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

  • ´PS
    As for the tap water I wrote of above the source is not as deep as 800 m, 80 m is more to the point. Sorry. Taste is however extraordinarily great making a carafe d´eau at the brasseries and restaurants in this undiscovered gorgeous part of Paris
    an absolute must.

  • I would just add that visitors should consider the entrée/plat combinations proposed by a chef as something that can’t/shouldn’t be modified! Usually the chefs in the bistros have more or less planned the combinations as one gastronomic experience…like several movements of a symphony. Even if the plat du jour isn’t necessarily something you would order, trust the chef more than you might in the states and go for it! The French, whether in a restaurant or dining at home, seem rather inflexible about food combinations…”oh no, you can’t serve this with that! It must be this way…” etc. Going along with this, should the house propose a wine of the week or month, you can definitely expect a delicious and inexpensive wine (the sale in quantity reduces the restaurant’s usual mark-up) the marries well with the proposed dishes. Sometimes in the states a menu feels more like a Dickens novel with simply too many choices for any reasonable kitchen to be able to prepare them all well. Whereas in France, sometimes one or two choices for each course is all one finds – I find this a more reasonable workload for any kitchen to prepare a delicious meal!

  • I just moved to Paris a few weeks ago and I’m enjoying this blog immensely!

    This post has sparked a heated debate with a French man about filet mignon, which he insists is not pork tenderloin, but beef. Can anyone settle this debate?

    David, your blog has inspired me to start my own blog about my experience of moving to Paris, exploring the food, learning French and becoming a tour guide. Thank you!

  • Don’t worry — there may be a group that thinks that kir and kir royal are passe, but the rest of France either hasn’t heard it yet, or has greeted the news with a shrug and “n’est pas possible”. Do you really want to be in on a group that looks down their nose at you for what you’re drinking for aperos, anyway?

    Kir aren’t going away any time soon — they’re served in homes everywhere — it’s fun to have something different (I’m planning on pitchers of margaritas when I have a Mexican night in a couple of weeks) — but Kir and Kir Royale run in the blood of France.

    My mom came to visit last summer, and wrinkled her nose when we carried a bottle of cold rose out to the picnic table — by the time she left, she was a full convert! (Rose should always be chilled, by the way — it’s so refreshing on a hot day!)

  • When I first visited Paris in 1960 we were instructed to order “eau naturelle” after we discovered my friend’s French uncle and aunt were filling their water bottles from the tap. We thought we’d been drinking bottled water at their Sunday dinners!

    #10 could be “Don’t ever enter a restaurant without a menu posted outdoors with prices.” Underline “with prices.” My friend and I entered a lovely restaurant with wonderful-sounding dishes and quickly learned that we couldn’t afford a thing in the restaurant. I mean we couldn’t afford anything even if we paid with everything in our bank accounts. (We were, of course, students and living on small budgets.)

    Happily, the French love 18-year-old girls and we got out of there without washing dishes or worse.

  • @Lisa : I confirm that filet mignon is the best piece of pork.

    About kir, it has been a popular apero since decades and continues to be so.
    Kir royal is cassis + champagne
    Kir breton is cassis + apple cider

    While waiters almost always suggest aperitives when you sit at a restaurant, it’s far from imperative to order one, unless it’s a celebration of something (business or personal – and yes, we drink wine on business meals, it would a gaffe not to do it)

    However, it’s common to order a dry white wine at the start of a meal, and serve one glass as an apero, and continue to drink the same wine on the appetizer (entrée)

  • I always enjoy the humor behind your posts. Great info and a great start to my day!
    Thanks!

  • A great post, as usual, Daveed! Thanks.
    One of my favorite bistros in the 11th has large notices posted throughout the restaurant regarding tap water, such as “Tap water is reserved for cooking potatos.” and “If you want tap water, kindly give us 24 hour notice.” But they will serve you a carafe if you keep asking politely, in French.
    Regarding ordering / linguistic / vegetarian situations, my most puzzling was in Taiwan, not France. “I don’t eat meat” was the very first phrase I learned before I went there to teach ESL. There was a lot of cheap, tasty street food near my lodging, including a cart that made excellent platters of egg fried rice. I kept telling them I don’t eat meat and it kept coming with little cubes of pretty pink pork, not too hard to pick out. Then one day I was there with a Taiwanese friend and asked her to order for me and to say I don’t eat meat. She did and the plate still came with the pork and that really puzzled her too. The cook said it was not meat. So my friend simply explained that whatever it was, they should kindly omit it from my food and they did from then on.

  • Yes, I think it was for two. It was quite a while back. Last time we went to Europe we missed France because we went to see friends in Germany. It’s been a while since we were in France.
    But I wanted to let you to know the pear tart turned out pretty well. I overcooked it a little because I think my oven runs hot and it didn’t look nearly as nice and neat and orderly as yours (and I didn’t throw in cherries) but my family ate nearly all of it in practically one sitting, so I think it was good enough.
    So..Thank you!

  • @ Elizabeth,
    I am vegetarian too (no eggs either) but I have had great luck eating out in France…
    Not so much in Paris (the RUDEST City in the world am afraid… I cannot understand why people are so rude… or why they absolutely refuse to smile at all…)

    The trick is I have noticed the French pride themselves on their food – just tell them you would like to sample french food, the way the chef cooks without meat / meat stock/fish/fish stock/eggs!

    I always make it a point to tell them despite other ethnic options, in France, all I want to eat is the way the French do… I guess a combination of extremely halting french I try very had to speak & my brown skin works! ;)

    They then go out of their way – gorgeous soups, some yummy salads, great breads, fruit based deserts…. Guess I have been lucky… But Paris is another story.

