Sunday, September 6, 2009

Manners Of The World

One of our (American) friends in L.A. told us about an experience with French neighbors that left him baffled. They invited him for dinner a few weeks ago, and he felt intimidated enough that he brought an expensive bottle of wine. His French hosts thanked him, yet promptly disposed of the bottle without even looking at the label, opening their own wine instead. "I really wanted to taste that pricey wine!" he told us miffed, adding, "Is that a French thing? Did I do anything wrong?"

"Not by American standards," I replied. "Not even by everyday French standards." But I explained an old rule of French etiquette, which dictates that one should not bring a bottle of wine when invited to dinner parties, the rationale being that the hosts will have thought the combination of food and wine through, and this would disturb their plans. Another rule is that one should not bring flowers either, as they would force the hosts to arrange them in a vase when they are busy putting the final touches to the meal; flowers are an appropriate gift, but should be sent before or after the dinner.

These are old rules from the disappearing French savoir-vivre though, and today they are broken more often than not. The real etiquette is that one should conform to the customs of the culture one lives in. In this case, the French hosts living in L.A. and inviting American guests lacked the proper social grace -- not our friend.

To put him and his girlfriend completely at ease, we brought them a bottle of Champagne when they invited us to dinner last night, and we all had a good laugh about it.


Lynn said...

I agree! Although it is an old rule of French etiquette as you've stated and for the reasons you've stated, the norm more often than not in France is to bring a bottle of wine and/or flowers. (One old French boyfriend use to always bring dessert just to be sure that he would have a dessert that he liked, but that's another story! Lol.)

Most hosts (in France and elsewhere) will also serve the wine that the guest has brought at some point before the evening is over, so the French neighbor was truly lacking in social graces.

LA Frog said...

Agreed. Rules are meant to be broken. In this case, it was interesting to observe our friend being so intimidated by his French neighbor -- when he obviously had no reason to, and that's the message we tried to convey to him.