally asked if we, meaning he and I, could “go to dinner?” He got a good long chuckle before answering “Bien sur!” and then, in English as unsteady as my French, indicated that no, they had stopped serving food, but he’d be happy to go out with us!

    He appreciated my willingness to try as much as my embarrassment at my mistake…

  • What I have learned while traveling in Europe, never drink soda. Why in the world would you, wine is better, and costs far less than a soda. I have generally found the house wine where ever I have been to be quite good. Soda tends to be outrageously expensive no matter where you go overseas.

    French Rose is fantastic. I discovered it a couple of years ago, and generally keep several bottles on hand. It is inexpensive, and seems to be good if you serve it colder or even at room temperature. I think sadly we associate any rose with white zin.

    I’ll keep your tips in mind. A lot of your suggestions also work well with Germany and Italy from my experience.

  • This was so interesting! Thank you. My biggest problem in Paris was not remembering the price of the daily special as written on the chalkboard outside. I think they bank on it in some places. I paid way too much a couple of times because they took advantage of my excitement to be in ‘Paris’.

  • Oh gosh…I don’t know if this is a common thing but we tried to order coffee and a roll standing at the counter for breakfast one morning as the locals were doing and the proprietress steered us to a table to sit instead. When the check arrived we learned coffee and a roll costs around five dollars standing at the counter and seventeen sitting at a table.

  • My 84-year-old dad drinks rosé (the sweet stuff from you-know-where), and he always puts ice in it. He’s never been to Marseille; he’s just unsophisticated. But he’ll be amused to hear about this. :-D

    Love the hint about scallop nuts . . .

  • I love the sharing of your everyday experiences…things I can be aware of when the day comes that Paris is in my flight plan. After many years of learning French that I never used; I’m sure to make plenty of my own gaffes but maybe not all of the above!

  • So David, what IS the “ok” apero? The kir royale is my house cocktail here in NJ..and I really enjoyed the kirs I’ve had in France. Drat! I have to order something else? Then what? Sancerre? tomato juice? Please inform.
    My French teacher, from Lyon and now Paris, doesn’t drink any alcohol. Somehow she was born without that wine-loving gene. She tells me she just drinks l’eau mineral as it aids her digestion. Seems like a good substitute to me…but not a cheap one.

  • Well, you’ll probably never read this — 88 comments — that’s amazing.
    First I would like to chime in on the delights of the french rose. About 10 years ago I made my first trip of many to Ramatuelle, in the hills above St. Tropez. The trip over, with my 2 young children was more than difficult. The winds that night (up on the hill) kept me up all night. By morning I had turned into Mr. Hyde (or is Dr. Jeckyll the evil one?) My husband brilliantly recognized I needed a break. He handed me a handful of francs and the car keys.

    I drove through the vineyard covered hills and ended up on a main road where there was a bakery and a line of people. I pulled in. I found some lovely strawberries, bread, and on the rotissiere I spotted some suculent looking chickens and pork loins. Then I saw a cooler filled with frosty bottles of rose wine – in that fish like shape that they use. I made my way back to my car and counted out how much I had to spend, thankfully my husband was feeling generous.

    I’ll never forget standing in line — deeply tanned (albeit, weathered) bodies with classic blue and white “speedo” style suits (they looked fabulous), people riding up on the bicycles to purchase their picnic for the day, most everyone wearing worn, striped espadrilles: french, french, french, serious french stuff everywhere! I felt like I was in a movie! I brought back a splendid lunch for our household and learned about the pleasures of rose.

    I love the local rose, light, not too sweet, lower alcohol. It is so nice when lounging on the beach (yes, with the ice cubes). We have a couple of wine shops in the area (and our whole foods) who carry those lovely little simple french roses. I buy mine by color: I find the more pale/ coral colored wine are less sweet. The deeper red, more intensly colored wines I find to be sweeter/ heavier.

    I am about to post the recipe for a chicken soup I like to make and serve with aioli and rose that brings me back to that region. I love the beach club Noiulargo, and the boulibaisse from Chez Camille. The soup is made with pernod, fennel root and saffron.

    Here’s my ordering mishap, if you have to move on to all of your other comments, I understand. We have a bakery in Seattle that sells a pastry called an “escargot”, which is essentially a “pain au raisin”. So, I was being all smarty pants and told my friend to order one for breakfast (an “escargot”), while our other (fluent french) friend shook her head. Of course, my friend, dying for a pastry, was served a plate of snails in a delightful garlic sauce for breakfast. So, I am wondering — have you ever seen the name “escargot” used for a roll of puff pastry with custard and raisins??

    Thank you for your tales of france — I am coming over this Spring to do the Haute Route.

  • Oh, one more question; doesn’t “garde de robe” have a meaning akin to a toilet or something? I haven’t been studying French that long but I have heard the phrase.

  • great post!

    My will be: don’t count on good kosher food in Paris.
    It’ a real disaster…but maybe it has changed???? doubt it!

  • Once in a provincial city, we were sitting outside at a restaurant and my daughter needed to go to the bathroom. I told her to ask someone inside, “où est la toilette.” The couple at the next table corrected me. It’s (as you know, David) always les toilettes, even if there is only one bathroom, even if it’s a hole in the floor.