  • I have to agree with Sinful Southern Sweets that David’s humor behind his posts always makes me laugh and puts a smile on my face!

  • Hi Dave….

    Couldn’t escalopes also include potatoes as in escalope potatoes as my French Canadian mother used to make ?? Or am I a complete fool ??

    Thanks….Great post!!

    ron

  • Great post…helps getting over some of those little bumps when you’re settling in. Too bad about Kirs…domage…but would still order my royale if it were a nice long meal. old dog, old tricks etc., especially if you need awhile to go over the carte, wait for someone to show up (there is always a late arrival). The only time I saw bread being eaten in public, as in gnawed on, was Sunday morning in Neuilly when which ever young boy was sent out for the days baguettes (maid’s day off) and Le Figaro; he would be trudging home in his peejamaa’s with a windbreak or rain coat thrown over, chewing on the heel of one of the loaves, obviously payback for this horrible duty. There was a young guy who still exercised this prerogative sauntering home in his business suit for lunch, very content and oblivious to any stares…
    Butter with cheese on said baguette is wonderful, sandwich with thin slices of ham or dry salami/air cured beef (cornichons optional), ditto. Still do it here for old times sake. My one big gaffe with the baguette was serving a “morning” loaf at dinner, when a fresh one was available after 2pm. They know their bread just as well as their wines….”this bread is *old*!” Ooops. One more note to file away…and smile…john

  • Last summer my partner and I traveled through France and Spain and were astonished to find that whenever we ordered red wine in France it was chilled, like in the refrigerator chilled. We are from California where that would be a sin.

  • Joseph: I’ve heard, on several occasions, from wine folks that… “Americans drink red wine too warm, and white wine too cold.” Many red wines, especially those from Beaujolais and Brouilly are intended to be served chilled, mostly to approximate cellar temperature. Much depends on what kind of wine you’re drinking (and your personal taste). But next time you buy a pinot noir, try chilling it a bit and serving it that way, just to see if you like it better.

    Jan: The law about giving tap water away (even in café), as I understand it, says that they have to give you water unless they have a sign posted that they don’t give away free water. I’ve only seen one or two cafés with signs that say water costs something. But in France, if you order a coffee, usually they’ll give you a glass of tap water as well, if you ask. And sometimes even if you don’t!

  • I had no problem getting tap water when I was in Paris last summer. It tasted perfectly fine, but then I drink the tap water out here in CA too, so it wasn’t a blow to my tastebuds in any way. We didn’t have any food disasters, on the contrary pretty much every meal we had was amazing, and we never went anywhere fancy. Even our meal cobbled together from Monoprix was fantastic (the only thing that went wrong was the man who thought my already paid for baguette was his and tried to take it!)

  • Et tout a fait d’accord pour le beurre et le fromage c’est tellement bon. Lorsque j’etais petite, on me donnait toujours le roquefort avec du beurre, pour adoucir…Pareil pour un camembert tres fort!

  • It should be fun watching my partner sadly rip bits of bread off to put in his mouth, instead of gorging!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • What surprised look did the waiter give you with a large glass of milk?! lol

    The customer thought.. “Perhaps an English person..”

    And do you taste the Lillet finally?! ;)

  • Avoid horse.. I had some unexpectedly in Morocco. It tastes like sweaty, unwashed teenaged boys. That errky manly flavour hovers in the back of your throat and base of your nose for at least 15 minutes after eating. Unpleasant. Can’t even imagine eating it raw in a tartare, although beef tartare is one of my “can’t miss it” dishes.

    I second the suggestion of number ten regarding doggy bags and that such a concept does not exist.

  • Somewhat tangentially related: on our last visit to Paris on our first morning my husband and I went into a chic cafe for coffee. My husband ordered an espresso and croissant while I just ordered espresso. The waiter asked me ‘you don’t want a croissant?” When I said no the look of disgust on his face said ‘you are an insane woman with neither a sense of propriety or common sense!” On another trip I asked two guards in my best French can you direct me to the Jeu de Paume (museum)? Ha ha ha they laughed and one of them said in English ” you won’t find apple juice in the park.” Ok, so jus de pomme is close but I bet he’d been getting a lot of mileage out of that one for awhile.

  • Ohhh noooo, not the kir!

    I had no idea. But so useful to know, thank you David for a (another) great post.

    RIP dear little kir. You will be missed.

  • Hmmm, there is an awful lot of kir love here in the comments. (Myself included.) So may have to find the source of the rumor that they’re passé and find out more.

    In the meantime, you might want to enjoy yours in the privacy of your own home.

    And to those who’ve asked about Lillet, I love it but it’s not so well known in Paris for some reason. I was told it was a ‘regional’ specialty, but so are other apéritif spirits, so am not quite sure about that one. May have to investigate and find cafés that serve Lillet, and report back on that, too! : )

  • Activities for a Saturday Morning:
    David Blog, Orbitz. David Blog. Orbitz. David Blog.
    We were in Paris last May and the Super Goof I committed was while being in a heightened state of chocolate euphoria, I accidentally picked up a lovely tin of chocolate that I wanted to buy at La Maison Du Chocolat. Oops. Later, I felt bad for the pain I had obviously inflicted on the saleswoman, who rushed over to me breathless and grabbed the tin out of my hands, explaining that it was for display only. She got me another one. The funny thing is that I know better than picking items up like that, but I must have been intoxicated by the delicious smells.

    This blog is the best and soooo very fun and fabulous! Thank you!

  • Great post! The bit about the queens in the 385EUR shirts had me giggling and I had to read it aloud to my partner.

