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In Paris, Is It Rude...

Today I booked my first trip to Paris and London! In Paris, is it rude when eating alone in a good restaurant to read a book or write in a journal at the table? I've done this in other parts of Europe without any bad looks at me. But, from what I hear about Paris, it seems different from other parts of Europe. I don't want to be an ugly American, from Texas yet! Lol! There are a few on this forum that are not very fond of Texans. I'm not a loud person, and I'm educated. But I really want to know about this, because I do want to set a good example as an American, and a Texan!

Posted by
10959 posts

Unless it's a 3-star Michelin restaurant, reading is fine, writing is fine...even 'rithmatic is fine.

Posted by
10344 posts

Hi Lisa: I'm with Frank--go for it! BTW, I still remember your helpful sightseeing ideas when I was in the Austin - Fort Hood area last year; you proved (not that it needed proving) that Texans really are friendly.

Posted by
360 posts

I've been in Paris quite a few times by myself. Feel free to read, but I suggest you not appear to be too engrossed in the book. Look around & smile at your neighbors. I've had some great conversations with others around me & I'm not especially outgoing.

Posted by
12040 posts

Talking in a loud voice at a table is considered rude. Reading? Go for it, nobody will find you rude.

Posted by
11450 posts

"but from what I hear about Paris "

Careful about going with preconcieved ideas that you have heard about Paris , from people who have :

a)never been, or

B) been once on a bus tour for 2 days , years ago.

They are often off base,, and even if they haven't been there, they seem to like to counsel others about it.. LOL

As far as I have seen there is no one on this forum , myself included, that has ever commented on anyones being from Texas( what has that to do with anything?)

Posted by
582 posts

I'm not loud anyway, so no problem there!
I'm glad about the reading at the table, because in Paris, you really have to take your time in restaurants. I like to kill time by reading or writing in my journal.
My trip is in October, so I have awhile to learn a little basic French! I ordered Rick's phrase book.
Also I want to add, good point Pat!
About the Texas thing, there are about two people on this forum that have a terrible image of Texans traveling!

Posted by
11450 posts

Lisa ,, the most helpful bit of french one could have is a little menu translater. Some items do not translate literally,, so you may see something that says "horse" and think oh no, it is horse meat, but there is a way of doing a dish that has an egg on top and is listed as "on horseback" ( as in the egg is "riding" on top) .

Posted by
582 posts

Great advice Pat! In Rick's phrase book, it does have a good session on menus. Getting out my phrase book will really scream out tourist! Lol!

Posted by
207 posts

Pat's "Horseback" comment is a good one... but if your next trip is to Italy, be careful in Verona... many restaurants do proudly serve horsemeat and ours also served donkey. Considering what else we eat, I don't know why that puts me off. George, Pittsburgh

Posted by
365 posts

Lisa, I suggest you brandish a copy of "Black Beauty" whereupon you dramatically slam the book down on your table and shout for the waiter to bring a plate "of your finest donkey."

You need to do this because of preconceived notions of Texans.

Or not. I mean, the plat du jour is often an excellent value also.

Posted by
655 posts

Hi Lisa,

From Texas, or not, you are wise to investigate French customs. A little research will result in a much better trip and also leave a good impression for others who will follow you.

The French do have their 'sensitivities'. For instance, you put your bread on the table, not on a plate. You do not put your hands in you lap but on the table. You make a general greeting to everyone when you enter a shop.

I have a handy little book that we used. It is called French or Foe. It was written for business travelers but would be useful to anyone. I no longer need it and would happily forward it to you without charge if you provide your mailing address in a private email. I can also include Topics' Instant Immerson French - a set of 5 c-ds. Let me know.

Posted by
10959 posts

What I find interesting is everyone's worry about "doing the right thing" in France because you don't want to insult anyone.

I've dealt with many French tourists coming to the U.S., and rarely were any concerned about offending Americans. Don't get me wrong, they were polite, but they didn't try to change their table habits to look as if they were Americans. This goes for most Europeans. In fact, many Europeans think the American way of eating is ridiculous, and the way we hold our knives is considered bad manners in Britain.

Just be yourself. If you don't cause a scene or bother others and you'll be fine.

Posted by
932 posts

Wow, Frank II, good points. I wonder if there are European websites where they ask each other how they can look and sound more American for their trips over here! On another note, how exactly are you supposed to hold your knife in Britain? And are you referring to higher class restaurants (where we never eat anyway!)?

Posted by
365 posts

I would submit that for every European who looks askance at the way an American holds his cutlery, there is an American that holds the same opinion about his European counterpart.

