Don’t despair, you’ll still be able to make your favorite recipes from home while in France. You’ll even find that, before long, you’ll be adding more and more French recipes to your repertoire. However, you DO need to become familiar with European weights and measures and with substitute ingredients before you try to whip up Grandma’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies or that new chili con carne recipe a friend just gave you. You just can’t go on asking your friends to send you sour cream, Velveeta, and chocolate chips forever! You may have difficulties with some things (cuts of meat, baking ingredients) but be patient and experiment. Part of the experience is seeing how close you can come to making your special recipe. The experiment is half the fun!
COMMON FOOD PRODUCTS
Milk in France is usually bought in briques (rectangular cartons) or plastic bottles (bouteilles) that do not need to be refrigerated since they have been UHT treated (sterilized). They can be stored for several months (see date on carton: à consommer avant le).
Fresh milk, lait frais can be found in the refrigerator section and is the equivalent of American pasteurized milk. You may also find lait cru (raw milk) which is not pasteurized and sold in thick plastic ‘bag’ containers. You can find raw milk in Carrefour at some cheese places (artisanal) and at Champion supermarkets. Also available in large plastic bottles in the refrigerated section of hypermarkets is lait pasteurisé. Unlike American pasteurized milk, there will be a heavy cream separated in the container. Some people may find this type of milk more difficult to digest.
Fresh milk Lait frais
Fresh pasteurized Lait pasteurisé
Sterilized milk Lait stérilisé (UHT – longue conservation)
Homogenized milk Lait homogéneisé
Whole milk Lait entier
Low-fat milk Lait demi-écremé
Skim milk Lait écremé
Dairy Products (produits laitiers)
Butter Beurre (all unsalted unless described as demi-sel)
Buttermilk Lait fermenté or lait ribot (available in Arabic shops, and in Champion supermarkets)
Whipping cream Crème liquide or crème fleurette (available in mini briques, not in the refrigerated section)
Sour cream Use crème fraîche or fromage blanc (especially the Gervais Fjord brand). These are the closest to sour cream you will find.
Whipped cream Crème chantilly (available light, or regular in aerosol cans, sometimes in the refrigerated section)
Cream cheese Sold almost everywhere in Europe except France. Substitute SAMOS or KIRI (better) brand for regular cream cheese.
Use St. Moret for whipped cream cheese and cheesecake recipes.
Yogurt Yaourt (wide variety available)
Ice cream Glace, crème glacée (Haagen Dazs is now widely available in France)
Cheddar cheese Can be found at some cheese counters. Mimolette can be substituted.
Grated cheese Gruyère or emmental or parmesan rapé.
Goat cheeese Chèvre
Ewe’s milk chees Brebis (delicious specialty of the Pyrénées).
Some hints: crème fraîche is superb for sauces, as it doesn’t curdle as with others. For uncooked cheesecake use high fat fromage frais, for cooked use St Moret or Mascarpone.
FLOUR (farine) AND BAKING GOODS
Plain flour Farine de blé
Self-rising flour Farine à gateaux (‘Type 45’ best for baking)
Fine flour for sauces Farine fluide
Whole wheat flour Farine complète (in diététique section or in health food stores)
REMEMBER! Use ‘Type 45’ flour for light cakes, non-yeast baking & ‘Type 55’ only for yeast cookery.
Baker’s chocolate Chocolat noir (please note size difference of squares for non-French recipes).
Baking powder Levure chimique (“l’Alsacienne” pink or blue packets).
It is not the same as Calumet. Gives a taste more like baking soda and it doesn’t rise as well.
Baking soda Bicarbonate de soude. You can ask for it in any pharmacy or try Casino supermarkets.
Cocoa Cacao, Van Houten Brand.
Cornstarch Fleur de maïs, Maizena is a brand.