    But what really struck me is in the comments – the “panini sandwich”. In Italy, “panino” is the word for sandwich. “Panini” is plural. So, a “panini sandwich” is the equivalent of saying “sandwiches sandwich”. (Except, in Modena, where “Panini” is the brand name of the most popular sports cards (like baseball cards) sold in the newsstand. )

    So please, don’t go to Italy and order ‘a panini sandwich’. It’s the equivalent of saying “Soup du jour of the day”. ;-)

  • I am deeply distressed at your lack of appreciation for scallop nuts, which are a prized delicacy in Guam, the Balkans, and especially Greenland. Following a centuries-old native recipe, they are prepared with a pomegranate coulis, essence of quail belly, and a delicate foam made from adolescent caterpillar glands. They are served with a microscope, due to their very small size. Please contact me for the recipe.

  • “I need” in Breton is “Ezhomm ‘meus,” so “I need butter” would be “Ezhomm ‘meus amann” (or “Ezhomm ‘meus da gaout amann” is “I need to have butter”). Just in case it comes in handy :)

  • I agree with another reader that the 10th gaffe should most definitely be asking for a doggie bag. Quelle horror!!! I am American married to a French man so I can run things by him before I ask anything of a waiter. He has certainly saved me from many embarrasing moments. My sister came to visit recently and the only French she learned was ‘can I please have that to go’…..which she learned with the sole purpose of embarrassing the pants off my sometimes snooty French husband :)

  • Very funny :)
    But we, French, like to let the tourists make their mistakes, so they can have stories when they come home…

  • Caveat emptor! sitting at a table in a Parisian cafe and ordering coffee increases the price of the coffee 2x or 3x from the price charged to patrons ordering and drinking their coffee standing at the bar. Not surprisingly, after paying at the bar, if you take your coffee to nearby table to drink it sitting down, expect rude looks or snickers from the “barista” and the other patrons who are! still standing and drinking their coffee.

  • Many years ago my husband and I were having our first meal in Paris at a small neighborhood restaurant. It was the sort of place where the Chef was also the owner, and she padded out in her carpet slippers to ask us if we liked our meal (something like, c’est bien cuir?, I think). We nodded vigorously, but we didn’t have enough French to tell her that it was the best thing we had ever eaten in our lives. Major dilemma when we realized we didn’t know the French to ask for our check! I persuaded my husband that it must be something like the Spanish (La cuenta, por favor) so he should ask for “le conte.” The waiter looked astonished, and shook his head. Shrugged. Walked away and glowered at us from across the room. Finally my husband made the international gesture of writing on his palm with an imaginary pencil, and the waiter understood immediately, trying not to giggle as he gave us l’addition!

    On that same trip, we forgot to bring along the pocket French/English dictionary when we went to a different neighborhood restaurant (Left Bank this time). The menu was limited to a few dishes, but there was always a special, and the two or three times we had eaten there before it had always been superb. The featured dish on the menu that night was — yes — of course — cerveaux. Neither of us had a clue about what that was and my husband decided not to risk it. When my plate arrived, there was a lovely little cake of something — golden brown on the outside, creamy white on the inside (I feel a little faint as I write this) — and I tasted it. Not bad, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. My husband nicked off a bit and said he thought it could be some kind of fish. I said no, no fishy taste at all — maybe some kind of organ. After a few bites, it was just too rich to finish and I left about half of it. Of course it was brains, and how silly to be squeamish about that when I eat sweetbreads, kidney, heart, etc., without a qualm.

    Bonjour, s’il vous plait, and merci should accompany just about anything you say to anyone in a restaurant, cafe, bistro, hotel, department store, ANYWHERE you would ask for something, and being polite in France, as well as everywhere else, makes an enormous difference in how you will be treated.

  • Hi David,

    Just to add to Maggie’s comment, “I don’t eat horse” in Breton is “Ne zebron ket kig-marc’h”. You never know :)

  • What a great post (especially the Sancerre love). This may have already been addressed in the comments, but tipping is a huge hurdle for tourists (and especially Americans).

    1. leave an american, 20% tip
    2. a little bird has let them know that service is compris & thus they feel entitled to leave nothing for the server

    both are faux pas!

    -The Paris Food Blague

  • Totally agree with Stephanie on the doggy bag and would add you can tell a local from an etranger on the sidewalk with a baguette – a French person/boy from Neuilly can not resist tasting a fresh hot baguette and will tear off and eat le quignon.

  • What is that delicious looking meal that in the photo? I see anchovies, onion rings and are they over a steak? Looks very interesting. I did scroll through the comments. Did I miss the description of the meal? Anything with anchovies works in this house.

  • I lived in Paris for 4 months about two years ago. I don’t recall any major faux pas then, but I did get caught in some touristy restaurants with friends and was corrected incorrectly by the waiters.

    One time I ordered tartar at Angelina’s and the waiter immediately started to speak English with me and insisted I wanted it cooked, which I did not.

    Another time I ordered mayonnaise with my frites and the waiter giggled. When he came back with my meal he brought me ketchup and told me that’s what I meant to ask for!

    Recently however, my friend and I went to Cafe Breizh (per the suggestion on this blog, thanks!). We had the best crepes outside of Brittany, however, we both assumed that she had ordered a crepe with andouille sausage on it… When the meal came I didnt have the heart to tell her that the rounds on her crepe were andouillette ( I recognized it by look). She figured it out though. We both thought it wasnt so bad. I’ve had it before, but it was on the menu as tripe. I think it tastes like rubberbands.

  • I love your post! I actually liked the Parisian water too, I have one great tip for visitors, a Berlitz class personalized for food and traveling, what we did. We didn’t have one bit of trouble ordering and buying things at the grocery store after the class.

