The main meals of France are:
Breakfast – le petit déjeuner
Usually bread, butter and jam, croissants or perhaps cereal. Bakeries and pattiseries will be full of cake products for breakfast such as pain au raisins or pains or chocolat – but it’s not considered an important meal of the day to the French!
Lunch – le déjeuner
Many cafés and restaurants open for lunch from 11.30 and accept customers until about 13.00 –it can be really difficult in rural areas to find somewhere willing to give you a table after this time and they generally close their doors at 14.00. It’s common in France to take a two hour lunch break, many working parents return home for lunch, schools sending children home and shops and businesses close from 12.00 to 14.00
Dinner – diner
Dinner is, for most people in France, the main meal of the day and it is traditional for the family to eat together in the evening – it’s not unusual to spend up to 2 hours at the table for this meal. Generally dinner in France is later than it might be in the UK or US and is eaten between 7.30 and 8.45 pm – French TV schedules key programmes to commence after dinner at 8.45 as it’s considered bad etiquette in France to watch TV while eating dinner.
Dinner is occasionally called souper in France, here in the North of France my neighbours certainly use this term – usually when we’ve had a hearty (I mean big) lunch and a lighter evening meal is called for!
Eating “en famille” Family meals
On the whole meals are still an integral part of family life in France and the French continue not to rely on pre-processed pre-conditioned ready-made food. Many French families prefer home made food made from seasonal products – although there are signs of change and supermarkets seem to be stocking up much more on ready made goods even in small villages. A traditional “family meal”, such as Sunday lunch, or a meal to which guests are invited, can last two to four hours, or even longer in the country.
It is quite usual to have a bowl of green salad with every meal. Often this will be solely lettuce with a drizzle of French dressing, particularly in colder months when it’s the only seasonal fresh salad available. It’s considered a palate cleanser in France like a sorbet which you might find served in fine dining restaurants, and is very common in both home dining and restaurants.
Don’t be surprised to be served a different wine with each course at the home of your French hosts, most people in France consider themselves if not experts at least seriously interested and they like to impress with their wine choices.
If you get invited to a meal at a French home or you invite French people to your home for a meal, there are some rules of etiquette you might wish to be aware of.
Etiquette for French dining
- The French always eat bread with a meal
- A bowl of lettuce served after the entrée (starter) is common
- If there is a cheese course and a desert, the cheese course always comes first and no surprise cheese is eaten with bread, not with biscuits.
- Don’t take a bottle of wine to your host’s house – it’s considered a bit cheeky, almost as if you don’t trust them to choose the wine!
- Do take a floral tribute to your hostess, a lovely bunch of flowers or a floral display that are made so beautifully in the florists. Or take chocolate, really good quality from a chocolatier – not a bar of fruit and nut.
- Don’t be too late but don’t arrive bang on time!
- Don’t start eating until your host or hostess has bid you “bon apetit”.