10 Common Ordering Mistakes People Make in Paris Restaurants

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. Fish (a little) 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 were ages ago. 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?

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  • January 22, 2010 4:21am

    I love these posts!

    I quite like Parisian tap water. =)

  • becky
    January 22, 2010 4:32am

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

  • Nathalie Findlay
    January 22, 2010 4:37am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 4:41am

    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.

  • Janina
    January 22, 2010 4:56am

    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)

  • January 22, 2010 4:56am

    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???

  • January 22, 2010 5:00am

    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 ! :)

  • January 22, 2010 5:03am

    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? ; )

  • January 22, 2010 5:11am

    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!

  • jim
    January 22, 2010 5:16am

    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.

  • Michmom, Belgium
    January 22, 2010 5:30am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 5:36am

    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! ;)

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

  • Nicole
    January 22, 2010 5:42am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 5:46am

    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…

  • January 22, 2010 5:55am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 6:00am

    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!

  • Louis
    January 22, 2010 6:07am

    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 !!!!

  • January 22, 2010 6:18am

    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

  • January 22, 2010 6:27am

    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.

  • ameea
    January 22, 2010 6:52am

    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!

  • January 22, 2010 6:53am

    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.

  • Niki
    January 22, 2010 7:08am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 7:50am

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

  • Jane in Denmark
    January 22, 2010 8:01am

    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.

  • Maureen
    January 22, 2010 8:13am

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

  • braciole
    January 22, 2010 8:20am

    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.

  • Michèle D
    January 22, 2010 8:23am

    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!

  • Keli
    January 22, 2010 8:24am

    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…

  • January 22, 2010 8:37am

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

  • Vidya
    January 22, 2010 8:40am

    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.

  • Elizabeth
    January 22, 2010 8:49am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 8:54am

    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!

  • Barbara
    January 22, 2010 9:07am

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

  • Paige
    January 22, 2010 9:11am

    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!

  • anna
    January 22, 2010 9:19am

    “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…

  • anna
    January 22, 2010 9:19am

    “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…

  • Avi
    January 22, 2010 9:20am

    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.

  • Laurian
    January 22, 2010 9:24am

    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.

  • Emma
    January 22, 2010 9:31am

    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!

  • Richard Stevens
    January 22, 2010 9:33am

    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!

  • January 22, 2010 9:36am

    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)

  • January 22, 2010 9:36am

    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!!

  • Jane in Denmark
    January 22, 2010 9:38am

    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.

  • eeeeeeleo
    January 22, 2010 9:56am

    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

  • January 22, 2010 10:02am

    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!…

  • January 22, 2010 10:20am

    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…

  • Jessica
    January 22, 2010 10:21am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 10:51am

    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… ;)

  • January 22, 2010 10:52am

    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.

  • DL
    January 22, 2010 11:15am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 11:20am

    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!

  • Richard
    January 22, 2010 11:40am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 11:43am

    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.

  • Mrs Redboots
    January 22, 2010 11:43am

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 11:43am

    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.

  • Christian
    January 22, 2010 11:45am

    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.)

  • Caitlin Haywood Conroy
    January 22, 2010 11:53am

    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?

  • January 22, 2010 12:08pm

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


    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.

  • January 22, 2010 12:30pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 12:30pm

    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!

  • January 22, 2010 12:38pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 1:29pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 1:50pm

    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 : )

  • January 22, 2010 1:59pm

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

  • January 22, 2010 2:04pm

    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!!!

  • January 22, 2010 2:05pm

    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.)

  • January 22, 2010 2:23pm

    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….

  • January 22, 2010 2:49pm

    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.

  • nancy
    January 22, 2010 2:49pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 2:54pm

    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!

  • Colleen
    January 22, 2010 3:05pm

    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!

  • Lisa Gerardin
    January 22, 2010 3:38pm

    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!

  • January 22, 2010 3:52pm

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

  • Jean Marie
    January 22, 2010 4:03pm

    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.

  • Haggie
    January 22, 2010 4:18pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 4:23pm

    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).

  • January 22, 2010 4:25pm

    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).

  • January 22, 2010 4:33pm

    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…

  • Ms B
    January 22, 2010 4:59pm

    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 . . .