  • Hi,

    I like steak tartare… and being a dual national who’s been visiting France for 50+ years YES I KNOW WHAT IT IS… but this last trip I got a good one… the server asked me how I would like it cooked… I looked at him like he had 3 eyes and told him “Je ne comprend pas”… he responded “cru?” to which I responded “oui, cru”… it was in a cafe close to a Holiday Inn and I guess they get a lot of Americans who see “steak” and don’t know what they’re ordering.

  • PFB: I did a post about tipping in Paris and a commenter pointed out that it was ‘radin’ (cheap) to leave anything less than 15% at a restaurant in Paris as a tip. People do leave a few coins, but yes, leaving anything near 15-20% is not being ‘cheap’ but service is, by law, included.

    LF Matthews: Some places do a steak tartar “aller-retour”, which means they sear the outside but leave the inside of it raw. I’ve never had it, but perhaps it’s a good compromise between the two!

    TIL: LOL!

    Anna: It’s interesting because in France they also say sushis, which I suppose is the plural. Even as an English translation, that’s likely correct (I tried to explain to someone why the plural of tooth is ‘teeth’, not ‘tooths’, but that was, admittedly, a tough one.) Since I don’t speak Japanese, I don’t know the literal translation. But ditto with Italian biscotti, graniti, etc….too.

    Maggie and Lénaïg: Thanks! (or however you say it in Breton…)

  • France is awesome! But French food is totally unattractive to me. Specially since I’m vegetarian. I would be in trouble there several times.

  • i went back and looked at your post…i think we agree! i didn’t mean in my last post that they are all radin. i just meant they either overtip (they don’t understand that tip is included) or leave nothing at all. like you say, you should leave something else for the server, even if it’s just a few coins.

    i’ve never seen anyone leave 20% tip on top of the 15% tip included, but maybe that’s because i and all my friends are poor!

    also, i am of the (crazy? misguided?) opinion that France can be friendly to vegetarians (now vegans, that’s another story…).

  • Thank you David and all the comments – it had me giggling for quite a while !

    May I add that one should NOT eat butter with blue cheese – I know they often put butter on a cheese tray, but a true amateur won’t eat butter with cheese : just good bread and good wine (red or white or even sweet wine ) nothing is better than Beaumes de Venise with a blue cheese….

  • oh no david you don’t like horsemeat? it’s huge in slovenia and they really know how to prepare it.

  • laura: I once wrote about drinking horse milk and mentioned that I was thinking I should try horsemeat, and one of my commenters left a very interesting message (she raises horses) and said that the horses in North America, where the horsemeat in Europe comes from, is pumped full of all sorts of chemicals since the animals aren’t raised for consumption. So I decided to give it a pass.

  • Paris was my first stop on the Europe 101 tour I went on with my dad back in ’97. Back then I was super picky and not nearly the culinary adventurer I am today. The only word I recognized on the menu at the first place we went to eat was jambon, or ham. So I ordered a ‘jambon’ sandwich and it was not the type of ham I was expecting. It was dry and thin and not the ‘honeybaked’ type ham I was used to. None the less, since I didn’t recognize anything else on the menus, I ate jambon all they way thru France! Good gravy, given another chance I would have tried so many more things!! I guess I’ll just have to go back then!! I am doing 2 weeks in Italy in September, can’t wait for the Parmesano-Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar, and of course…the Proscuitto!

  • Count me among the kir-lovers who will *not* be dissuaded by silly ‘trends’ from continuing to order!! (especially my favorite, kir royale with pêche!).

    I haven’t noticed any weird looks, but perhaps I’m oblivious. David, if you need a drinking companion to go test this theory further, lemme know! ;0)

  • Very sound advice indeed.
    Ice in rosé? Pourquoi pas! Especially when the temperature is hovering around 40 C!

  • Well, I know we’re talking about Paris, but I do have to say that besides Sancerre having great wines, the town is also fantastic. I had bragged for years how much I loved this great hilltop town and how bustling it was. Well, my husband and I then visited it after much boasting and it was absolutely dead. Of course, it was the fall and EVERYONE was out in the vineyards working.

    And don’t forget Chavignol near Sancerre, where the famous goat cheese is made – Crottin de Chavignol. It’s so good they have to tie up their cats, and dispense cheese from machines on the street.

  • Very interesting and informative post, which I will carefully review prior to my first visit to France this coming June. I have been to europe seven or eight times now but have not once stepped foot on that soil… too bad since I studied french for four years. That effort is useless to me now as my thusly-acquired français is horribly conflated with the German I studied years later. Oh how unpopular I will make myself this June…

    The real reason for my comment, however, is to ask after your recipe for Elderberry Cosmos… the drink you mentioned along with your Carnitas recipe which I have made and enjoyed immensely a few times. Do you use the syrup, or St. Germaine? I do so love the flavor and perfume of elderberry blossoms…

  • I love that you love Sancerre! It’s also one of my favorites, in addition to Vouvray and any Montrachet. Big fan of Rosé now that we’re at it. I had no idea about the aperitif issue….I may still stick with my Campari and soda with an orange twist, off of Champs Elysse of course!

  • I fell for #4, too. I was dining alone in a cafe in Milan. When the escalopes came I was horrified. I hadn’t eaten meat since I was a teenager, 14 years before. The waiter was very nice, took it away and brought me something else. When I got the check, I noticed I didn’t have any money with me. Again they were very nice and let me go back to my hotel and get money. When I got back to my hotel room I found that I had had money in my purse the whole time. I did have the sense, however, to keep that fact to myself when I returned to the cafe and paid for my meal.

  • I think just to be safe, on my next visit to Paris, I will print out this entire post and just carry it with me. Always good to have picture to point to when one’s French tends to come out more as Spanish. And, to quote Steve Martin, its like you guys have a different word for everything!