Cornmeal Semoule de maïs (Polenta can also be substituted)
Yeast Dry yeast is called levure de boulanger, but is not refrigerated and is not the same thing as a packet of active dry yeast. Fresh yeast can be bought in cubes in larger markets and is sold with the fresh dough near the bakery department. You can also get it in most bakeries if you ask for levure fraîche.
Gelatin Gélatine, available in powder form but usually you’ll find feuilles, or sheets of gelatin (two sheets equals one packet).
Powder sugar Sucre glace
Table sugar Sucre en poudre
Brown sugar Vergeoise brune or blonde, l’Antillaise pure canne (not as moist as US brown sugar and thus baking will not be as soft) .
Wax paper Papier sulfurisé or papier de cuisson, available in supermarkets in the aisle with aluminum foil.
Raisins/sultanas Raisins secs
Dried currants Raisins de Corinthe
Walnuts Noix (black walnuts are not available)
Pecans Noix de pécan: rare and expensive, try the épiceries fines or health food shops (magasine diététiques).
Olive oil Huile d’olive
Peanut oil Huile d’arachide
Sunflower oil Huile de tournesol
Rapeseed oil Huile de colza
Walnut oil Huile de noix (try it on salads)
Corn oil Huile de maïs
SPICES (épices) and HERBS (herbes)
Aniseed Anis Gherkin Cornichon
Basil Basilic Ginger Gingembre
Bay leaf Feuille de laurier Marjoram Marholaine
Sweet bay Laurier sauce Mint Menthe
Cayenne pepper Piment de cayenne Nutmeg Muscade (noix de)
Chive Ciboulette Oregano Origan
Cinnamon Cannelle Parsley Persil
Cracked black pepper Poivre noir Pepper Poivre
Cream of tartar Creme de tartare Rosemary Rosmarin
Cumin Cumin Saffron Safran
Dill Aneth Sage Sauge
Fennel Fenouil Tarragon Estragon
Garlic Ail Thyme Thym
Apple Pomme Melon Melon (like cantaloupe)
Applesauce Compote de pommes Melon Melon vert or jaune (like honeydew)
Apricot Abricot Nectarine Nectarine
Banana Banane Peach Peche
Blackberry Mure Pear Poire
Blueberry /Bilberry Myrtille Pineapple Ananas
Cherry Cerise Plum Prune
Currant (black) Cassis Prunes Pruneaux
Currant (red) Groseille Raspberry Framboise
Fig Figue Strawberry Fraise
Grapefruit Pamplemousse Tangerine Mandarine/Clementine
Grape Raisin (seedless are rare to find) Watermelon Pasteque
Lemon/Lime Citron and Citron vert
Note: Cranberry: airelle is the closest substitute unless you find them imported from the United States. In season, try Nouvelles Galeries and be prepared to pay! Airelles are rarely available fresh, but are usually in jam (confiture). They are also available in frozen food stores.
Artichoke Artichaut Leek Poireau
Asparagus Asperge Lettuce Laitue, Salade
Avocado Avocat Mushroom Champignon
Beans (green) Haricot Verts Onion Oignon
Beans (small green kidney) Flageolets Parsnip Panais
Beans (white kidney) Haricots Blancs Peas Petits Pois
Beetroot Betterave Pepper (red) Poivron Rouge
Broccoli Broccoli Pepper (green) Poivron Vert
Brussels Sprouts Choux de Bruxelles Potato Pomme De Terre
Cabbage Chou Pumpkin Potiron
Carrot Carotte Radish Radis
Cauliflower Chou-Fleur Rice Riz
Celery Celeri Salsify Salsifi
Celeriac Celeri Rave Sauerkraut Choucroute Sans Garniture
Corn, sweetcorn Maïs Shallot Echalote
Eggplant Aubergine Spinach Epinard
Escarole Scarole Sweet Potato Patate Douce
Endive (curly) Endive frisée Swiss Chard /leaf beet Blette
Endive (Belgian) Endive Turnip Navet
Fennel Fenouil Watercress Cresson
Garlic Ail Zucchini Courgette
When ordering grilled meat in a restaurant: very rare (bleu), rare (saignant), medium (à point), or well done (bien cuit).