  • AngAk
    January 22, 2010 5:11pm

    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.

  • Jenny
    January 22, 2010 6:01pm

    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?

  • January 22, 2010 6:17pm

    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…

  • January 22, 2010 6:37pm

    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’.

  • Maureen in Austin
    January 22, 2010 8:29pm

    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.

  • Joan
    January 22, 2010 9:05pm

    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 . . .

  • January 22, 2010 10:10pm

    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!

  • Joanna Barouch
    January 22, 2010 10:13pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 10:13pm

    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.

  • Joanna Barouch
    January 22, 2010 10:15pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 10:15pm

    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!

  • Katie K
    January 22, 2010 10:40pm

    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.

  • Linda H
    January 22, 2010 10:49pm

    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.

  • January 22, 2010 11:14pm

    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.

  • Margaret
    January 22, 2010 11:55pm

    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….

  • Eli
    January 23, 2010 2:48am

    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


  • maya
    January 23, 2010 3:12am

    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

  • January 23, 2010 3:15am

    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.

  • January 23, 2010 3:17am

    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 : )

  • suedoise
    January 23, 2010 3:51am

    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!

  • suédoise
    January 23, 2010 3:59am

    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.

  • zachary
    January 23, 2010 4:15am

    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!

  • January 23, 2010 4:50am

    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!

  • Sunny
    January 23, 2010 5:47am

    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!)

  • Mary
    January 23, 2010 7:16am

    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.

  • January 23, 2010 7:22am

    @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)

  • January 23, 2010 7:42am

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

  • Jan
    January 23, 2010 8:44am

    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.

  • Maureen in Austin
    January 23, 2010 8:48am

    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!

  • Anamika
    January 23, 2010 9:25am

    @ 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.

  • Lisa
    January 23, 2010 9:29am

    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!

  • ron shapley
    January 23, 2010 9:45am

    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!!


  • john
    January 23, 2010 10:20am

    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

  • Joseph
    January 23, 2010 10:28am

    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.

  • January 23, 2010 10:36am

    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!

  • January 23, 2010 11:40am

    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!)

  • January 23, 2010 12:02pm

    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!

  • January 23, 2010 12:06pm

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

  • January 23, 2010 12:16pm

    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?! ;)

  • Matilda
    January 23, 2010 12:20pm

    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.

  • AlexC
    January 23, 2010 12:24pm

    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.

  • lisa m
    January 23, 2010 12:40pm

    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.

  • January 23, 2010 12:47pm

    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! : )

  • January 23, 2010 12:50pm

    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!

  • Anna
    January 23, 2010 12:53pm

    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”. ;-)

  • January 23, 2010 1:10pm

    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.

  • Maggie
    January 23, 2010 1:45pm

    “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 :)

  • stephanie
    January 23, 2010 2:08pm

    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 :)

  • January 23, 2010 2:10pm

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

  • carlyn steiner
    January 23, 2010 2:44pm

    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.

  • Shirley in Berkeley
    January 23, 2010 3:14pm

    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.

  • Lénaïg
    January 23, 2010 3:34pm

    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 :)

  • The Paris Food Blague
    January 23, 2010 4:58pm

    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

  • Jennifer
    January 23, 2010 5:28pm

    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.

  • christina
    January 23, 2010 5:47pm

    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.

  • January 23, 2010 11:48pm

    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.

  • January 24, 2010 12:33am

    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.

  • January 24, 2010 2:16am


    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.

  • January 24, 2010 2:30am

    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…)

  • January 24, 2010 7:57am

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

  • The Paris Food Blague
    January 24, 2010 9:05am

    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…).

  • cat
    January 24, 2010 10:51am

    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….

  • laura
    January 24, 2010 12:57pm

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

  • January 24, 2010 1:19pm

    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.

  • Heather G.
    January 24, 2010 3:23pm

    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!

  • January 24, 2010 4:43pm

    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)

  • January 24, 2010 4:48pm

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

  • Lorna
    January 24, 2010 4:51pm

    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.

  • January 24, 2010 4:54pm

    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…

  • January 24, 2010 7:21pm

    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!