    Great post David.

  • Never been to Paris and I don’t even try to speak French anymore, but this was a fascinating post. And also great to know someone else who doesn’t always flush. :)

  • Such wise and true words David!!! I am living in Paris for 5 months now and will heed your advice! I might add one more: Don’t ever ask the waiter (in a seemingly harmless, friendly way which is not well understood in France) ‘What do you recommend?’ (when faced with the option of so many delicious dishes, like I would often do in NYC). They will simply look at you as though you are insane. ‘Everything is good here’, (otherwise it would not be on the menu !?). I learned this lesson first in Corsica, and again in Paris.

  • Such wise and true words David!!! I am living in Paris for 5 months now and will heed your advice! I might add one more: Don’t ever ask the waiter (in a seemingly harmless, friendly way which is not well understood in France) ‘What do you recommend?’ (when faced with the option of so many delicious dishes, like I would often do in NYC). They will simply look at you as though you are insane. ‘Everything is good here’, (otherwise it would not be on the menu !?). I learned this lesson first in Corsica, and again in Paris.

  • I love this post but I have to say, I’m still going to order my Kirs even if they are out of fashion. And I don’t wear Guccis, Puccis, or Chanel either! Voila. Cynthia in the French Alps

  • I love this post but I have to say, I’m still going to order my Kirs even if they are out of fashion. And I don’t wear Guccis, Puccis, or Chanel either! Voila. Cynthia in the French Alps

  • p.s. — I also made the scallop/escalope mistake, years ago in Venice. However, I’m embarrassed to say I responded very badly to being brought the escalope . . . I was old enough to know better, and I’m still ashamed. Hopefully you will save someone else the embarrassment with your having thought to include that here in your advice.

  • If you feel diffident about asking for l’eau du robinet, you can always request Château de la Pompe 2010. That will bring the same tap water, and probably a smile, as well.

  • I agree 100% with you that Sancerre is a superstar of a wine. My absolute favorite. If there’s a single wine pairing better than a super sharp glass of grassy Sancerre with a big plate of fruits de mer, I sure haven’t found it yet.

    (If you haven’t tried Vincent Pinard’s Sancerres yet you absolutely must)

  • Oh and regarding kir being out of fashion. People can say what they like, but I consider it the Chanel gown of les apéros. It will always be in fashion.

    It’s also lovely in a glass of fruity red wine too you know. I believe when one does that it’s called a Cardinal.

  • My number 10 would be something to the effect of, “At least try to speak French, and don’t forget to laugh when you make a serious grammatical error.”

    I must share a somewhat unrelated cringe-worthy moment I had many years ago in the small town of Oloron Ste. Marie. My junior high school French was nowhere adequate for the type of questions I wanted to ask a winemaker and his wife at a local wine fair. A little tipsy, I decided I needed to know if the wine was barrel aged and if what I was sensing was due to how long the barrels were “toasted.”

    Since I couldn’t recall the word for “toast” at that moment, I used what I thought was the word for “fire.” But, instead of saying “How long do you fire the barrels?” I asked him, “How long do you F**K the barrels!”

    His jaw dropped. His wife blushed. I nearly shat in my pants. My non-French-speaking spouse knew something was very, very wrong especially when we all burst into laughter, tears streaming down our faces!

    Good times!

  • I drink tap water all over Europe (as opposed to here in the US!). If you keep refilling the same bottle, you don’t have to waste any plastic. Now I feel really guilty when I travel to a place and buy plastic bottle after bottle. Recently I went to Turkey and didn’t want to risk it. My carbon footprint is still in the doghouse over that.

  • Oui, oui, oui! Sancerre rocks!

  • Oh boy — ordering a coffee, espresso or any other caffeine drink is a challenge for non-natives! This should certainly be your #10.

    Un café is essentially a large shot of espresso
    Un café noisette is the aforementioned with a dash of cream
    If you are longing for a bland watery American coffee, order un café Americain
    Un café crème – strong coffee served with a pot of hot cream
    If you order a café au lait, and they can tell you are foreign — you will likely get a monstrous bowl of hot milk with a shot of coffee mixed in.

    “Avec du sucre” – with sugar
    “Sans sucre” – without sguar

    There are many other ways to order your coffee, but alas, I am not an expert.

    The darned thing about French waiters is that they make assumptions for you if you are perceived to be a foreigner. They assume you want the American equivalent and not the real deal. Ask the locals how to order and practice some great French body language — like the indifferent head toss coupled with the “pfff” lip trill. You’ll be all set!

    And above all … drink the tap! Ask for “une carafe d’eau” –the unmistakable order for a carafe of tap water.

  • The last time I was in Paris, I wandered into a sidewalk cafe on my last afternoon in town, to order some hot chocolate. I said “Je voudrais du chocolat, s’il vous plait”, thinking that meant “I’d like some hot chocolate please”. Unfortunately the waiter heard “deux chocolats”, which means “two hot chocolates”, and brought me a huge pot of chocolate, which was actually big enough for at least 3 people to share, and cost about $20. The hot chocolate was so amazingly rich and creamy, and I was so embarrassed at my foible, that I drank the whole thing. It was wonderful at the time, but I paid for it later when I had some, er, intestinal difficulties the next morning on the plane to Istanbul. Now I will always always order “UN chocolat”.

  • Hello David, When I ate in an authentic French restaurant in Paris as part of a tour, several of the ladies at my table drank Kir all through the meal! I had the Kir as an apero, white wine with my escargo and red wine with the duck (I have no idea what we had for desert!) My mother drank very little.

