10 Cliches About French Eating Habits That Are Actually True

June 23, 2017

It's France Week! We asked Zazie Tavitian, the Food & Drink Editor over at Time Out Paris, to walk us through what French people think Americans think of them—and admit which clichés are true.

Photo by Flickr/v-Santos

French people are used to hearing strange things about them and their eating habits. Everyone thinks of us as people with a baguette under one arm, a bottle of red wine under the other, and a camembert hidden under our bérets. However, you should know that French people's eating habits have changed since the 18th century. They like hamburgers and street food, and don't dip their cheesy toasts in coffee. (Though, it depends.)

Some clichés do ring truer than others, though. Par exemple...

French people eat frogs.

You can find frog burgers at an old place called Roger la Grenouille, where Picasso himself used to lunch. There is also a pub in Paris called Rainettes, where you can eat frogs for l'apéro.

Speaking of l'apéro...

A real apéro features red wine, cheese, and charcuterie. Nothing more. After work, if you're going to a bar to meet friends, you order a planche of charcuterie or a planche mixte (charcuterie and cheese) to go with your red wine. But that certainly does not prevent you from having a real dinner later.

A real meal goes entrée-plat-dessert, and is eaten while seated at a table. Or else it’s not a meal.

This is why it’s not a myth that French people spend a lot of time at the table—about 2 hours and 22 minutes per day, according to a survey from 2012. (I can attest this is probably still true.) At the least, you have to eat a main course and a dessert. But in most cases, there is a starter, and of course some cheese. (Perhaps a salad?)

If there's no bread, it's not a meal.

"And don’t forget to bring back a baguette" is one of those things a French person hears daily. At the very least, you'll see a crouton (the extremities of bread) on any French table; nothing is wasted.

If you don’t like cheese, French people will look at you with pity.

"Whaaaaaat? You don't like cheese? Why?" will be the most common reaction. Then, people will try to find psychological explanations for this very, very strange behavior. But what did you expect from a place that produces about 1,200 varieties of cheese?

Eating guts is fine.

The very pretty words andouillette and saucisson really just mean…guts! Mostly pig guts. When we revealed this pot au rose (a French expression for scandal) to two American friends eating andouillettes at L’Avant Comptoir, Chef Yves Camdeborde's trendy restaurant in Saint Germain, they nearly choked.

Sure, we know what brunch is. But what we really like is a good old petit déjeuner.

What a strange idea to mix salty and sweet food in the same course, and to pay an obscene price for it at a restaurant. Most of the time, during le weekend, French people just go around the block and buy a croissant pure beurre (croissant ordinaire, with margarine, is a crime); a pain au chocolat; and, of course, more baguettes.

Garçons de café are very unfriendly and it does not bother anyone.

In the old Parisian cafés, where waiters are dressed in black and white, don’t expect any smiles or kind words of welcome. Don’t be surprised if the waiter show impatience if you take too much time to choose your plate. And don’t be surprised if, after that, he expect a tip from you.

But that's okay. If you’re a real gastronome, you go to the market.

It doesn't matter if you can buy the same food at the supermarket; like Jane Birkin, you have to go to the food market on Saturday or Sunday with your wicker basket as a fashion accessory. There's a market in every city of France, so try to get on a first name basis with the organic vegetable sellers.

Because French people, men and women, really cook at home.

It’s not like Carrie Bradshaw, who uses her oven to store her shoes. No; in France, we make dinner for you, for friends, for dates, for family. This involves chopping vegetables, cooking meat, preparing a sauce, and making a nice table. My friends and I could easily spend three hours making spring rolls before sitting down to watch Top Chef.

For more on French food (sans white tablecloth), head here.

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Isa June 24, 2017
We are not talking about French but rather Parisians here! L'apéro is not necessarely red wine, i actually never had red wine apéro, sweet muscat or pastis yes red wine no; and our meals always included salad but then I'm from the South...
ChefJune June 23, 2017
I've been traveling in France for 25 years and can count on one hand the number of rude people I've encountered. This is a fun piece. Thanks!
La'Chia June 23, 2017
Funny that you say the French will pity people who don't like cheese because I actually know a French person who hates cheese! People are always shocked when she admits this.
ChefJune June 23, 2017
However, I think that if some Americans who think they hate cheese would try some cheese in France, they might well change their minds.
Maryanne June 23, 2017
Seriously--Americans think all the French wear berets with camembert hidden under them-- this isn't the 1950's (and even then not many thought that) and patronising, silly comments like that only reinforce stereotypes about Americans and the French.
Brooke June 23, 2017
Moi aussi! When we first went to France, lo too many years ago (almost 35!?), we had heard how unpleasant the French would be and how unfriendly the atmosphere would be. Au contraire! While having dinner one night in Mont St. Michel, a woman who had lost a leg in the Second World War leaned over during our meal to thank us for being Americans who had done so much for France during the war. I had a train ticket seller ask me to slide my fingers beneath the guard glass at her station to count on my fingers for me, telling me what time the next train bound for my destination would arrive. All throughout the country, no matter where we went, big city or small, the people were delightful, patient, kind, and interested in all we had to say and share. Vive la France!
Amanda June 23, 2017
I've seldom had the grumpy garçon experience! I lived in Paris (granted, it was not for that long, just six months), and les garçons were almost always so nice to me! In general, I was surprised; people were nicer to me than I'd been told to expect. I was young and still learning French back then, so maybe I inspired pity, but apart from a few exceptions, everyone was really nice and helpful.