The following food hints will aid you in your first trips to do your shopping. Cuts of meat are not the same as in North America and the United Kingdom. The cooking methods are also different in many cases, as often a hotter oven is used. While beef in America is aged several months, in France it is aged only about ten days. For this reason, it must be cooked quickly at a very high temperature to remain tender and seal in the juices. It is advisable, therefore, to ask your butcher to recommend the temperature (quelle température?) and length of time for cooking (combien de temps?) All meat is submitted to veterinary inspection. Bones are sold separately.
Meat is bought at a butcher shop (la boucherie) or a supermarket. A charcuterie is a butcher shop specializing in pork products, cold cuts, smoked meat and other specialties found in delicatessen shops. If you don’t see what you’re looking for in the butcher shop, ask. They often have more in the back, and if not, will be glad to special order it for you. A boucherie chevaline sells horse meat, which many Europeans enjoy.
*****Please Note: The following translations are approximate and you will find that many of the cuts of beef listed are not available. You should also note that the texture or taste might be different than you are use to at home. Charolais beef, the most expensive (Marché Victor Hugo, Monoprix, butcher), is a popular choice with foreigners. You can also try marinades to tenderize the meat.
Aiguillette Rump roast
Steak haché/bœuf haché Ground beef, mince, hamburger
Contre-filet avec os T-bone steak
Côte anglaise Club steak
Côte à bouillir Boiling beef
Côte plate Short ribs
Côte première Standing rib roast
Entrecôte Boneless rib steak, very common cut
Fausse côte Chuck roast
Filet de boeuf Beef tenderloin
Flanchet Flank steak – try bavette marinated
Jarret de boeuf Shin cut
Faux filet Like strip steak
Gite à la noix Round steak
Macreuse Beef round for stewing (a long time)
Palette Chuck roast (stew meat)
Petit coin Top round
Pot au feu Boiled beef
Ragoût de boeuf
or boeuf bourguignon Chunk stew beef
Rôti de boeuf Bottom round roast
Tartare Very lean ground beef, to be eaten raw
Tournedos Rolled tenderloin steak
Carré d’agneau Rib roast and chops
Côtelette d’agneau Lamb rib chop
Côtes d’agneau Loin chop
Épaule Shoulder for roasting, boned or unboned
Gigot d’agneau Leg of lamb
Tranche de gigot Slice of leg of lamb
Blanquette Pieces for stewing
Cervelle Calf’s brain, sweet breads
Côtelettes de veau Veal chop
Émincé de veau Thin strips of veal
Escalope de veau Thin slices of veal round steak, veal cutlet
Foie de veau Calf’s liver
Jarret de veau Shin cut (for making osso bucco)
Ris de veau Calf organ meat
Rognon de veau Calf’s kidney
Veau roulé Rolled shoulder roast
Côte de porc Pork chop
Filet mignon de porc Pork tenderloin
Plat de côtes / travers de porc Spareribs
Jarret de porc Fresh pork hock
Lard or poitrine Bacon
Poitrine fumée or lard fumé Smoked bacon (ask to have it sliced thin, tranches très fines, if you want it like USA bacon).
Saucisse fraîche Sausage
Saucisse fumée Smoked sausage (try saucisse de Montbéliard, de Morteau).
Saucisses de Francfort or de Strasbourg Frankfurters/hotdogs
Cerf Fallow deer
Marcassin Young boar
Sanglier Wild boar
Blancs de poulet Chicken breast
Coquelet Little rooster
Dinde Turkey hen – usually only sold in pieces, except at Christmas season.*
Dindon Tom turkey
Dindonneau Young turkey
Poule Hen for stewing
Pintade Guinea fowl – a bit stronger in taste than chicken, but works in the same recipes.
Poulet Chicken (fermier / free-range).
*Specialty poultry can be ordered through most markets (poultry department) one week in advance but is generally only available during the holiday season.