    On Mother’s second trip, sans tour, she finally gave up trying to get a ‘decent’ cup of coffee (too many ‘cafe American’s were made with instant coffee.) I drink tea; wonderful. She did find good coffee at McDonald’s and Starbucks.

    About McDonald’s; the WORST sandwich in Paris is their Big n Tasty. The French version is greasy and gooey. (It’s good in the US.) After Mom and I each ate one, I looked longingly (?) at a baguette sandwich in a window and knew it was the better choice.

    So number 10 is eating American food. no, no, no.

  • lol. Love it. I think one other thing to add is for female travelers to France. I learned this one the hard way. I was traveling with another friend, but we were only 17. We made friends with a couple of locals our age, and we were chatting at a cafe. One of the boys playfully grabbed my arm, to which I responded “Leche moi!” (“Lick me!”) oops. The whole restaurant looked at me, and the French teenagers found this hilarious. Of course, I had just mispronounced the very similar “Lache-moi” (Let go of me!). Similar, yet different. hmmm. Remember, ladies. LACHE-moi.

  • Hilarious!!! David you made my day.I really love your WTFand humor-infused posts. As a Frenchie who spent a few years in the US, it’s a real delight to get to read you. Please keep up the good work!! (and yes Sancerre is a délice!! mmmmm Too bad it is not praised as it should).

  • Oh! I have one. I moved to Paris about 10yrs ago. On the day of my arrival, I and a bunch of other exchange students, visited the nearest cafe and ordered a few beers. I asked the barman, in my best French (not saying much at the time!), for “une glace” for my beer. He looked at me a bit sideways and disappeared. A few minutes later he reappeared with a bowl of ice cream! I was too embarrassed to say anything.

  • I have loved everyone’s comments almost as much as the post. Though this does make me a little anxious since I am vegan and will be going to France within the next year or so. However, I have no problem with the thought of living off hot, fresh baguette and good wine.

  • I too love me some Sancerre. When I was in Paris a few years ago, I was traveling with a friend who liked a little nap around 4 pm. My version of the nap was heading to the little cafe near our apartment, getting a small carafe (or two) of Sancerre and watching the people go by. And I ordered a bottle of beautiful Rose at a really funny charming restaurant in the Maraise. It was the dead of winter and the people at the table next to me, very kindly, tried to explain that it was really a summer wine. I explained to them that it was my first time in Paris and I certainly wasn’t going to allow my wine palate to be limited by the seasons. They were delighted and we had a lovely toast!

    P.S. In almost every place we ate, the wine was far more reasonably priced than the soda was and it was far, far, far more reasonably priced than in NYC.

  • Also, in the people at the table next to me category, at another restaurant I made what was explained to me by my neighbors as a terrible, terrible mistake. I asked the waiter what something on my plate was. It was a vegetable puree that was so sweet and delicious that I had to know just what was in it (turns out it was just perfectly cooked carrots). I told the waiter how delicious I thought it was. When he left our table, the Americans next to me felt compelled to tell me about my faux pas. Imagine my delight when the waiter returned a few minutes later with a whole bowl of those delicious veggies. I’m sure there are plenty of snobby waiters out there but I was blessed with a week full of great service by people who truly loved their food.

  • There are two ordering mistakes that stick out in my mind from when I lived in France last year. One is the restaurant in Strasbourg where I thought “jarret” was a traditional dish made with sauerkraut. (It was a pork knuckle served with sauerkraut—bad choice for someone who doesn’t eat pork.) The second was ordering my duck well-done. I love duck, but the time I tried to order duck in Bordeaux, the waiter was absolutely horrified that I wanted it well-done. I may be a tasteless American, but I wasn’t too keen on the idea of raw poultry. Duck can be cooked all the way through and be lovely. The duck I got in Bordeaux was burnt on the outside and bloody on the inside. I think I’ll stick to making duck at home or eating it in a Chinese restaurant.

  • Andouillette = good ol’ fashioned chittlins! Or chitterlings for you non-Southern Americans. Almost made that mistake until I checked my phrase book.

  • At the risk of horrifying all of you…I have asked for a doggy bag on more than one occasion. I’m in my 70’s and, like a lot of people my age, I can seldom finish all the food on my plate. It seems such a waste. The first time I asked for a doggy bag was probably one of the last places on earth one should do it–Michel Bras! I was served a huge cut of beef filet (about 4x4in). As it was served I noted to my waiter that I would never be able to eat all it. And I couldn’t….not even half. As it happened, we travel with our dog and we were staying at the restaurant’s beautiful hotel. I love this restaurant…I love my dog even more (he’s quite large, with a matching appetite). So I gathered my courage and discretely asked the waiter if he could put it in a bag for my dog. No problem! As we were leaving he handed me a chic-looking paper bag with my meat wrapped inside. It’s a classy restaurant. I’d just spent almost $500 dollars at their table. My dog was in heaven. And the waiter (who got a nice tip) treated it all as the most natural thing in the world (as he should).

    By the way, I do know that people consider this a faux-pas. But I’m not sure it really is. I’ve lived in France for 35 years and I kind of suspect the doggy-bag no-no may just be tourist lore. And I still drink a kir before dinner.

  • innaphog: I have two female friends in Paris, who get doggy bags, too. And one of them actually has a dog! When we’ve been out to dinner, they give her the whole plate, wrapped in foil; since she lives nearby, she can return it.

    Of course, both of them are nice-looking women. And with French waiters, I think that helps! ; )

  • We go to Paris and all over France at least yearly. Often just my sister and I are the travelers. One area you missed is the where to sit in a cafe issue. We kept doing it wrong at first. If you just want a drink do not sit at a table that is set for a meal. Especially outside of Paris, lunch is not served after 2pm, so if you sit a a set table trying to get a drink (if you can find a place open at that time) you will be completely ignored. If you sit at a set table at mealtime and do not want to order a meal, you will likely be unceremoniously asked moved. If you see an open unset table at lunch, they will not serve you lunch no matter what you say, even if all the other tables are taken.