I suppose I'm saying that Europeans don't hold the high ground on table manners. And neither should anyone care or participate in judging such things anyway. At all.

When I hear someone loudly slurping up some noodles, I know that what some would consider bad manners may actually be somebody expressing their extreme appreciation for good food. It's a cultural thing. Those who go past the step of noticing and charge forth into judging are simply lacking in worldly knowledge. The way Americans eat, if it looks like bad manners to someone...well, that person needs to get out more.

Posted by
3580 posts

In the waiting room at St Pancras (before boarding for Paris) I picked up a leaflet that explained how to behave at a dinner party in Paris. Instructions included how to blot the lips before and after each sip of wine so the glass stays clean. It is important to hold the napkin with both hands while blotting. There was more, but I left the instructions behind and don't remember the rest.

Posted by
932 posts

I wouldn't want to go to a dinner party like that. I like to relax and have fun in all that I do when I travel or even at home. And if there are rules as even how to wipe my lips, count me out!

Posted by
10959 posts

Amy....what I was told by a British friend, and if any of our British friends here correct me, that's fine...but....they hold their knives like a pen..and they use it to cut everything. We might use a fork to say cut a piece of pie served to us but that's considered bad manners in Britain.

If you do get a nasty look, just start singing "The Yellow Rose of Texas" and the other diners will understand. (Sorry Lisa..I had to.)

Posted by
582 posts

I guess us women better wear smudge proof lipstick! Lol!
I thank all of you for the great answers!

Posted by
150 posts

Don't get "bad manners" confused with "cultural differences". No-one in a European restaurant will be offended by the way you use your knife and fork, sip your drink or place your napkin.

Posted by
11798 posts

...unless you do it the German or, worse, English way. LOL

Posted by
448 posts

I definitely agree with Ian of Marseilles re: bad manners and cultural differences. We've recently had some USA friends visiting us and although i did the restaurant ordering in French, my friends' attempts with the basic politesse were appreciated...and we were just eating at local, no big deal restaurants...However, i recently had a dream that i was eating alone on the Champs Elysees...i knew it was a dream because the quiche with a glass of white wine was only 7 euros...The waitress told me it was okay to read the newspaper at lunch, but not at dinner...And then i was invited to have a drink with the French tennis team...And yes, it's good that you don't talk too loud, especially if you're dining alone...

Posted by
416 posts

Good Lord! If people ANYWHERE have nothing better to do at dinner than to closely observe how one holds/uses one's cutlery, they need to get lives. Now, I DO have to admit to having been disgusted on my very first trip to Europe--by one of my fellow orchestra members (my HS orchestra competed in the International Youth Music Festival in Vienna). We were in Switzerland and she was making negative comments about the St. Bernard wandering freely through the restaurant and then actually used her fork to scratch her neck. Ewww! I think the dog was better behaved.

Posted by
14780 posts

Yay, Lisa!!!! London and Paris, terrific. How long?

As long as you don't turn the chair backwards and sit straddling it, I think you will do fine. Try the "ethnic" restaurants in London, because of the immigration, there are lots to sample, and they won't expect "proper British manners", whatever they may be. I've also had great meals in the pubs in England, especially lunches. With everyone busy drinking, who cares how you hold your fork - they probably wouldn't even notice if you used a Bowie knife. And if you aren't a big beer drinker, try the cider. It's closer to drinking wine, but the alcohol % is like beer, comes in sweet and dry varieties.

Posted by
365 posts

Chair around backwards?
Bowie knife?
Massive amounts of beer?

There was plenty of that at last night's "Talk Like a Pirate" Night at the local tavern. I be thirstin'!

Of course, what with the eye patch my darts game was, shall we say, a bit on the unsafe side.

Posted by
2349 posts

Lisa, make sure you brush up on the words to "London Homesick Blues." If you need some extra cash, take your cowboy hat, and go down to Marble Arch station. You might make a few bucks by singing. Remember that you're one of the friendliest people and prettiest women they've ever seen.

Posted by
6245 posts

Read, write in your journal, people watch, pet the dogs, enjoy the food but DON'T ask for ketchup.

Posted by
582 posts

I love these replies! Thank you so much!!

Posted by
10959 posts

I just thought of something....Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ezra Pound, among others, all sat in cafes and wrote. If they can do it, you can do it.

I would even suggest a reading of "A Moveable Feast" by Hemingway before your travel. It's about his days in Paris. Great book.

My favorite quote from the book:

"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."