The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking
During its fifth session, (5.COM) held on the 19th of November 2010, the Intergovernmental Committee, for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage elected to put French Gastronomic Meals on the Intangible Cultural Heritage List.
Inscribed in 2010 (5.COM) on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:
‘The gastronomic meal of the French is a customary social practice for celebrating important moments in the lives of individuals and groups, such as births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, achievements and reunions. It is a festive meal bringing people together for an occasion to enjoy the art of good eating and drinking.
The gastronomic meal emphasizes togetherness, the pleasure of taste, and the balance between human beings and the products of nature. Important elements include the careful selection of dishes from a constantly growing repertoire of recipes; the purchase of good, preferably local products whose flavours go well together; the pairing of food with wine; the setting of a beautiful table; and specific actions during consumption, such as smelling and tasting items at the table.
The gastronomic meal should respect a fixed structure, commencing with an aperitif (drinks before the meal) and ending with liqueurs, containing in between at least four successive courses, namely a starter, fish and/or meat with vegetables, cheese and dessert.
Individuals called gastronomes who possess deep knowledge of the tradition and preserve its memory watch over the living practice of the rites, thus contributing to their oral and/or written transmission, in particular to younger generations.
The gastronomic meal draws circles of family and friends closer together and, more generally, strengthens social ties.’
It should be obvious to anyone that the French take their food and dining very seriously and there are a number of traditions and customs that accompany it. Various culinary travel sites list scores of rules to follow in order not to let you make a faux pax at table. The website snippetsofparis.com lists 32 dos and don’ts of French dinning etiquette yet whilst traditional French eating customs are characterized by punctuality, they are also about taking the time to enjoy one’s food and one’s family.
For most of us, the most common phrase for announcing the commencement of a French meal is to hear the host offer the welcome phrase, “Bon appétit”, which is usually loosely translated to English as, ‘enjoy your meal’ but others suggest the more literal translation of, ‘good appetite’.
However, according to Myaka Meier of the Beaumont Etiquette finishing school, the phrase is not only impolite, guests will quite possibly find it offensive!
Founded in London, Beaumont Etiquette now has offices in New York and California and offers courses in British, Continental European and American etiquette. Apparently, according to Meier the phrase is akin to saying something along the lines of, “good digestion,” and this would be highly improper given its connected reference to bowel movement.
According to a Maia de la Baume, writing for the New York Times from Paris: “In France, ‘Bon appétit’ is not proper,” quoting Marie de Tilly, right, who teaches etiquette there. “When people use it, it sounds just like an invitation for a good digestion and suggests that you are so hungry that you may jump on any food that would cross your mouth.”
However, I will leave it to Frenchwoman Géraldine Lepère, and her very entertaining language website, Comme Une Française who says:
“You might find, here and there, contrarian urban legends saying that “Bon appétit” is actually impolite — that it hints at bodily functions that come with eating, and would be considered rude or in bad taste…
Well, it’s false! Please, keep saying Bon appétit at the beginning of a meal – it’s the signal that the meal can start, that you’re all ready to eat.
You can also say it to people who are already eating.
For instance, if you’re hiking in the French mountains and you come across a couple of other hikers sitting down for their picnic, you can tell them Bon appétit as a greeting, while you’re walking by.
If someone tells you Bon appétit, you can answer Merci (= thank you) if they’re not eating as well (if they’re a waiter, for instance). If they are eating at the same time, you only need to wish them the same: Bon appétit”.
Written by Darren Gall