    We always order une carafe d’eau and for lunch usually un demi-pichet of whatever the house wine is. It’s always nice enough for the price. We have totally taken up the rose thing, too, especially in the south.

    Also, it is NOT rude to place your bread directly on the table between bites, even in someone’s home. Bread is used for getting that last drop of delicious sauce, and the French are not embarassed to do so. Once, in a creperie in Sens, with French friends, we watched a very well-dressed woman pick up her plate and lick the remains of the sauce from her dessert crepe!

  • When my Pakistani-Afghan father was 26 (early 70s) he went to Paris for an interview with a large international development organisation based in Washington DC. he had never left Pakistan before. he saw the menu -being surrounded by all the stuffed shirts and Big Whigs from the org he was interviewing with- and felt uneasy- he could not read French, but he obviously felt at home when he saw the word ‘steak’.

    He ordered the it- the lady sitting next to him said, are you SURE you want that? are you SURE you know what that is? He nodded, yes, yes, of course I know what it is. When it came, it was a steak tartare- he was aghast- probably wanted to vomit (yes, he said he almost vomited). But like a good Pakistani boy, whose dream was to get into this International organization (which he achieved), he ate every single piece of that raw meat.

    Enjoyed reading each and every single one of your foibles- I will always, no matter what, want that Normandy butter on my bread, before, with, and after dinner. Bien sur.

  • Another instance of butter on bread is the sandwich jambon beurre. This was one of my favorite lunches when I lived in France. Who knew butter and ham were so fitting together?

  • So much of what’s customary is regional! I live in the south of France, and in my town you NEVER leave any sort of tip. And because it’s often hot, a carafe of water appears on your table without you even needing to ask. People here would give you a funny look if you asked for a kir, but in Burgundy they’re likely to give you a funny look if you don’t ask for one. Lillet is a Bordelais drink, so in Bordeaux no one will blink an eye when you order it, although once in Burgundy I had a French woman tell me that Lillet must be American because she had never even heard of it. Don’t expect France to be the same all over, the regional influences are very strong, and what’s normal in Paris might not bear much relation to what’s considered normal elsewhere.

    I don’t have an ordering faux pas, but my husband sure does. When we first came here he had the habit, being from Atlanta, of ordering Coke with meals. Boy did he get over that in a hurry! It’s okay to order a Coke at 5:00 as an apéro, but don’t order it with a meal unless you really want to pop some eyes.

  • I don’t think anyone has mentioned here about the way we Americans like to eat with our hands–sandwiches, hamburgers, fried chicken, french fries. I don’t think the French like touching their food, although sandwiches and hamburgers seem to be touchable for a growing number. I do love gnawing on a chicken leg. Not pretty, I know, but so much more efficient.

    By the way, I don’t think the French are immune to coke. I see plenty of it on the tables here in Avignon. (And these are locals–not tourists.) And don’t even get me started on ketchup. It’s a standard condiment on many of the more casual restaurant tables. One of my French friends tells me that the French don’t order ketchup at a nice restaurant, but at home it’s de rigueur.

  • innaphog: I was once served a hamburger, which only came with the top part of the bun! I guess that was a less-than-subtle hint that it wasn’t meant to be picked up. And yes, in spite of everyone criticizing American’s who use ketchup (I’m not a fan, personally) there is plenty of it in France.

    Abra: I was surprised when I first started coming to Paris that few, if any, people knew what Lillet was, since it’s rather popular in San Francisco, which is 6000 miles away. I always tell people not to order Coke in Paris, unless they really, really want one. The only people here who can get away with ordering soda with a meal are people under the age of 12. Thankfully, I have a preference for wine, myself.

    hillaryn: It’s amusing to watch visitors scanning the table, looking for a bread plate to park their bread. Until they finally just try to balance it on the edge of their plates. I’ve had people ask me, “Can you ask for the waiter for some bread plates, please?” (I guess assuming it was an error they made when setting the table.)

  • Since my son goes to a school by the name Fénélon, I was prompted to investigate. Found this: “Apéritif originaire du Quercy, à base de vin de Cahors, d’eau de noix, de crème de cassis. L’on dit qu’il y a autant de recettes de Fénelon que de consommateurs…” Wow, sounds like they weren’t sure what to put in there. Now I’ll need to try it. Have you?

  • The whole French and finger food thing is really funny to me. I have hosted numerous French exchange students over the years and usually at the beginning they are at least semi-horrified at Americans eating with their fingers, but they warm up to it quickly, (except for corn-on-the-cob and the French view of it as something for animals only). I am afraid I am responsible for several French cheeseburger addictions and one serious bagel and cream cheese addiction (who gets asked to bring a suitcase full of bagels and a couple of bars of Philly to France?)

    I love Sundays in the Marais watching Parisians walk and eat falafel with the little plastic fork. (For my money L’As du Falafel is the best falafel outside of Israel). They are really quite adept, while I tend to use about a thousand napkins and still have sauce all over me. Must be like the scarf gene.

  • I once asked for a jouie d’orange instead of a jus d’orange. I was completely mortified to learn that I had asked for an orgasm rather than a juice. Thankfully it was in Belgium and not France. The last time we were in Paris we had dinner with the host family I stayed with 10 years prior and everyone had a kir to start, so they can’t be too out of fashion.

