“Where do we eat now?”, my friend asked. It was 9 pm on a Thursday and we had spent the whole day wandering around Montmartre in Paris. “Let’s look at the chalkboard menus and we’ll go for the one which we absolutely don’t understand a word of”, I said. I have a thing for the chalkboard menus of sidewalk cafes in Paris. They are simply so adorable that you want to walk in these places just to find out what are they serving. So we got into this this cute little cafe somewhere on a street that goes parallel to rue Caulaincourt. It was empty but for a couple who was lingering over their coffee. The waiter came up to us with a quizzical look. My friend said, “do you speak English?”. He shrugged. Perfect!
From then on it was an amusing episode of the waiter trying to make us figure out what was on the menu. He gestured and squeaked and flapped his hands. We wondered if he meant bird and fish. Oui, s’il vous plaît. Close enough. That night we had scallops with cabbage and leeks, quail for Le Plat, and to-die-for Bûche de Noël. And while we were still savoring this amazing meal, the chef came over to our table!!! Now, how do you say finger licking good in French :-)
The chef is the king in French dining. What you see is what you get. The French will not change your dish by adding things in, taking things out or asking for things that are not on the menu. This could be the single most important difference between North American and French dining etiquette. The French chef has prepared this dish for you with love and put a lot of thought into the end product. The flavors all make sense together. You cannot make any changes without truly vexing the chef, the server and subsequently all of the others with whom you are dining.
Tipping is another tricky thing in France. It is not required, but it is greatly appreciated. We soon learned this from our waiter’s look.. this time he gave us a big smile as we bid adeau. merci.