You will find many types of fish that you probably do not have in your home country. Don’t try to translate, just taste!
Aiglefin Haddock Lotte similar to monkfish (but better)
Alose Shad Loup de mer Bass
Anchois Anchovies Maquereau Mackerel
Anguille Eel Merlan Whiting
Bar Sea bass Morue (salée) Cod, dried
Brochet Pike Perche Perch
Cabillaud Cod Pétoncles Cheaper scallops
Calamar Squid Plie Plaice
Carrelet Similar to flounder Raie Skate
Colin Hake (cod family) Requin Shark
Daurade Sea bream Rouget Red mullet
Espadon Sword fish Sandre Walleye pike
Flet Flounder Saumon Salmon
Fletan Halibut Sole Sole
Haddock Haddock, smoked Thon Tuna
Hareng Herring Truite Trout
Lieu Pollack, pollock Truite saumonée Salmon trout
Limande, flet Flounder
SEAFOOD (fruits de mer) / SHELLFISH (crustaces) and MOLLUSKS (mollusques)
Bulots Sea snails
Clams / palourdes Similar to clams and less expensive
Coquille Saint Jacques Scallops: sold with the coral when fresh; try frozen for scallops without coral.
Gambas Jumbo shrimp (prawns)
Langouste / langoustine Rock lobster / prawn or scampi
Tourteau, crabe Crab
Vénus, coques Small clam-like mollusks
GARNISHES AND SAUCES
Béchamel Creamy sauce made of milk and flour
Beurre blanc Sauce of white wine and shallots, with butter
Chasseur White wine, mushrooms and shallots
Diable Strong mustard seasoning
Forestière With bacon and mushroom
Fricassée Rich, creamy sauce
Mornay Cheese sauce
Pays d’Auge Cream and cider
Piquante Gherkins or capers, vinegar and shallots
Provençale Tomatoes, garlic, olive oil and herbs
Bisque Shellfish soup
Bouillabaisse Marseillais fish soup
Bouillon Broth or stock
Bourride Thick fish soup
Consommé Clear soup
Pistou Parmesan, basil and garlic paste added to soup
Potage Thick vegetable soup
Rouille Red pepper, garlic and saffron mayonnaise served with fish soup
Velouté Thick vegetable soup, usually with fish or poultry
Some HARD TO FIND foods
Bisquick Available at Carrefour and in Champion and Intermarche International Foods aisle
Cottage Cheese LeClerc, Blagnace or try downtown Toulouse supermarkets.
Cranberry Sauce Champion and Intermarche International Food aisleVery difficult to find and very expensive. Some Intermarchés carry it.
Crisco Substitute margarine pour patisserie, available in special bakery shops.
French’s Mustard Similar: Savora Le Condiment.
Graham Crackers For crusts, buy digestive biscuits sold in International Foods aisle
Iced Tea Mix Ice tea is available in bottles and cans, usually sweetened and peach or mint flavored
Molasses Try the épiceries fines or try the health food stores.
Jello-O LeClerc and Champion British aisles (they call it “jelly”).
Sodium Nitrate Preserving.
Sundried Tomatoes Oil-packed are available in some foreign food sections in the supermarkets.
Whereas in the USA cups and spoon measures are used for nearly all ingredients, Europeans use weight for dry ingredients and volume for liquids. As a result you’ll find a food scale in most French kitchens. Trying to convert our cup measures is no easy feat since a cup of flour doesn’t weigh the same as a cup of sugar or a cup of crushed walnuts! You’re best bet is to bring a measuring cup from home (one with metric volumes on the other side is even better) with you and to buy a kitchen scale for French recipes. Bring a set of measuring spoons as well. The following conversions may help you when your new French friends start asking you to translate your recipe for those famous “American” chocolate chip cookies!