  • Great piece. Distant relatives (a couple in their 50’s) told me a story about their first trip to Paris in the 80’s – and with a straight face. They went to La Serre, and asked the water to choose the wine that would go best with their meal. When he brought a very dry red, my unnamed relative took out a Sweet n Low to put in the wine because she thought it wasn’t sweet enough. Then, she claimed the waiter was so rude and beligerant to her. Wonder why?

  • Michelle: I had a friend asked for the jouie d boeuf at Chez Michel and the look on the waitresses face was priceless. It wasn’t on the menu that day, thankfully.

    annice: Omg! That is h-i-l-a-r-i-o-u-s! I am going to have to retell that one. Merci!

  • Interesting note on apartment or dwellingspeak… In France, if you see a flat listed with a “cuisine américaine” or “American kitchen,” that means the kitchen is very tiny and may have only a hot plate or grill, perhaps not even an oven. Which is ironic since most kitchens in America are far larger than even normally sized French ones.

    Perhaps it is like the old saw where the French call a condom an “English overcoat,” and the English call the clap “the French disease.”

  • Cant believe you all missed the joke/play on words with the restaurant name!! In medieval times a ‘garde robe’ was the LOO in a castle! (or at the very least a ‘closet’)

  • David, with respect to the milk debacle, people probably just assumed you were Dutch. Here in NL at every business lunch we are served a pitcher of milk and a pitcher of karnemelk (buttermilk), delicious and healthy!

  • This was very informative to read! I won’t get into any of these situations easily though, as I’m used to head to the local supermarkets to see what’s available :)

  • I love, love, love you blog! I just started working for a company with offices in France and Belgium and if I ever get to go on a business trip there, I will be reading your blog and ALL the comments from beginning to end!

  • When I visited Paris last year, kir was on plenty of drink menus and the waiters were generally very pleased to serve them. I’d ignore the fashion police and enjoy your kir!

    Mojitos, otoh, are served across trendy bars from SF to NY to Miami, nothing particularly French about them… The bar near me serves them with pomegranate for an additional pink twist.

  • Having lived in Paris for a couple of years, I have more than a few gaffes on which I can look back at and laugh (or cry). The one that stands out above all others was when I ordered andouillette sausage for dinner one night, expecting of course, something closely resembling an andouille sausage. I mean there’s tons of French blood in cajun country….I thought these must be practically the same thing! Right? Right? — WRONG.

    Andouillette is a sausage not just cased in intestines, but one that is stuffed with intestines, tripe, and all sorts of other internal unmentionables as well. A Brit I befriended while living there had the perfect name for it. He called it “Arse Sausage”, and that just about sums it up. When the waiter placed my andouillette in front of me, the smell alone made my eyes water, and trust me, I wasn’t crying tears of joy. Like a good soldier, I took a few bites just to say I had given it a fair shake. The flavor was so foul that it cannot be put into words. Beware the andouillette!

  • Just like Oui, Chef, I also fell victim to the Andouillette Sausage. We were in Paris for a month and had taken a short trip down to Lyon, where I decided to give it a try. I barely managed to choke down two bites of it, and then decided I had better stick to the most fantastic gratin dauphinois I have ever tasted (and not just because it was being served with pig’s arse sausage). Three days later, when we returned to Paris & our laptop, I googled Andouillette, and immediately wanted to throw up or bleach my mouth and burn my toothbrush. Oh well, of all the time I have spent in France, this is really the only bad thing I have eaten. I’ll still try new things, and warn every person I know, “don’t eat the Andouillette!”

  • David,

    We love your site — and your latest book. This is a fun thread. (Another related interesting thread might be menu mistranslations — one of our favorites has been a salad with “slices of lawyers.”)

    Anyway, here’s another vote for kir vin blanc (sometimes we specify kir mure, for a change from cassis). But . . . we also like horse — very sweet, if prepared properly.

    Our biggest ordering mistake (there have been many) — which we experienced many years ago, and generally in the countryside — concerned our failure to apprehend the basic distinction between “la carte” (the written listing of what the establishment serves) and “le menu,” which is of course a multi-course offering — and oftentimes, in the countryside, it’s a set deal with *no* options. So, if you are asked if you want “le menu,” and you answer “oui,” you may have just ordered the three-course offering of the day! We did this only twice (and had much more than we wanted for lunch) before we learned our lesson.

    (We mention these and some similar points on our little web site, http://parisandbeyondinfrance.blogspot.com/2007/08/une-douzaine-restaurant-tips.html .)

    Jake

  • Oui chef & Julia: I think it’s something you need to be French to enjoy. A friend was ripping into a plate of it, and I said, “How is it?” And he replied, “It tastes like sh*t.”

    Concerned, I said, “Do you want to return it?”

    Non” he said, “It’s supposed to taste like that.” When he offered me a bite, I politely declined. Although I have to say, I have had it very thinly sliced on a crêpe and it isn’t bad that way. But like Haggis, blood sausage, and derma, I don’t feel the need to have a big, steaming bowl of it.

    Jake Dear: Thanks for those tips!

    Faraday: I thought cuisine américain meant it had a very high counter, and was open to another room. Why the counter needs to be high, I don’t know. The ‘open kitchen’ is something that you see in a lot of American homes, but I didn’t realize it was an American concept until I moved to Paris.

  • This made me think of my dinner gaff with my host family 20 years ago when I was trying to tell them that I was full and couldn’t eat another bite. In my junior french I said “je suis pleinne” and the parents were aghast as I had announced “I’m pregnant” rather than full! ;-)

  • Re: “It tastes like sh*t” / “It’s supposed to taste like that.” That’s not a bad description, based on my three experiences with that dish over the past 11 years. (I’m on a once-every-five years schedule — after a while I forget how odd it is, and I try it again, just to see if I’ve developed an appreciation for it . . . .)