I was reading through the ‘ A Year in Perigord ‘ blog, last week which stated that there is an ‘etiquette to cheese eating’, which got me thinking about other French etiquettes that we have found while renovating our property.
The first being the etiquette of greeting people which begins as soon as your plane lands at the airport, you will notice that the officer at passport control always greets you with “Bonjour Monsieur” or “ Bonjour Madam”. If you do not reply in kind it will be thought of as not good etiquette. This carries on into shops, banks the doctors surgery, in fact every-time you go into a building you will be greeted in this way, not just once but everyone else in the room will greet you. When you leave it is polite to say “Bonne Journée” to everyone. Being in friendly, welcoming company makes for a relaxed atmosphere.
People who you have been introduced to will greet you with the customary “Bonjour Monsieur or Madam”. But when you get to know them a little more and they regard you as friends they will follow with the kiss on both cheeks (the number of kisses depends on the region of France that you are in), then you must ask how they are, “comment allez-vous?” , “comment vas-tu?” or “ça va?” and linger to chat for a while. Therefore shopping always takes longer depending on how many people you meet.
The friendlessness of people who take the time to ask how you are and generally chat to you, even just saying hello was rather strange to me at first. When we started the renovation work on our property, people from the village would knock on our door and ask our names, what we where doing, where we were from and when are we moving in etc. this seemed odd to both of us due to the ‘British Reserve’, which usually prevents people from talking to strangers. However, after a while I must say that I found the etiquette very nice and I loved returning to France each year to converse with more people or to just say “Bonjour” to people in the street. I so missed this customary response on my return to England that I started saying “hello” and “how are you” to shop assistants in various shops I visited, which did at first bring some strange looks from people at the various checkouts but on my return to the stores I would be greeted with a smile and a friendly hello.
Another etiquette is the customary gift if you are lucky enough to be invited to a persons home for an aperitif or dinner. Flowers are always a good choice but the type of flower to avoid is very important, it is so easy for someone not in the know to commit faux pas. Chrysanthemums are definitely not appropriate for they are the flower for funerals and are traditionally placed onto the graves of the loved ones. Carnations represent bad luck and roses are only to be given to someone you love. Dessert, chocolates or wine are good ideas.
While dining in a private home or in a restaurant one thing is certain the meal is meant to be lingered over so you can savour every mouthful of every course and enjoy the company of others. So do not be surprised if the meal takes two or three hours to eat, it is called ‘civilised loitering’.
Always good to share desserts with a good friend over a glass or two of wine or coffee.
Which brings me back to the start of the blog, “the Etiquette of Cheese”, the trick is to pick four cheeses ranging from the mild to the strong, a slice from each is then to be placed clockwise around your plate. You will start with the mild cheese and finish with the strong cheese. Up to now I have always just picked a strong cheese but it is good to learn the customary etiquette.