COMMONLY USED INGREDIENT CONVERSIONS
All-Purpose Flour (Unsifted and spooned into the cup)
Volume Ounces Grams
1/4 cup 1.1 oz 31 gm
1/3 cup 1.5 oz 42 gm
1/2 cup 2.2 oz 63 gm
1 cup 4.4 oz 125 gm
Volume Ounces Grams
1 tsp 0.1 oz 4 gm
1 tbsp 0.4 oz 12 gm
1/4 cup 1.8 oz 50 gm
1/3 cup 2.4 oz 67 gm
1/2 cup 3.5 oz 100 gm
1 cup 7.1 oz 200 gm
Firmly Packed Brown Sugar
Volume Ounces Grams
1 tbsp 0.5 oz 14 gm
1/4 cup 1.9 oz 55 gm
1/3 cup 2.6 oz 3 gm
1/2 cup 3.9 oz 110 gm
1 cup 7.8 oz 220 gm
Butter (sold in France in 125g, 250g, 500g bars, use the vertical marks on the side of the package).
Volume Ounces Grams
1 tbsp 0.5 oz 14 gm
1/4 cup 2.0 oz 57 gm
1/3 cup 2.6 oz 76 gm
1/2 cup 4.0 oz 113 gm
1 cup 8.0 oz 227 gm
Volume Ounces Grams
1/4 cup 1.0 oz 28 gm
1/3 cup 1.3 oz 38 gm
1/2 cup 2.0 oz 57 gm
1 cup 4.0 oz 113 gm
1 kilogram = 1000 grams = 2.2 USA pounds
454 grams = 1 USA pound = 19 oz.
100 grams = 3.5 oz.
28.3 grams = 1 oz. = 1 Tbsp.
Capacity (in American cups and quarts)
1 liter = 4 liquid cups + 3 1/2 Tbsp = 1.06 quarts (liquid)
1 quart = 0.9463 liter = 9.5 deciliters (dl) = 4 cups (liquid)
1 cup (liquid) = 2.4 deciliters (dl)
1 deciliter (dl) = 7 Tbsp
1 cuillère à café or thé (coffee/tea spoon) = 1 tsp
1 cuillère à dessert (dessert spoon) = 2 tsp
1 cuillère à soupe (soup spoon) = 1 tbsp
1 teaspoon = 1/3 tablespoon = 5 millilitres
3 teaspoons = 1 tablespoon = 15 millilitres
4 tablespoons = 1/4 cup = 60 millilitres
8 tablespoons = 1/2 cup = 120 millilitres
1 cup = 8 fluid ounces = 0.2366 litres (about 1/4 litre)
2 cups = 1 pint = 0.4732 litres (about 1/2 litre)
4 cups = 1 quart = 0.9463 litres (about 1 litre)
4 quarts = 1 gallon
Conversion formula: °C to °F: (°C x 1.8 plus 32)
°F to °C: (°F minus 32 x 0.56)
Oven Temperature F. C. French Stove
160 70 1
Low (bas) 220 105 2
230 110 3
275 135 4
Moderate (moyen) 350 180 5
Hot (chaud) 425 220 6
Very Hot (très chaud) 500 260 7
525 275 8
Except for breakfast, a meal is an activity for the French that involves eating, conversation, and relaxation. If you are going out for lunch or dinner, be it to a friend’s home or to a restaurant, expect the meal to last 2-3 hours, or more. This may seem long by your own standards, but in France time is taken between the presentation of courses, giving you the opportunity to talk and enjoy your companions. Don’t let the size of the meals overwhelm you. The French manage to stay in shape by rarely eating between meals. There is no such thing as a ‘quick lunch’ in France, (other than for “fast-food” service) unless you content yourself with a thin jambon beurre baguette sandwich.
BREAKFAST (petit déjeuner): 07:00 to 08:00 – later in hotels
A typical breakfast, at home, hotel or café will consist of café au lait (coffee with milk) or chocolat chaud (hot chocolate) often sipped from a bowl, bread, butter, jam and/or croissants. Breakfast is usually the only meal where butter is served.
