There is a right way to cut the cheese...

Once upon a time, a young woman flew to Paris on holiday and met the man of her dreams. After a short courtship, he invited her to a dinner party at his home, where he had prepared a meal of baked salmon, roasted tomatoes and French-cut beans in olive oil and garlic. As the young woman began to eat, she looked around the table to see what appeared to be a ballet of forks and knives pirouetting on plates, and her fellow diners sitting erect with the posture of dancers.


She had an out of body experience. Hovering above the dinner table, she could see herself hunched like Quasimodo, barbarically mashing the fish into bite-sized pieces or scooting the French-cut beans onto her fork with the edge of one thumb, while her knife lay abandoned on the table beside her left elbow.


Awaking from this horrifying vision, the young woman clumsily lifted her glistening knife with one hand, testing its unfamiliar weight, and awkwardly resumed eating. She and Prince Charming lived happily ever after, but not without a few lessons in French etiquette along the way...


Every culture has its own way of experiencing a meal that requires a certain amount of know-how when it comes to gathering around a dinner table. In some places it's polite to burp, in others hands are the primary utensils, and in some micro-societies – like the one the young woman from the story above comes from – the only real rule is that the food somehow winds up in your mouth.


Yet, as we all know, what flies in one culture does not necessarily pass in another, and if reputations are to be believed, Parisians tend to be an unforgiving lot. If one sits down to a table with uninformed manners in Paris, not only does one run the risk of ruining everyone's appetite, but also accepting the responsibility of having single-handedly butchered the art, nay, the patrimony of French cuisine.


So here are a few of the lessons in French etiquette our heroine learned to help facilitate a new life in Paris:



Hands on the table at all times.


For whatever reason, this particular gesture can be of great importance to some French. When pressed to explain their malaise with the idea that a fellow diner might rest their hands out of view, a typical response might be “But what are they doing with their hands hidden beneath the table?” Need one ask what devious behaviour they might be imagining?



Food should come to your face, not the other way around.


Elbows in. Young Parisian adults are traumatised by the horror stories their mothers used to tell over the dinner table of their own upbringing so many years ago, when they were forced as young children to eat holding books beneath each arm while balancing another tome on their head.



Knife down between bites.


As our heroine’s Prince Charming pointed out over dinner one evening, “I’m afraid you might stab me”.



If you're a woman, don't even think about touching the wine bottle.


You’re there to be served, not to do the serving.



There is a right way to cut the cheese.


This is highly dependent on the shape of the cheese. If it’s a round wheel, then you slice the cheese in small triangles; if it is a wedge of cheese, it’s always slivered from the crust to the tip, usually in line with the angle the cheese itself was cut at. This way, one avoids leaving their fellow diners or hosts with an unappetising bit of rind at the end of the meal.



Utensils must be placed at 4 o'clock when not eating.


Tines up if you’d like a refill, tines down if your meal is completed.


Bon Appétit!

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:o)))... funny.. Born and raised in France... 13 years in the US, traveled before... proper sitting: never heard about the trick with the books.. but I still can hear the voice: "Tiens-toi droit" (Seat straight). Both hands above the table at all time: I've heard it would come from the old oooold ooooold times, when people were still carrying weapons (can you feel a difference with the US already..?? not gonna expand on this..). By having your hands visible, every one would know that your intentions were peaceful. As for the cheese, hell YES..!!! there is a proper way to cut it, and the author is absolutely right in her description. This way, everybody can have a similar piece, where as if cut "free-style".. it quickly become a mess, one left with the crust, the other with a little piece, etc etc.. so YES. There is a proper way to cut the cheese, and, as for almost every thing within the "etiquette", the rules are meant to make a better, nicer atmosphere... Peace out...
Table etiquette is different with every culture. But thanks though very informative and fun at the same time. -forex contest
Great pictures, very fun, and spot on as to the rules here in the land of gaul. Still, when we're enjoying a meal with people we enjoy, why spend time checking on the position of my tablemate's utensils or the angle of his cheese cuts? - and if I did, I'd have to wonder if I were really among friends, or cared about the joy of eating.
As for the utensils down part, what if you are left-handed? Can I get away with 7 o'clock?
On my first visit to France we were eating from a wedge of Brie when there was a gasp of horror and the announcement "On a prenez le nez". Someone had taken the tip of the wedge, the "nose", and there was general disgust at such thoughtless behaviour.
a couple other ones: 1. always have an odd number of cheeses on the cheese platter and never serve the cheese twice 2. bread on the table not on a plate 3. NEVER take milk in your coffee after a meal (only acceptable in the morning in your café au lait 4. always separate husbands and wives from each other at the table EXCEPT if they have been married under a year 5. no ice in the water 6 for dessert provide spoons not forks even if it is a cake
I like the third one :) So cute. Like you're going to kill the cheese.
i like the rind. maybe because i've been grinding my whole life. i rind when i dine. and then get back to the grind. plain and simple.
hog wash. i cut the cheese erray day and there is NO wrong way. if them cheese eating surrender monkies think they no something about etiquette then they ought to come visit me out her! ill make them a caseofdillas and sho them a nite
The second picture is showing a horrendous way to use the fork! I do not believe this is adequate..
Hi Lady3jane! I'd say stick with a knife and fork when eating pizza in Paris - sure, it may not feel natural, but the French love cutting all kinds of finger foods with their utensils, including pizza and yes, hamburgers too.
You can tell how far Americans have removed themselves from European culture by our lack of basic manners. Especially at the dinner table. Observing people eating I am tempted to offer them a hog trough instead of a plate.
Merci beaucoup! But I have a question - what is the correct way to eat pizza in Paris? Is it with a knife and fork or with the hands?
I'm glad that Rachel finally learnt to eat properly after coming to France. For the rest of us expats eating in France, like elsewhere, it just means practice of the table manners any well brought-up kid should have! Otherwise, maybe this article was just an opportunity for Ms Now-I-Can-Eat-Proper to take photos of herself pouting whilst scoffing her nourriture!

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