19: Food & Dining

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!

Milk (lait)
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)

Cheese                     Fromage

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.


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.

Breadcrumbs                Chapelure

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).

Sugar                          Sucre

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

Dates                        Dattes

Walnuts                    Noix (black walnuts are not available)

Almonds                   Amandes

Hazelnuts/filberts     Noisettes

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

Honey                    Miel

Jam                        Confiture

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

FRUITS (fruits)

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.

VEGETABLES (legumes)

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

MEAT (viande)

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.

BEEF (boeuf)

Aiguillette                                        Rump roast
Aloyau                                              Sirloin
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

LAMB (agneau)

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
Mouton                                        Mutton
Tranche de gigot                        Slice of leg of lamb

VEAL (veau)

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

PORK  (porc)

Côte de porc                                                        Pork chop
Filet mignon de porc                                           Pork tenderloin
Plat de côtes / travers de porc                            Spareribs
Jambon                                                                Ham
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

RABBIT (lapin)

GAME (gibier)

Biche                                     Doe
Cerf                                       Fallow deer
Lièvre                                    Hare
Marcassin                            Young boar
Sanglier                                Wild boar

POULTRY (volaille)

Blancs de poulet                 Chicken breast
Caille                                   Quail
Canard                                 Duck*
Caneton                               Duckling
Chapon                                Capon*
Coq                                      Rooster
Coquelet                              Little rooster
Dinde                                  Turkey hen – usually only sold in pieces, except at Christmas season.*
Dindon                                 Tom turkey
Dindonneau                         Young turkey
Faisan                                Pheasant
Oie                                     Goose*
Perdrix                               Partridge
Pigeon                                Pigeon
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.


FISH (poisson)
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.
Crevettes                               Shrimp
Écrevisse                              Crayfish
Escargot                                Snails
Gambas                                Jumbo shrimp (prawns)
Grenouille                             Frog
Homard                                  Lobster
Huitre                                     Oyster
Langouste / langoustine        Rock lobster / prawn or scampi
Moules                                   Mussels
Tourteau, crabe                    Crab
Vénus, coques                      Small clam-like mollusks


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!


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

Granulated Sugar
          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

Capacity (British)

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
250           120
275           135                        4
300           150
325           160
Moderate (moyen)                     350           180                        5
375           190
400           200
Hot (chaud)                               425           220                        6
450           233
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.

BIRTH (naissance)
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.

BAPTISM (baptême)
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.

BIRTHDAY (anniversaire)
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.

DINNER (dîner)
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.

FLOWERS (fleurs)
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.

FUNERALS (décès)
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.

INVITATIONS (invitations)
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.

WEDDING (mariage)
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.

WINE (vin)
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.