LUNCH (déjeuner): 12:00 to 14:30
Lunch is traditionally the main meal of the day for the French. It consists of appetizers, a fish course (at a very formal meal), a meat course with vegetables, a salad, cheeses, fruit, pastries (on special occasions) and coffee (strong and black, served in small cups). Wine always accompanies the meal. It is not un-common for a business person to go home for a long lunch, rather than visit a restaurant, although this is changing as more women work outside the home.
DINNER (dîner): 19:30 to 22:30 (approximately)
Traditionally much simpler and lighter than the noon meal, dinner may be soup, salad, meat, and fruit. However, if it is a social occasion, it will be similar to lunch. Before the meal, you will probably be offered an apéritif of pastis (anise and water), kir (very good, white wine with a dash of black currant liqueur), whisky, vermouth, porto, muscat (very common here) or even champagne. Wine is usually not offered since it will be served with the meal. Drinks are usually taken in the living room. Some hostesses serve an appetizer such as pâté, or smoked fish, or more often today, nuts and/or crackers (crackers are served alone, the cheese is served with bread after the meal). There are often after-dinner drinks (digestif) such as Armagnac or Cognac.
There are countless fine restaurants to discover and enjoy. Going out for dinner is the evening’s main attraction, not a way to satisfy your hunger before going on to the next event. You shouldn’t be intimidated if your French is limited. Remember, the waiter is there to help you. You’ll note that they are quite attentive, not overpowering and will never interrupt your meal unless you call for him, “s’il vous plaît”.
*****Please note that you should ask for the check (l’addition), as it will not be brought to you automatically. Families should be aware that booster seats are rarely available and that most restaurants do not start serving until 19:00. For these reasons, one rarely sees young children in restaurants.
Restaurants range from “fast foods” (there are several familiar brands throughout greater Toulouse) to small bistros, to nationally recognized, chef-owned dining rooms. The prices are generally higher than you might expect at home in the USA (meals are cheaper in France than in the U.K.). Going out for a cheap meal (unless it’s fast food, pizza, or Vietnamese/Chinese) is not an easy feat. Lunch fixed price “menus”, offered by almost every restaurant, are less expensive. Ordering your complete meal from such a menu is usually more reasonably priced than ordering à la carte.
People usually arrive at the restaurant around 20:30-21:00 and stay until 23:30 or even later. Getting a “quick bite to eat” before going on to the evening’s “main event” is not a common practice in France. Most restaurants do not open until 19:00, thus making a before-theater meal quite difficult.
A reservation is recommended at all times: “Je voudrais réserver pour deux personnes à huit heures au nom de Smith.” (“I would like to reserve a table for two at 20:00, the name is Smith”). Tables for six or more should be reserved well in advance.
Tips are not generally necessary as prices include service (service compris, T.T.C.). However, you may choose to leave a small amount of change, at your discretion, if you think the service was good. For a moderately priced meal, 1,50€ left on the table means that you found the service deserving. When frequenting an expensive restaurant, a more generous amount would be appropriate. You will notice, however, that most French do not tip.
For information on Toulouse’s restaurants, see the listings in “Toulouse Pratique,” “Le Toulousain Malin” or www.cityvox.fr. Check the national guides such as the Michelin red book or Gault Millau. See chapter 27, Reference Book List.
Dinner parties given in someone’s home will often last as long, if not longer, than in a restaurant. You should be just as relaxed as you would be if you were eating “out” and don’t worry about offering to help. Just sit back and enjoy. Insisting that you want to help is considered somewhat intrusive, as you are the guest, and kitchen camaraderie, no matter how well-meaning, is not the custom.
Whatever you do, don’t worry. You have an accent and you’re from another country and rare is the French person that will take your ‘error’ for a faux pas. The following are some customs that might make you feel more at ease when seated at a French table.
• If you are offered a drink before dinner, rise from your seat to accept it.
• Wait for the host or hostess to tell you where to sit at the table.
• Expect to have wine served with lunch and dinner. The French consider it an aid to digestion and a stimulant to the appetite.