  • Scallop nuts, indeed!
    David, are you referred to as an “Anglo Saxon?” I always laugh when I see that, considering how inaccurate it is in defining Americans. I think I’ll be a Vandal.
    Wonderful post.
    Watch out for “asino” on the menu in northern Italy.

  • Love the story about getting the tall glass of milk. I made a similar mistake in Italy, ordering a “latte” at the coffee counter. “Hot or cold,” the barman asked. “Hot!” of course. I wondered why he’d ask such a silly question. And then I sheepishly drank my cup of hot milk, trying to look suave about the whole thing.

  • After Starbucks came to my city I drank cappuccinos almost daily. Then when I went to Italy I ordered one after dinner and the waiter told me no because they were a breakfast drink…who knew? It’s moments like those that you feel culturally deprived….

  • Oh well I will just have to be unfashionable and keep on drinking my kir royales (although my french friend also has one when we are ‘ladies who lunch’!).

    But at least I am fashionable in drinking rose – a happy accident a few years ago when I discovered that french rose is delightful.

    Cracked the ‘un carafe d’eau svp’ a while ago – although sometimes you have to remind the waiter. I notice that many people at lunch only have that to drink.

    Often have a pichet instead of a named wine and so far its always been highly drinkable.

    Thanks for the useful tips about the pitfalls

    Eli

  • I am going to Paris for the first time in June. I have been to Spain many times a long time ago. I put your blog on my I google because I love food and I think I will love Paris. If anyone knows how to order regular black tea plain, please let me know. I am a die hard tea drinker Russian style) no sugar. Should I bring my own tea bags and just ask for hot water or is that a gaff too. I am impressed with the amount of French known by the commentors. I am studying now and on my 13th lesson and haven’t learned the word for we instead of I until I looked at this blog. I speak Spanish and find it easier in a way than when I had to study Japanese. I was a teacher in Japan. I thought it would be harder for me because of the similarities but sometimes, I lapse into Japanese or Spanish. Thinking of making believe I speak only a bit of French and Spanish to annoy the rude waiters. Please let me know about the tea. I would hate to pull out my “Lipton bags” in front of the waiters.
    Thank’s David for the great blog

  • I once ordered a glass of white wine and the waiter almost brought me some green tea. They sound similar especially if your French isn’t very good. I also learned that asking for white meat when ordering chicken doesn’t mean you will get a chicken breast, just the type of chicken. I am not a fan of chicken legs and dark meat but always ended up with them. It takes a while to figure out those French menus.

  • Joanna: From what I see, the most popular drink at a café now is a glass of beer. However some of the bobo (trendy) crowd seems to be enjoying mojitos, which are offered at two-for-one prices or on special at le happy hour!

    Maya: The French drink a lot of tea (there’s a gazillion tea salons around town) and when you go to a café, there are usually a few different varieties you can choose from; some waiters will present you with a wooden box of bags, to choose your own. So feel free to specify if you want Earl Grey, English Breakfast, etc…or whatever you want. And feel free to ask the waiter what the selection is, too. It’s not an out-of-line thing to do in the least. (But bringing your own tea bag, is.)

    Margaret: Interestingly, you’ll see Parisian women (I don’t see many men..) drinking café crèmes in the afternoon, around 4pm or so with friends. I think because the small cups of café express don’t lend themselves to lingering.

    Maureen: €17?? I hope that was for both of you. I once, in my early days, ordered a coffee or something at the bar, then walked over to a table with it, and sat down. I saw the waiter and barman (silently) freaking, picked up on it, and paid the ‘table’ price for my faux pas. Oops…

    Colleen: The French eat plenty of butter, but they don’t spread it on bread during meals, except at breakfast. However, as mentioned, it does make an appearance alongside cheese platters, and charcuterie, as well. So they’re anything but deprived!

    Stephanie: I have an Orangina once in a while if sitting in a café, but I have a friend that comes to Paris with her grandchildren, and like most American kids, they all order a few rounds of Cokes. Because the bottles are much smaller than they’re used to, she ends up paying a fortune for those sodas. I’m sure as soon as they’re old enough to drink, she’ll make them drink wine : )

  • If you really wish to discover French civilisation in a sausage get thee to a good butcher and ask for his homemade “saucisse de Toulouse”
    - one rarely if ever finds this divine delicacy in restaurants. Put in cold water and boil for some 15 minutes. It is a pure meat sausage incomparably spiced just as its famous rival, the saucisse de Lyon with green pistache nuts.
    As for coffee with milk after a meal, ask for a “noisette” which is a little espresso with milk. You can also order “une café allongé” also called “café américain”, espresso diluted with hot water for Americans not used to the strength of French coffee. If on the contrary you want very strong coffee, order “un petit café bien serré”
    This means getting your espresso so concentrated there may not be more than two small mouthfuls in your cup.
    As for fish do not forget the homemade bliss in a “brandade de morue”
    fine mashed cod (bonefree) in creamed potato, a gratin related to the famous Portuguese “bacalhau”. Usually served at lunch, not expensive, delicious and perfect for vegetarians, have a “salade verte” on the side with your carafe d´eau.
    I live in the Paris l9th arrondissement by the divine park of Buttes Chaumont where tap water comes from sources 800 m down below since the 14th century.
    Water in Paris tastes different depending on where you are.
    Believe me the finest quality is by me!