Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Did You Know? More on Magnificent Manners

Yes, normally today Edith and I are rummaging in our closets in an effort to contrive staggeringly stunning ensembles for your delectation, but for logistical reasons (you don't really care about the details) the weekly schedule has been modified.

Instead, we (you and I, not Edith) will be examining the fine, sometimes complicated, but ever important manners and mores that no matter what one is wearing signal to the French who you are and from whence you arrived. Believe me, it's a minefield. So incendiary are some of these glaring words and gestures that I have decided not to mention them. (You'll have to contact me undercover on a need-to-know basis because I don't want to rock the bateau.)

Once again, some I knew, some I learned and some no one in the world could know unless one first makes the faux pas followed by a correction. Attending a Swiss boarding school normally gives the necessary polish and politesse required. For those who have passed the enrollment age, please allow me to assist. 

If you want to give your children and grandchildren a jambe up you could whisk them off to Academie Nadine de Rothschild, Internatioinal Way of Life where she will teach them much more than which fork to use. 

She's the perfect professor. She went from the lowest echelons of French society, passing by her starlet stage to le bon mariage and thus becoming La Baronne Nadine de Rothschild. She oozes charm and good humor and never pretends or negates her rise in good fortune and what she learned on the trudge up the mountain. Now she shares the wealth of her experiences through books and her "finishing school."

She also counsels her adherents later in life to help them climb that other important social ladder: career advancement. Business etiquette is itself a rapidly growing career path. (See how Nadine is working the table above.)

Entre temps, let me respond to a few questions which may or may not have occurred to you and about which you may or may not give a whit:

1.) Soup: It is consumed from the point of the spoon, not from the side as we were taught. I know I don't need to say this, but of course I will, no slurping, sucking or blowing on the liquid and if you can't get every last drop with the spoon -- leave it. Do not tip the bowl. (Ed note: French soup spoons are enormous.)

2.) Toasts: In our review last week we discussed never saying, "bon appetit" this week a reminder to never say "Santé" as a toast.

3.) The worst, most condescending insult one can say about another is that he or she is "ordinaire." Ouch. Really.

4.) A variety of key words exist, that once dropped into a conversation immediately classify the speaker, this is the ultimate snobbism of the French. These words I shall not divulge herewith. The paramount rule for good manners is not to offend or embarrass, for that reason I shall abstain. (For a fascinating discourse on snobbism you must click over to La Duchesse at Passage des Perles.)

5.) One says: "Je vous embrasse" and never, "On se fait la bise."

6.) It is the duty, no the obligation, of every dinner party guest to devote equal time engaging the invitee on his (or her) left and right in lively conversation, not to do so is considered unforgivably rude. Too bad for you, speaking from a man's point of view, if you have Ines de la Fressange on your right and the host's deaf great-grandmother on your left. C'est la vie.

7.) When leaving the dining room, push your chair back toward the table.

8.) Never abbreviate on an envelope, always write: Madame, Monsieur or Mademoiselle.

9.) At the very least it is considered inelegant to refuse part of the repas. In France you will either be served or serve yourself, therefore you are in control of your portions. If you despise wild boar (as I do) take a small piece, try to eat a tiny bite and quickly drink some wine. Now you are the perfect guest.

10.) You have probably heard scores of times the rule about never cutting lettuce. It must be folded into a little package. I've certainly mentioned this before, but one detail I neglected is that the job of a good hostess is to make certain her lettuce leaves have been ripped into manageable bits. Also, if the process does require folding you can assist your fork with a small morsel of bread. Yes, it can be tres tricky.

11.) Do not answer the telephone with a bored "oui" implicit in that word is a question mark demanding "what do you want?" Always respond to the ring with a bright, sunny "allo!" -- if you're in a bad mood, let the call go into the answering machine. 

12.) This fascinates me: When one is asked to "please pass the salt," it is not to be handed to the person, but placed next to her. Hand-to-hand salt transfers are associated with some ancient superstition. Who knew? Who could know?