• Wait until the host has served wine to everyone, before you drink.
• If you pour wine for someone, only fill the glass HALF WAY, never to the top. Offer to serve others first, even if their glasses are not totally empty, BEFORE refilling your own glass.
• For formal settings, tables are set with forks and spoons turned downward. Use the knife placed above the dinner plate for cheese, and use the spoon or fork placed above the dinner plate for dessert.
• Keep both hands ON the table. It is not polite to keep your hands in your lap while you are eating.
• It is not polite to smoke between courses in either a home or a restaurant.
• The courses in a formal dinner are served separate. The order is usually: the hors d’œuvres, the main course, the salad, the cheese, the desserts. Coffee is always served after dessert, as a separate course.
• Put your portion of bread ON THE TABLE (no bread plate) to the upper left of the dinner plate. Break the bread with your fingers, never cut it, eating small pieces rather than taking bites from a whole slice. There’s no need to worry about crumbs on the tablecloth as that is normal and expected.
• The French will eat such food as pizza, chicken leg or barbecued spareribs with a knife and fork. This also extends to fruit.
• When you cut a piece of cheese from a vertical wedge, do not cut off the point. Cut vertically, as in cutting a wedge of pie. Round cheese are cut in wedges, Gruyère is cut lengthwise. Roquefort and all blue cheeses are cut so that the last person doesn’t end up with all the white. Some people will eat Roquefort with butter.
• Cheese usually goes round the table once, and you can pick up a selection of four to five cheese if you like.
• It is strongly recommended to clean your plate when invited to a French home. If you are serving yourself as the food is passed, you should just take what you are going to eat, and eat it all. If you leave something, your hostess might assume that you didn’t like it.
• To show that you have completed your meal, place the knife and fork on your plate side by side, handles pointing to the right, fork tines up.
In most places of the world, the foreigner who brings or sends an appropriate gift is always appreciated. However, French custom, etiquette, and tradition all play important parts in the choice of a gift, its value, and the manner in which the gift is given. Before giving a gift to a French person, ask someone, (preferably a French person), if your gift, and the giving thereof, is appropriate for the situation. The following list is a guideline for different gift-giving situations: birthdays, marriages, funerals, dinner parties and other events in France.
As a way of saying “Congratulations”, it is common for a friend to send flowers to the mother while she is in the hospital, or to buy an inexpensive gift (a small toy or article of clothing) for the baby. An expensive gift would make the parents feel uncomfortable.
A baptismal invitation is usually extended to family and close friends only. Normally, the godparents buy a gift of gold (for example: a gold chain). Invited friends would give a gift of less importance than that of the godparents. Giving gifts such as silver or glass would be appropriate. If you receive an announcement, (not an invitation) no gift is expected.
You might not be aware of an individual’s birthday, as the French are reluctant to speak about their age. However, for a birthday party, the hostess giving the party may set a limit on the price of the gift. Close friends will often buy a gift together. If there is no party, you may want to send a card although the exchanging of birthday cards is not a common practice.
Christmas Day is traditionally for the family only, although close friends who are “like family” may be invited. If you receive an invitation, bring a small, moderately-priced gift, and expect to receive the same. If you are invited for dinner, you should bring a dinner gift (see below). Except in certain business situations, the French only send Christmas cards to close family members. A card would be appreciated, but don’t expect one in return.
During the Christmas holiday period your mail delivery person may offer you a calendar in return for a donation (customarily 3-5€). If many packages were delivered to your house, it would be appropriate to give a larger tip. Personnel from other services, such as sanitation workers or firemen, may sell calendars during the holiday season as well, and again a small tip would be appreciated.
If you’re invited, you may want to bring a good bottle of wine, chocolates or flowers (see below). Children invited to a friend’s home would bring a small gift, if they do not know the family well. Close friends, who get together often, usually bring a bottle of wine, or they might offer to bring dessert. In some cases, depending upon the specific situation, bringing nothing at all would be perfectly acceptable. You are expected to return a dinner invitation, at some future date.
Red roses are for sweethearts. Carnations are considered bad luck. Chrysanthemums are for funerals ONLY. However, there’s a tolerance for the long spidery ones, the tokyos, which may be offered to people you know well. Flowers are always given in odd numbers, (for example, seven instead of a half dozen and eleven instead of a dozen) but NEVER thirteen! For a very formal dinner party, you can call the florist and have flowers delivered beforehand. In this event, the bouquet should be rather expensive (equivalent to the cost of a dinner, had you eaten out). For a less formal dinner, a hand-carried bouquet is appropriate. To send flowers beyond the region of Toulouse, look for a florist displaying the Interflora symbol.
You are expected to send a hand-written condolence note. If you are close to the family, you may want to send Chrysanthemums to the church (not to the family’s house) . Normally you would be told if the church service is limited to family and close friends only (dans l’intimité). The cemetery service is always for family and close friends.
GOING AWAY (départ)
A going away gift is not normally expected, unless there is a party for the person or family leaving. Close friends can always give gifts to one another, for whatever reason.
GRADUATION (fin d’études, diplôme)
Young graduates seem to prefer money, in the form of a check. If you are close to the family, you might ask what would be appropriate, a gift or money. No gifts are given for graduation from primary grades. Graduation ceremonies are not very common.
HOUSE WARMING (pendre la cremaillère)
If there is a specific house-warming party, you should bring a gift for the house. Otherwise, no gift is expected.
Usually invitations are sent for formal occasions. For informal occasions, a simple phone call will do. If an invitation reads tenue de ville, men are expected to wear suits.
NEW YEAR (le Nouvel An)
The French often send New Year’s cards, in the same way that Christmas cards are sent in America, the UK, Canada or Australia, as late as January 31st. . If you are invited for dinner on New Year’s Eve, you should bring a dinner gift (see Dinner section above). Often inexpensive gifts (less than 10€) will be exchanged.
THANK YOU NOTES (cartes de remerciement)
For wedding gifts and other formal events, a thank you note is expected. For the receipt of a less formal gift, some people will send a note. However, a simple phone call or a verbal “thank you” upon receipt of the gift will suffice. A phone call of “thanks” for a dinner is always appreciated, but not expected.
If you receive an announcement of a marriage (faire-part), you are not expected to send a gift, although a note of congratulations would certainly be appreciated. You may be invited to the marriage ceremony, cocktail party (apéritif), and reception, or JUST to the ceremony and apéritif, with the reception being reserved for the closest friends and family. If you receive an invitation to the wedding you are expected to send or bring a gift. If you would like to send a piece of china or other household item, you can call the person sending the invitation and ask if there’s a store with a wedding list in the bride/groom’s name. This is usually the case. You can then call the store, tell them how much you want to spend, and they will put that amount of money towards the couple’s selection. You are not obliged to purchase a specific piece. If you go to the store and choose to buy a piece, the store can/should deliver it. For formal weddings, the guests wear often two sets of clothes: a nice outfit for the ceremony and something very dressy for the reception. It’s best to ask if guests are going to change for the reception, so that you are prepared for such a situation.
WEDDING ANNIVERSARY (anniversaire de mariage)
Usually gifts are exchanged only between husband and wife, and/or their children. French people are not accustomed to sending cards or buying gifts for the wedding anniversary of friends.
If you are not knowledgeable about French wines, you may want to buy a bottle from a wine store (cave) where you can ask the shopkeeper for a recommendation. He will ask you for a price range and recommend something appropriate. Any type of Champagne is usually appreciated. Often at dinner parties, the host will have opened wine for dinner before your arrival, so don’t be offended if they do not open the bottle you have brought.
Here is a general guide for bringing wine: Buy the oldest red wine of a well known type, area, and château that will fit your budget. If your budget is below 10€, you may want to think of a different gift. Be aware that there are many French white wines that are sweet.