13.) On formal wedding invitations, the grandparents' names precede those of the parents on the invitation to the ceremony. Rather charming I think.

14.) If you do not wish to have more wine, never put your hand over the glass. A simple, "non merci" will suffice.

Et voila -- until and unless -- I can think of or find more obscure essential etiquette rules.


Morgane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Morgane said...

Sorry for the delete comment : i comment too quicly and read too quickly too : so my answer was inaproriate with your post ! lol!
SO I agree with some manners : never refuse a part of dinner , yes we are sensitive about foods. A friend of mine who never it the dessert is considered like a rude boy! Say about someone " qu'est -ce qu'elle est ordinaire" is so hurting yes ; because every french woman as to be special or die !
for the spoon and soup problem i resolved it by proposing cold soup to drink with a straw AND in a beautiful crytsal class of course( so chic !)
I love the way french manners could be seen : are we so conservative?
ps : i sometime say "santé" but only after 2 bottles of wine ! "santé mais pas des pieds " "sentez mais pas des pieds " très classe!

Marsi said...

Clearly, I have lived my life as a savage until today. ;o)

Glad to see Lady Nadine putting in another appearance.


James said...

Dearest Tish I know no one has ever referred to you as ordinaire! This was as always very interesting, thank you.

Châtelaine - The Garden Fairy said...

Hopefully I am not looked at as "snobby" now- but these manners are not exclusively French, IMO - I know these rules from Germany too, of course with different wording/expressions. Nobody should say here "Prost" when toasting - this is very "redneck" and fits into a pub only... Very interesting to read - I am looking forward to more, please ! kind regards, Martina

Belle de Ville said...

I shall pass this post on to my children. Even though they attended a Swiss boarding school, I can assure you that they didn't learn any rules of politess there!

C.J. said...

love your blog, I really like the side notes, you have taught me a lot. Thank you, Carol

BigLittleWolf said...

OMG I've broken nearly half of these (and PLEASE send me the secret words to #r).

The funniest one of all - to me - is the folding the lettuce. I never thought about it. I don't cut it (I do fold), and of course the salade verte anywhere in France is sublime, but I never actually realized that I fold it until you mentioned it.

Now watch - the next time I'm invited somewhere in Paris, I'll hack my salad like something out of a horror film, and of course, my French friends being the ultimate in polite hosts, they won't say a word.

Vivianne Leclaire (Liquid French blog) said...

I just wrote "Je vous prie de m'excuser" on a card next to my computer so I can practice saying it every day.

I am always doing things for which I need to be excused, so I need to know how to say it right.

I have been saying "Pardon," but NOW I KNOW BETTER.

Great post!

Duchesse said...

You tease1 If you allude to 'key words', would you please share them?

Of course, if merely 'anyone' learns the secret code, goodness, what a distasteful world. We could not differentiate who is worthy of our association.

knitpurl said...

Thank you, have to re-read later to digest this all. You are better than a French class, Tish.

Deja Pseu said...

Tish, merci beaucoup for guiding us through this maze of manners! So if "sante" is considered an inappropriate toast, what does one say when a glass is hoisted?

The Duchess said...

It took me ages to stop myself from saying 'bon appetit' and I really didn't know about the not saying 'santé' bit. My degree is French is pretty useless when it comes to these things! Thanks for pointing this out!:-)
Yes, so what does one say when raising a toast?

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

You always have the perfect touch, Tish. I enjoy re-learning all the fabulous customs of my favorite people!!


Julie@beingRUBY said...

Dear Tish
Quite fascinating.. I am sure I would make a complete mess of it and now think I should stay home .. haha Are these customs an everyday expectation, or only when having or being guests, or special occasions? [hope you didn't already mention this] I found the salting passing issue quite interesting.. there are so many superstitions attached to salt, perhaps as historically it has so much symbology attached to it.. wealth abundance protection etc.. I will now have to research this one.. and read your back posts... thanks... And could you please pass those salt shakers my way.. Have a great day.. xx Julie

Miss Muddy Paws said...

Fabulous post!

Rebekah said...

Who would refuse the wine?

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